Thursday, 25 February 2021

Thank goodness lithium grows on trees

Demand for lithium is set to explode in the years ahead, as car makers move to EV technology, but lithium supply is likely to struggle to keep up with booming electric vehicle demand. Australia is the number one global lithium producer at present, accounted for 54.4% of global lithium production in 2019, more than double the output of the world’s second-largest producer, Chile. The figure below shows how the demand on commodities might change if all cars became electric by 2050 (posting of 21 July 2019).

Source: UBS Estimates

Mining for lithium is set to intensify over the coming years, and Cornish Lithium Ltd recently announced that the company had commenced its second drilling campaign at its Trelavour hard rock lithium project near St Austell in east Cornwall. In December, the company announced that they would be accelerating the development of the Trelavour hard rock lithium project following the successful production of battery-grade lithium hydroxide from lithium mica samples obtained during the first drilling programme earlier in 2020 (posting of 10th December 2020). 

In parallel, Cornish Lithium continues to advance its project to extract lithium contained within geothermal waters, and Australian Company Vulcan Resources is also developing a new zero emissions lithium production facility in Germany to deliver lithium to the booming German EV car making industry. Feasibility studies into the lithium production facility showed that the project would be highly profitable. The proposed facility would have the potential to produce as much as 40,000 tonnes of lithium hydroxide each year, the usable ingredient for battery production. The plant would be looking to tap into an identified deposit of 1.12 million tonnes of lithium carbonate equivalent in the Upper Rhine Valley of Germany, one of Europe’s largest lithium deposits, operating on geothermal energy drawn from the deposit itself, allowing the facility to run entirely on renewable energy. It would position the project as a producer of lithium with zero embedded greenhouse gas emissions, with the project proposal including plans for a 74MW geothermal plant.

400 miles from Cornwall, Northern Lithium is a company that has been launched and has secured rights to explore and extract lithium and other minerals from hot underground water within the Weardale Granite of County Durham. A source of lithium in the North East of England raises the possibility of boosting an emerging centre for electric vehicles and a potential jobs boost for the area, with Northern Lithium planning to set up wells to extract and re-inject brine extracted from the underground rock, with a lithium production plant somewhere in between. Although the company will strive to minimise any environmental impact, the location of the site within the North Pennines Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty could complicate the plans.

However there are some suggested plans which show a lack of understanding of the need to mine raw materials, and hence my titular remark about lithium 'growing on trees'. US President Joe Biden has announced his intention to replace the US government’s federal fleet with “clean electric vehicles” promising million of jobs across the auto supply chain. Details and timelines of his federal EV transition remain unclear but with a government fleet of 645,000 vehicles, according to 2019 data from the Federal Fleet Report, it would represent a significant upsurge in US cell demand, probably around 61,000 tonnes of lithium.

Even more ambitious, the world's richest man, Elon Musk, is planning to produce 20 million electric Tesla cars per year by 2030, with no thought as to where the lithium, and other raw materials will come from. 

Lithium mines produced an estimated global total of 77,000 metric tons of lithium in 2019 and the figure below shows that Tesla would require over 127,000 tonnes per year of lithium, around 165% of annual world supply! Lithium is “just like widely available”, according to Musk and Tesla’s scientists, and one of his followers tweeted "there is a plentiful supply of lithium. It is 3rd in the Periodic Table, only hydrogen and helium being more abundant." Ah well!

But apart from lithium, Tesla would need more than 30% of global mined nickel production in 2019 for its batteries, the entire output of the top 6 producers and more.  But at least he did acknowledge that nