Monday, 16 October 2017

A new journal and a new generation

On January 1st a new look Minerals Engineering will be launched, as a result of its merger with the International Journal of Mineral Processing (IJMP).  Since the inception of Minerals Engineering in 1988 I have been Editor (see also posting of 8 June 2013), and 3 years ago a dynamic young researcher, Dr. Pablo Brito-Parada, joined me as Associate Editor, to assist with the ever increasing paper flow.
Times are changing and the editorial structure of the hybrid journal will be dominated, quite rightly by a new generation of young minerals engineers. My position now is as Editor-in-Chief. Pablo is promoted to Editor, and is joined by Associate Prof. Kristian Waters, former editor of IJMP.
Pablo Brito-Parada is a Research Fellow in the Department of Earth Science and Engineering at Imperial College London. His research focuses on industrial multiphase flows, particularly in mineral processing, combining experimental techniques and numerical modelling for equipment evaluation and design. A Chemical Engineer by training, he worked in academia and industry in Mexico before moving to the UK, where he completed his PhD in froth flotation at Imperial College London. He has since coordinated industrial flotation optimisation campaigns, led the flotation research at the Rio Tinto Centre for Advanced Mineral Recovery as well as other mineral processing research projects. He is currently Principal Investigator at Imperial College for IMPaCT, a €10m consortium funded by the European Commission with the objective of developing solutions for small scale sustainable mining in Europe.
Kristian Waters is an Associate Professor at McGill University, Canada. He has an M.Eng. in Chemical Engineering with German from UMIST, UK, an MSc in Instrumentation and Analytical Science also from UMIST and PhD in Chemical Engineering from the University of Birmingham, researching into the effect of thermal treatment on the physico-chemical properties of minerals He then spent 2 years as a post-doc at Imperial College London working with Prof. Jan Cilliers on fine particle flotation and PEPT.  In 2009 he moved to McGill as Assistant Professor, and was awarded tenure in 2015. His current research is quite varied, covering the majority of separation techniques and some water treatment, his recent research targeting the beneficiation of rare earth bearing minerals.
Pablo and Kristian will be aided by six Assistant Editors: Grant Ballantyne, University of Queensland, Australia; A. Deniz Bas, Laval University, Canada; Erin Bobicki, University of Toronto, Canada; Zoltan Javor, Aalto University, Finland, Anita Parbhakar-Fox, University of Tasmania, Australia; Martin Rudolph, Helmholtz Institute Freiberg for Resource Technology, Germany.
None of the 8 editors and assistant editors were born when the International Journal of Mineral Processing was founded by eminent sampling statistician Pierre Gy in 1974, the year that I started my 22 years at Camborne School of Mines. Mineral processing itself has seen great changes in those 43 years, and in fact only became a discipline in its own right at the beginning of the 20th century.
Prior to the industrial revolution of the 18th and 19th centuries the demand for metals was not very high. The small county of Cornwall in south-west England was the major producer of copper and tin in the mid 19th century, when world production of copper was about 60,000 tonnes per year, compared with around 20 million tonnes now. The copper ores were of very high grade and needed little upgrading, apart from simple hand sorting by bal maidens, female workers who worked the surface plants. Tin ores did need crushing and grinding, in stamp mills, prior to gravity concentration in crude devices such as buddles and rag frames.
The 'discovery' of electricity had a profound effect on metal demand, particularly for copper, and soon the main source of supply was from the vast deposits discovered in the Americas and Australia. By the beginning of the 20th century the demand for metals and minerals had become so high that the 'easy' ores were becoming scarce and the simple sorting and gravity methods could not adequately treat the ever decreasing grades and complexity of the vast quantities of mineral deposits which were available.
The mining industry was in crisis, and so was the industrialised civilisation, although most people would not have been aware of this. The search was on for an innovative method of upgrading the low grade base metal ores, and the great saviour of the mining industry was froth flotation. The invention of modern flotation is attributed to Francis Elmore, who patented a vacuum flotation process in 1904, which was used in the Zinc Corporation plant in Australia for 6 years, although the first recognisably "modern" flotation technique had been patented in London in 1903 by Sulman and Picard, and this used air bubbles formed by forcing compressed air through holes in the cell, but it would be years before such pneumatic cells would be commercially used. By 1908 flotation was working well for bulk flotation of zinc tailings, but the search was then on for means of treating primary sulphides, which led to the development of xanthate collectors, selective activators and depressants, and, as they say, "the rest is history". Just as it is difficult to overestimate the importance of the mining industry, so it is difficult to overestimate the value of froth flotation to modern society. How would we economically produce the metals and minerals that modern society cries out for without this process, which I have always referred to as the most important technological development since the discovery of smelting? Throughout the century, as the available ores became leaner and more complex, so flotation was adapted to effectively deal with them, and to this day research both into the physical and chemical aspects of flotation continues unabated.
There were also innovations in comminution in the early years of last century, with inefficient and energy consuming stamp mills being replaced by tumbling mills, which could be run in closed circuit with classifiers to control product size, so by the 1930s mineral processing flowsheets typically consisted of comminution in cone crushers and rod mills, and long lines of ball mills running in parallel, followed by banks of small flotation machines also running in parallel. By 1974 there had been innovative new processes, such as high intensity magnetic separation, the first enhanced gravity separators, and the first column flotation cells, and in extractive metallurgy hydrometallurgical techniques such as leaching, solvent extraction and ion-exchange with electrowinning were found to be viable options to traditional smelting. However typical mineral processing plants would have been instantly recognised by pre-war operators, as lines of small mills and flotation cells still dominated.
The biggest impact on minerals engineering was the rapid development, and increase of computer power in the 1980s, which has led to the simulation models that are used today, and the development of DEM, CFD etc. But perhaps more importantly powerful computers led to sophisticated methods of controlling mineral processing operations automatically and this in turn led to designers looking to overcoming the problems associated with replacing many small machines with fewer very large machines which could be more easily instrumented and controlled, and the trend for larger and larger flotation machines and grinding mills continued into the present century. Comminution in particular has seen major changes this century, with the development of high pressure grinding rolls (HPGR) and stirred mills, and it may be that these will replace tumbling mills in circuits in the not too distant future.
Worldwide the mining industry consumes around 2% of all electrical energy, and comminution is the major consumer, so great efforts are now made to reduce energy consumption, as well as water consumption which is also critical. In some respects we have come full circle- in the 19th century hand sorting was an important technique, and now electronic sorters are proving their worth in crushing circuits, thanks to multi-channel sensors made possible by powerful computers. Sorting will be a major feature in future comminution circuits, scalping out coarse barren rock, and hence reducing energy and water consumption.
I have to say that I wish I were 40 years younger, as our young editors now stand on the cusp of a second industrial revolution, the end of the era of the internal combustion engine, and the dawn of the new era of electric cars (see posting of 30 August). There will be a boom in metal demand, particularly copper, nickel and cobalt, and of course lithium for the Li-ion batteries. We are also now in the age of the "Hi-Tech Metals" used in all computers and smart phones (posting of 5th June), and the increasing demand for metals such as germanium, gallium and indium will put huge pressures on the supply of these metals, many of which are the by-products of base metal processing.  As these metals are present in tiny amounts in each individual computer or phone, and often alloyed with other elements, recycling presents enormous problems, but the move to the circular economy means that we have to get smarter at recovering and reusing the vast quantities that we have already extracted from the earth, rather than relying on continued pursuit of new reserves of ever poorer quality and at substantial environmental cost.
There are exciting times ahead, with enormous challenges, and minerals engineers, and Minerals Engineering, will play a critical role in the dawning of this new age.
Twitter @barrywills

Saturday, 14 October 2017

Recent comments

There have been comments on the following postings since the last update:

Memories of Prof. Keith Atkinson
Golden memories
Seeds of recovery?
CEEC extends its support of MEI Conferences
Will the end of the era of the internal combustion engine herald a golden age for mining?
China demonstrates its strength in numbers
Are these WASET conferences just a scam?
Liberia joins the international band of minerals engineers
Can power be consumed?
In memory of Alan Bromley: an inspirational geologist and a pioneer of geometallurgy

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Wednesday, 11 October 2017

In memory of Alan Bromley: an inspirational geologist and a pioneer of geometallurgy

Only two months ago I reported on the death of Prof. Keith Atkinson, former Director of the Camborne School of Mines, and a geologist with a keen interest in mineral processing (posting of 6th August). Now I report sadly on the death of one of his fellow CSM geologists, Dr. Alan Bromley, who died yesterday at the age of 79.
Alan's career at CSM began in 1969, and he was an inspiration to me during my time at CSM. He was of a rare breed, a geologist, who like Keith Atkinson, had a keen interest in mineral processing. He was one of the pioneers of the then new discipline of process mineralogy, and, although the word had not yet entered the dictionary, one of the early geometallurgists. He was a brilliant teacher, with a zany sense of humour, and a lecture that he gave way back in 1975 "A geologist looks at mineral processing" had a profound influence on the way that I also looked at mineral processing, as he showed that mineral processors should have a thorough knowledge of the mineralogical composition of their ores and concentrates. Now this is obvious, but at that time I had left Zambia only a couple of years before, and during my time on the Nchanga Concentrator it is hard to believe now that, despite the wide suite of copper minerals, there was not even an optical microscope in the metallurgical office.
We often reminisced on how process mineralogy has evolved since then, with sophisticated automated scanning electron microscopes now commonplace in large operations. In the early 80s, CSM was the proud owner of one of the early image analysers, the monochromatic Quantimet 720, capable of performing linear scans on mineralogical specimens. Such was the power of this machine, that it lured the late Prof. Peter King from Wits University to a sabbatical at CSM, where he worked closely with Alan on his pioneering research into liberation analysis.
Alan left CSM in 1991 to found Petrolab in Redruth, Cornwall. He sold the business to James Strongman in 2006 and the last time that I saw him was during a visit to Petrolab two years ago to look at the installation of their new Zeiss Mineralogic Mining automated mineralogy system, a machine that Alan and I could never have even dreamt about in the mid 1970s.
Alan (3rd right) at Petrolab in 2015, with James Strongman demonstrating the new Zeiss machine
Alan will be sorely missed and our thoughts are with his wife Lesley, also a geologist, and his two sons from a previous marriage. I would like to invite all of you who knew Alan to share your memories of him below.
Twitter @barrywills

Wednesday, 4 October 2017

Comminution '18: it's not too late to submit an abstract

The official deadline for abstract submission to Comminution '18 was the end of September. We will be preparing the draft timetable towards the end of this month, so there is still time to submit a short abstract if you would like to present your work to an international audience in Cape Town, and have your paper considered for a special comminution issue of Minerals Engineering.
Delegates at Comminution '16
More information can be found in the posting of 21st August, and in the report on Comminution '16.
See what people have said about previous Comminution events.

Monday, 2 October 2017

Liberia joins the international band of minerals engineers

A review of pretreatment of diasporic bauxite ores by flotation separation was submitted to Minerals Engineering in July and was accepted after revision a couple of weeks ago. It is now available on ScienceDirect.
Darius and Borbor
What is so special about this paper is that it is the first to be co-authored by researchers from Liberia, one of the world's poorest countries. Borbor Gibson and Darius Wonyen are in the Department of Geology and Mining Engineering at the University of Liberia, Monrovia. The 3rd author is Saeed Chelgani, an adjunct professor at the University of Michigan, a regular and respected author and reviewer for Minerals Engineering. Three years ago he began work on a USAID project, to teach students at the University of Liberia. He was very impressed with the many bright minds, "brilliant students who could show a high level of understanding scientific matters".
Saeed decided to write an article with them. As there were no mineral processing laboratories he taught them how to write a review article. Flotation is Saeed's main interest and Liberia has bauxite mines so a useful option was a review on diasporic bauxite flotation. He says that he was very impressed by the way they undertook this task and now they are delighted that the article has been accepted and published, the first article co-authored by University of Liberia students.
Congratulations Borbor and Darius, I hope this will motivate you and your colleagues to submit further articles, and thanks Saeed for your dedication in motivating these two students in this way.
Twitter @barrywills

Wednesday, 27 September 2017

China demonstrates its strength in numbers

Not so very long ago a Chinese delegate at an international mineral processing conference was a rare sighting. Not these days, however. China has more mineral processors than any other country in the world, and increasing freedom to travel has swelled their representation at major events, as the photo below, taken at the 2014 IMPC in Chile highlights, where the UK delegation stood at a mighty 4!
China's mineral processing strength was brought home to me last week during a four day visit to Changsha in southern China, at the invitation of the Central South University, to present a plenary lecture on the evolution of mineral processing to the Mineral Process of China 2017 conference. Central South University, with the world's largest mineral processing department, was one of the hosts, together with the Nonferrous Metals Society of China, Beijing General Research Institute of Mining & Metallurgy and Zhengzhou University. The conference was attended by over 1400 delegates, of which only 8 were from outside China! It was an interesting few days and below I share the highlights of my brief visit.
Thursday  20th September
After a long journey via Beijing I was met at Changsha airport yesterday evening by Dr. Zhiyong Gao of the Dept of Mineral Processing, Central South University (CSU), who I met last year at the IMPC in Quebec, Zhiyong's first time out of China. On the long journey through the Changsha rush hour he filled me in on some amazing statistics on the University, which has around 55,000 students and 20,000 staff.  There are 38 universities in China with mineral processing departments, and CSU, which specialises in non-ferrous metals, is the largest, with 60 staff, 400 undergraduate students and 200 post grads, of which around 100 are researching for PhDs! Prof. Yuehua Hu's group alone, of which Zhiyong is a part, has 25 PhD students and 41 Masters students. Zhiyong told me that around 40% of the mineral processing graduates stay on for post-graduate work, and around 20% go into industry or to Institutes.
Zhiyong and Prof. Hu hosted a fine lunch today where we were joined by some of their post-graduates, and also three of the international delegates, Prof. Jan Cilliers of Imperial College, UK, Prof. Kristian Waters of McGill University, Canada and Prof. Komar Kawatra, of Michigan Tech, USA, and his wife Geeta. Kristian is one of the new editors of Minerals Engineering and Komar edits the SME's Minerals & Metallurgical Processing
With Profs. Hu and Cilliers
With Geeta and Komar Kawatra
Later, for dinner, we met three more international delegates, Dr. Anh Nguyen and his wife Linh, from the University of Queensland,  Dr. Przemyslaw Kowalczuk, from Wroclaw University, Poland and Dr. Hanumantha Rao Kota from the Norwegian University of Science and Technology. 
Przemyslaw Kowalczuk, Anh and Linh Nguyen with CSU post-grads
Komar Kawatra, Hanumantha Rao Kota, Zhiyong Gao and Kristian Waters
Friday 22nd September
I must say that CSU treats its visitors very well. This morning we were taken to a copper and ceramic kiln area, and then on to visit the ancient town of Jinggang. Good to see my Minerals Engineering colleague Dr. Pablo Brito-Parada, of Imperial College, UK, who arrived late last night. 
The "Magnificent Seven", Chenyang Zhang of CSU, Drs Rao, Waters, Nguyen, Kowalczuk,
Prof. Cilliers and Dr. Brito-Parada
Outside the ancient town of Jinggang
After a quick lunch we were whisked over to the University Campus for an interesting tour around the mineral processing department's facilities.  
Outside the CSU Mineral Processing Dept.
During a lengthy round table discussion with CSU staff members it was very apparent that Chinese universities are extremely keen to forge collaborative alliances with their western counterparts, and that they would welcome every opportunity to travel and present their work at international conferences and publish in international journals.
With CSU mineral processing staff
It was also a pleasant surprise to hear how much environmental research is being carried out, in the processing of wastes, and recycling, particularly of the high-tech metals which pose enormous challenges. Hopefully China will be a major player in the ongoing quest for the circular economy.
Saturday 23rd September
The first day of the conference, at the magnificent Preess Hotel and Resort, highlighted that the Chinese work ethic is very different from ours in the western world. Chinese conferences are held over the weekend, as mineral processors are "too busy during the week"!
In the morning session Jan Cilliers and I were the only plenary lecturers presenting in English, although it was nice to see that Jan had recruited his post-graduate student at Imperial College, a graduate of CSU, to help him illustrate the slides in his excellent talk on the development of flotation models.
Jan and I found it quite challenging addressing a sea of faces bigger than we have ever encountered before.  
After the lunch break the sessions spit into two parallel sessions of keynotes, with the remaining 6 English speakers in one room, and in the adjoining room, unfortunately inadequately sound-proofed, were the Chinese-speaking presentations.
It has been a long hard day, which commenced at 8am, and finished at 6pm, with a short lunch break and only 10 minute morning and afternoon tea breaks. So it was good to relax in the early evening, wander around the small exhibition and talk to people over drinks and a buffet meal. 

Sunday 24th September
The 2nd and final day of the conference was devoted to parallel sessions, and as these were all presented in Chinese, CSU offered us a whole day trip to Shaoshan, the birthplace of Mao Zedong. Judging by the crowds flocking to visit the house in which he was born, it is very apparent that Mao's contribution to modern day China is still held in high esteem. 
My few days at Changsha proved to be a rewarding and enlightening experience. It is evident that China will play a key role in the future development of mineral processing. Many people have suggested that MEI should hold one of its major conferences in China and while that is tempting it is not an option.  Our aim is to increase the flow in the opposite direction, and to encourage Chinese researchers to travel to major international events, to present their work in English, and to publish their work in English language journals. It is vital that they become fully absorbed into the international community of minerals engineering, which has an exciting future ahead, and the only way that this can be effectively achieved is by broadening their experience outside their own country. They have much to offer and the mutual benefits could be enormous.
Finally let me express my sincere thanks to the Central South University for their hospitality during my brief stay. They really pulled out all the stops for the small group of international speakers. I am already looking forward to the 2nd in what will be a biennial series of conferences.
Twitter @barrywills

Monday, 25 September 2017

Collaborative effort to minimise waste, energy and water consumption in the mining industry

It is good to see the recent trend for multi-disciplinary collaboration in order to identify and develop means of ameliorating some of the major problems in the mining industry. A good example of this is the Global Comminution Collaboration of six institutes, which identifies comminution research needs and unifies the approach to working on these needs.
Mining has been, and still is, a significant user of land space and water. One of the major environmental issues in processing the ore to concentrates is the waste stream, which can reach well over 90% of the total mass. The VTT Technical Research Centre of Finland is acting as the coordinator of the EU-funded three-year ITERAMS project, "Integrated Mineral Technologies for More Sustainable Raw Material Supply," funded by the European Union Horizon 2020 programme (MEI Online). It is hoped that the new methods developed in the project will offer the EU the potential to be in the forefront with regard to minimising waste, energy and water consumption in the mining sector.
Mining impacts on water quantity and quality are among the most contentious aspects of mining and mining development. The main problem for the mining industry is to generate confidence in developing a responsible, sustainable and transparent water management strategy that is recognized as such by all stakeholders, and this will be the subject of a keynote lecture at Sustainable Minerals '18 in Namibia next year, by Prof. Rob Dunne (posting of 24 April). The ITERAMS project will target significantly reducing water consumption by circulating process waters and reducing the amount of tailings waste through valorisation of the mineral matrix. Water circulation reduces water consumption at mine sites and the need to dispose of large quantities of wastewater in surrounding areas. To achieve this, the project is focusing on the complete isolation of process waters from the adjacent water systems. This will require development of new methods for optimizing and controlling water qualities at each process step. As a bonus, it will also facilitate the recovery of additional valuable constituents.
Geopolymer technology has long been recognized as providing the potential for immobilization of hazardous components and thus providing a safe method for utilizing mine tailings and the use of geopolymers as water- and oxygen-tight covers on the deposited tailings, as hardening mine fill or as saleable products will be demonstrated in the project. To this end, the tailings streams will be modified for their easier geopolymerisation.
The developed ITERAMS water and waste efficient concepts will be jointly validated by industrial and research partners at their mine sites. Three sites at Boliden (Finland), Somincor (Portugal) and Anglo American (Chile or South Africa) have been selected to validate the results in various conditions, for example in various mineralogical and geographical areas.
The consortium is multidisciplinary, covering the disciplines of geology, mining, minerals processing, microbiology, thermodynamics, chemistry, water and environmental sciences, sustainability, process modelling and simulation in close cooperation between academia and industry. A total of 16 companies and research organisations from seven EU member states, as well as from South Africa and Turkey, are participating in the project: VTT Technical Research Centre of Finland, Outotec, Boliden Kevitsa, University of Oulu, Ima Engineering, Aalto University and Lappeenranta University of Technology (Finland); BRGM and Caspeo (France); Montanuniversität Leoben (Austria); GreenDelta (Germany); Anglo American (UK); Amphos21 (Spain); Somincor (Portugal); Hacettepe Mineral Technologies (Turkey) and University of Cape Town (South Africa). Cooperation will ensure the exchange of information of best practices in the EU and internationally.
Prof. Kari Heiskanen is the Exploitation Manager for the project, representing Outotec Finland Oy. Last year the international company was ranked for the second time as the world's third most sustainable company (MEI Online) and we are proud to have the company as a major sponsor of Sustainable Minerals '18 next year, where we hope to hear a lot more of the progress of the ITERAMS project.
Twitter @barrywills

Thursday, 21 September 2017

Metplant '17 awards to two young JKMRC researchers

Although MEI was a media partner for this month's Metplant '17 in Perth, unfortunately we were unable to attend. Which was a pity as I would have liked to have seen Dr. Grant Ballantyne, of the University of Queensland's JKMRC, receive the award for the best conference paper. Juan Jose Frausto Gonzalez, who is a JKMRC PhD candidate, received the Best Presentation award.
Juanjo and Grant with Janine Herzig, of the AusIMM board and Joe Pease, of Mineralis Consulting, and Chairman of CEEC
Grant is a regular contributor to MEI's comminution conferences and has been invited to take on the role of one of the new Assistant Editors for Minerals Engineering. His paper looked at Recent Improvements in the Milling Circuit at Tropicana Mine and was co-authored by Mike Di Trento, Ivka Lovatt and Brian Putland from AngloGold Ashanti and Orway Mineral Consultants (OMC).  OMC have conducted two surveys at Tropicana mine in 2015 and 2016 and these formed the basis for the paper.  Due to their high power costs, Tropicana operate a high pressure grinding roll (HPGR), ball milling comminution circuit.  In 2015 they were achieving results close to design, but more recently the throughput was increased by 20% following a substantial optimisation process where the HPGR closing screen size was reduced to 2.5 mm, the recycle conveyor capacity was increased and the HPGR speed was increased.  This paper utilised the new Size Specific Energy (SSE) and Comminution Energy Curve methodologies to present this data and communicate the benefits achieved.
Juan Jose’s presentation was titled The Impact of Classification Efficiency on Comminution and Flotation Circuit Performance and was co-authored by Grant, Kym Runge, Malcolm Powell and Roman Cruz from the JKMRC and Frensillo’s Minera Saucito mine.  The operation of cyclones versus fine screens in the ball milling node at Minera Saucito was presented.  The implications of classifier type was presented in terms of comminution performance, mineral deportment, mineral liberation, flotation recovery, concentrator footprint and maintenance. This was the kind of comprehensive study into fine screens that has been called for by many practitioners.  Juan presented this information with clarity, and succinctly, this being all the more impressive due to the fact that English is his second language.
Congratulations Grant and Juan from all at MEI, and we hope to see you in April at Comminution '18.
Twitter @barrywills

Saturday, 16 September 2017

See who will be at Flotation '17 this November

Things are looking good for November's Flotation '17 in Cape Town (see also posting of 5th July), and the timetable will be finalised within the next few weeks.
If you are thinking of registering, you might wish to take a look at who is already committed to attending. This delegate list will be updated regularly as we approach the event.
The exhibition will provide a focal point for networking, as the booths, and the poster displays, will be in the coffee and lunch break-out areas. Currently 4 booths are still available for rental.
Enjoying local wines in the exhibit area at Flotation '15

Flotation '17 will provide a great opportunity to discuss the latest developments in this essential field with the world's leading experts.
I surely benefited from this conference and enjoyed my time at Cape Town. As a young researcher, this conference gave me not only a unique opportunity to meet the top scholars and specialists in the flotation area, but also a better understanding of the current hot topics in flotation research, so thank you, Flotation ‘15.
Ming Zhang (PhD student from the University of Queensland)

See more testimonials

Friday, 15 September 2017

A welcome return to Falmouth's Chain Locker

The 17th century Chain Locker pub, by Falmouth's inner harbour, has in recent years become the premier meeting place for Cornish mining people and their visitors to this beautiful part of Britain. It is the preferred summer venue for the Cornish Mining Sundowners and MEI's Falmouth conferences. But not this summer, however, as the pub re-opened only this month after many months of refurbishment.
Last night I had a couple of pints in the bar with one of Camborne School of Mines' most dedicated alumni. Since graduating from CSM in 1983 Sam Wood has had an interesting career in mining and quarrying, in west Africa, but mostly in the north of England, latterly being involved with geotechnics and the reclamation of mining sites, surveying and tunnelling.  Sam is a real Camborne stalwart, travelling up to four times a year to Cornwall for CSM functions from his home in Sheffield, 350 miles away.
Chain Locker Falmouth
I will be in China next week so will miss the September sundowner, but if any of you are in the area you will find a great Cornish welcome at the splendidly restored Chain Locker on Thursday evening, commencing at 1730.
Twitter @barrywills

Thursday, 14 September 2017

High technology metals: Facts, Fiction and Recycling

Less than half a century ago the rare earth elements were classed as minor metals - who had even heard of neodymium, now essential in the production of powerful rare earth permanent magnets, used in wind turbines and many other applications? Lithium was essentially a curiosity, the third element in the Periodic Table, and the lightest metal. Now, of course it is in high demand for light, powerful batteries, and the increasing prevalence of electric cars (posting of 30 August) will increase the demand for this once minor metal.
The rare earths and lithium are primary mined, but some of the once minor metals, such as gallium, germanium and indium, which are essential for our modern way of life, are by-products of base metal mining.
Jens Gutzmer
The importance of all these metals cannot be overestimated, which is why we are looking forward to next years MEI Conference in Cape Town Developments in the Processing of the "Hi-Tech" Metals. We are also pleased to announce the first keynote speaker, Prof. Jens Gutzmer, the founding director of the Helmholtz Institute Freiberg for Resource Technology, and professor of economic geology and petrology at the Department of Mineralogy, TU Bergakademie Freiberg, Germany.
In a paper co-authored by Max Frenzel and MEI Consultant Markus Reuter, Jens will examine the number of expressions used to describe this group of commodities that are considered essential ingredients for technology development and economic prosperity. In some publications, these are referred to as “high technology metals”, in others they are named “strategic” or even “critical raw materials“. To add confusion the actual composition of this large and disjointed group of commodities is subject to on-going change – depending largely on perspective, technology and material development, geostrategic positioning and market status. Prof. Gutzmer will address reasons for the apparent confusion – and the inherent weakness of processes to identify “critical raw materials”. Furthermore, results of current efforts to quantify global resource potentials especially of by-product metals – many of which are regarded as “critical” - will be discussed.
Crucially, he will consider the role of recycling vs. primary production in the near- to mid-term supply of high technology metals. This aspect is vital as we have to get smarter at recovering and reusing the vast quantities that we have already extracted from the earth, rather than relying on continued pursuit of new reserves of ever poorer quality and at substantial environmental cost. Recycling of these critical elements, which are used in every smart phone, but in tiny quantities and often alloyed, is one of the great challenges facing mineral processing this century, and will also be a major topic at Sustainable Minerals '18 in Namibia.

Monday, 11 September 2017

Ro-Star ultrafine grinding mill to be highlighted by Maelgwyn Mineral Services at Comminution '18

It is good to welcome Maelgwyn Mineral Services (MMS) as a sponsor of Comminution '18. The small Welsh company will be using the conference and exhibition to highlight the progress on the development of the Ro-Star ultrafine grinding mill within its collaboration under the European Institute of Innovation and Technology (EIT) Raw Materials project.  This EU funded KAVA project, co-ordinated by the TU Bergakademie Freiberg - Institute of Mechanical Process Engineering and Processing Technology, is investigating upscaling of the Ro-Star mill from laboratory and pilot size to industrial size mills.
Apart from MMS and TU Bergakademie Freiberg, other collaborators include CEMTEC, Austria, University of Liege, Belgium, Sandvik, Sweden and Assarel Medet, Bulgaria.
Ro-Star Pilot Unit
The mill is a vertical fine grinding mill, where gravity force enables a higher filling level than in horizontal mills and a hydraulic pressure on the grinding beads. It is envisaged that the optimised milling system will be characterized by a 50 % increased operation period; 50 % lower maintenance needs and high energy efficiency (20-30 % less energy consumption than similar technologies).

Thursday, 7 September 2017

A Celebration of Cornish Mining

I spent this morning at an interesting conference at Heartlands, between Camborne and Redruth, in the heart of the old tin and copper mining district. The conference, which marked the centenary of the Cornish Chamber of Mines and Minerals,  was well attended by over 100 delegates, mostly members of the Cornwall Mining Alliance.
Prof. Frances Wall (4th left), former CSM Director, with members of the Women in Mining Group
Penda Diallo
A view of the future of mining was presented by short talks by five young lecturers who have recently joined Camborne School of Mines (CSM), including Penda Diallo, who commenced her lecturing duties at CSM only two days ago! Although she spoke for only 5 minutes, on the increasing importance of social issues for global mining opportunities, she put her points over very impressively and it is clear that she is going to be a great asset for the school.
Cornwall was once the world's biggest producer of copper and tin, and the last tin mine to close, in 1998, was South Crofty, just across the road from Heartlands, which ended 400 years of continuous copper and tin production. Canadian company Strongbow Exploration is now committed to dewatering and redeveloping the mine, which they hope to bring into full production in late 2020 or early 2021.  A year ago (posting of 19 August 2016) I and many others were very sceptical about a revival of mining at South Crofty, mainly because we had heard it many times before without anything coming to fruition. But now it really does look like this will happen; Strongbow has invested a lot of capital into this venture and has already run successful trials to dewater the mine, and, crucially, treat this water before discarding into the nearby Red River ( so called because of the contained hematite from the old mine tailings). A full water treatment plant is expected to be on-stream next June.
Owen Mihalop
Owen Mihalop of Strongbow gave an excellent presentation which inspired much confidence in the project. When South Crofty closed in 1998 the main use for tin was in the plating industry to produce 'tin' cans but now it has an important use in electronics, being alloyed with indium in touch screens for instance, and so can be regarded as a "High-Tech" metal (see also posting of 5th June). It is also now regarded as a strategic metal, as Asia, mainly China and Indonesia, account for 65% of world tin production, and there are very few tin mines now in the Western world. So all looks good for the go-ahead; planning permission has been granted for the surface plant, and the resources are certainly there, with an estimated 45,000 tonnes of tin in ore grading around 1.8%, giving an expected mine life of 8 years, but with much potential for expansion once dewatering is finished and further exploration can be carried out.
The new mine will bring jobs and prosperity to a fairly depressed area of Cornwall, and many local companies will benefit, not least Holman-Wilfley, a major supplier of shaking tables, represented at the conference by sundowner regular Dave Goldburn!
Jeremy Wrathall
All is looking good too for Cornish Lithium, focussed on the opportunity to extract lithium from 'geothermal brines' that occur throughout a large area of Cornwall. Evaporation plays a major part in treatment of lithium brines, but new technology  is helping to make other options more viable. Cornish Lithium CEO, and former CSM student, Jeremy Wrathall showed how it may now be possible to extract lithium from this source given recent advances in drilling, and extractive technologies such as reverse osmosis, ion-exchange and membrane technology, the latter being announced this week by International Lithium as a viable alternative to evaporation, used in arid countries such as Chile, Australia, and Nevada in the USA. The "new industrial revolution", the ending of the internal combustion era and the rapid adoption of electric cars and power storage batteries (posting of 30th August) is driving a significant increase in demand for lithium which has seen prices triple over the past two years.
After lunch there were presentations from two old friends. Nick Wilshaw, of Comminution '18 sponsor Grinding Solutions Ltd, presented "Cornwall - a centre of mining and processing innovation" showing that he is passionate about promoting the quality and volume of innovation in the industry that comes out of Cornwall.
Grinding Solutions marketing manager James Strong met with MEI's Jon Wills at the event to agree attending and exhibiting at a number of upcoming MEI conferences - Flotation '17, Comminution '18 and Biohydromet '18. Grinding Solutions has extensive experience and expertise in flotation and fine grinding and recently expanded their lab facilities to incorporate leaching and biohydromet labs, where they will be hosting the October Cornish Mining Sundowner.
Past CSM student Jim Turner of Micon International, Cornwall, with Grinding Solutions'
Nick Wilshaw, James Strong and Tom Naylor
Dr. Tony Batchelor, of Geoscience Ltd, the guru of geothermal energy in Cornwall, showed how systems generating electrical power can be built economically in Cornwall, the first system being currently developed at the United Downs Deep Geothermal Energy Project (see also posting of 18th August). It was particularly good to congratulate Tony on his award this week of a Fellowship of the Royal Academy of Engineers.
All in all a good day, and the future looks bright for major mining revivals in Cornwall.
Twitter @barrywills

Monday, 4 September 2017

CEEC extends its support of MEI Conferences

The goal of the Coalition for Eco-Efficient Comminution (CEEC) is to raise awareness of research findings, alternative comminution strategies and installed outcomes and to accelerate information, knowledge and technology transfer, with the objective of lower processing costs and raising shareholder value as a result of improved comminution practices. CEEC has supported MEI's Comminution conferences since 2016 as an industry advocate, and we are pleased that this support is to be extended beyond Comminition '18 and into Sustainable Minerals '18 and Physical Separation '19.
Alison Keogh, CEEC's Chief Executive and Company Secretary, said "we see value in encouraging more contributions and more discussion and awareness in these fields, to promote improvement upstream and downstream of comminution. In our view, these conferences are a natural complement to comminution, putting it into context and integrating with important other steps, in line with CEEC's role and aims. To drive efficient mineral production we need to look at all steps in the process from the mineral resource to the product. The orebody characteristics should determine the way we design, operate and integrate the steps in mining and processing. One of the best things we can do is to remove coarse gangue early. This increases energy efficiency, reduces water use, reduces waste and increases throughput. The Physical Separation conference considers options, approaches and advances in this important field".
The global mining industry is striving to employ more efficient mining and processing methods to minimise footprint and improve resource utilisation and value, and to integrate with community and environmental needs. "The Sustainable Minerals Conference highlights the many options and advances to improve the way we design, operate and integrate the steps in mining and plant processes, to increase productivity, reduce waste, improve energy efficiency and water use, and engage communities", Alison said.
MEI is delighted to have this opportunity to forge stronger links with CEEC and we look forward to working closely with Alison and her team in the future.

Wednesday, 30 August 2017

Will the end of the era of the internal combustion engine herald a golden age for mining?

There is no doubt that the age of the internal combustion engine is drawing to a close. Recently Britain followed France in declaring a ban on petrol and diesel cars from 2040, to overcome the enormous contribution to air pollution from such vehicles.
There will be a massive boom in metal mining as electric replaces the internal combustion engine, and copper, nickel, lithium and cobalt should particularly benefit (as well as non-metals such as graphite).
But everything comes with a price of course. Analysts are expecting a 100-fold increase in the production of lithium, the key material in electric car batteries, which contain around 14% by weight of this lightest of metals. Much of the supply will come from South America, particularly Chile and Bolivia, which have around 70% of the world’s reserves. China and Australia also provide lithium. It is generally thought that lithium-ion batteries are primarily made of lithium and that if we transition the world’s car fleet to electric, it will create a supply problem. While it is certainly true that lithium demand is expected to rise very significantly, there are abundant supplies and production is likely to keep up, but will require accelerated production from all known reserves and new resources will need to be found and put into production.
But it would be a mistake to focus only on lithium. There are several other raw materials in batteries and they each can create bottlenecks if not properly addressed. According to Glencore, a typical electric car would need about 160kg of copper, 11kg of cobalt and 11kg of nickel.
Cobalt is a critical element in lithium-ion batteries, such batteries already consuming 42 per cent of the metal mined and demand will soar as the world switches from petrol and diesel to electric cars. About two-thirds of the world’s cobalt comes from the Democratic Republic of Congo, including much that is mined by hand, sometimes in appalling conditions by poorly paid labourers, including women and children, who do not benefit from the country's vast mineral wealth, which includes gold, diamonds, tin, coltan, copper and cobalt. Industrial mines operated by the likes of Glencore, the world’s biggest cobalt supplier, have much better standards than the artisanal mines, but it is difficult to verify whether cobalt from the artisanal mines is entering a supply chain of great complexity, and ensuring that ordinary Congolese people actually benefit from the county's riches is fraught with difficulties.
One of the areas that has not been properly thought out, although there are twenty years to do it, is how the electricity grid will cope with the increase in electrical energy needed to power these cars. Politicians talk blithely about renewables being able to deal with this increase and that batteries will be charged at night during off-peak periods, leading to only a 10% increase in power requirements. Solar power is not too good at night, however, so maybe it is wind power that will provide the shortfall? In which case Britain might start to look like a giant pin-cushion, bristling with wind turbines. And another cause for concern is that  wind turbines themselves rely on very powerful magnets, of which neodymium is still an important element. So can mining and processing of rare earth deposits to produce neodymium keep up with demand, and let us not forget that producing this key element is not without major environmental concerns (see posting of 11 February 2013).
What is clear is that mining and mineral processing are going to play a big part in the move to electric vehicles, and that research into recycling of key elements such as lithium, cobalt and neodymium is also critical, all part of the move towards the circular economy, which makes next year's Sustainable Minerals '18 conference in Namibia and Hi-Tech Metals '18 in Cape Town all the more relevant.

Saturday, 26 August 2017

Golden Memories

Where has the time gone?  50 years ago today Barbara and I were married in the cotton mill town of Ashton-u-Lyne, just outside Manchester. At that time I had been abroad once, on a school trip to Switzerland, and Barbara had never left the country, so we could not have envisaged the exciting times that were ahead of us.
Two years later we were off to Zambia and of all the thousands of photos we have taken over the years, the one below is our most iconic, taken in October 1969 as we approached the Rhodesian border en route to a new life on the Zambian Copperbelt.
In South Africa's Northern Province (now Limpopo)
Our four years in Zambia were our watershed years, where I developed my passion for the minerals industry and we discovered that not only were we man and wife, but also best friends. Of all the good things that have come out of our 50 years together, we take the most pride in the fact that where there was once two of us, there are now 10- a wonderful feisty family, who sure keep us on our toes! 
As we now go into our 51st year, we would like to thank all of you who have played important parts, no matter how small, in our continuing journey.


Thursday, 24 August 2017

Recent comments

There have been comments on the following postings since the last update:

A short break in London for the IOM3 Awards Dinner
Are you being bullied into bad science?
Are these WASET conferences just a scam?
What is the point of world University rankings?
Towards large scale microwave treatment of ores
A rising star: Monica Kalichini
Memories of Minerals Engineering '97
Towards the next generation of mineral processing plants
Memories of Prof. Keith Atkinson
In conversation with Osvaldo Bascur
The Red Arrows- the major attraction during Falmouth's Festival Week
In conversation with Roe-Hoan Yoon

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Monday, 21 August 2017

Comminution '18- final call for abstracts

With mining companies having to tighten their belts in these hard times, the importance of optimising comminution, the most energy intensive operation in mineral processing, becomes ever more important.

"Comminution must be the key mineral processing technology during the next 50 years." - Prof. Alban Lynch (August 2013)
Comminution '18, which will be held in Cape Town in April, is the 11th in MEI's conference series. Comminution '16 attracted 177 delegates from 23 countries to Cape Town  (see full report and pictures, and comments from delegates, in posting of 25 April 2016).
Reflecting the need to reduce energy and increase the efficiency of comminution, the conference once more has the backing of the Coalition for Eco-Efficient Comminution (CEEC) as Industry Advocate, and already 13 companies are providing major corporate support to what we are sure will be another opportunity for experts from around the world to discuss new ideas and common problems.

There is now a final call for abstracts. All accepted papers will be published in draft form in the conference Proceedings, and after the conference all authors will be invited to submit final papers for peer-review for a special comminution issue of Minerals Engineering. The deadline for abstract submission is the end of September.
Highlights of the technical sessions will be two keynote lectures from world renowned experts in comminution.  "Comminution in 2068 - will SAG mills still be relevant?" will be presented by Prof. Holger Lieberwirth of TU Bergakademie Freiberg, Germany. "Superior comminution circuit performance: integrating classification during design is the key" will be given by Prof. Aubrey Mainza, of the University of Cape Town, South Africa.
As always the conference will be held in Cape Town's Vineyard Hotel, its superb gardens under Table Mountain providing the perfect setting for the extended coffee breaks, lunches and happy hours, intended to give delegates the opportunity of relaxing and networking in the best of conditions.

Networking at Comminution '16
Registration is already open, and if you would like to exhibit, the exhibition layout is available, showing those companies who have already reserved booths.
At the Comminution '16 exhibition
We look forward to seeing you in Cape Town next April.

Congratulations on a great conference (Comminution '16). Good papers, made more powerful by a single stream which meant high attendance at each session, and good long breaks for informal discussions throughout the day, and meals in a spacious vendors area to encourage circulation. A great formula for a conference - quality over quantity, and time for discussion and networking and to keep the energy levels high. I wish all conferences could manage this balance so well.
Joe Pease, Mineralis Consulting, Chairman CEEC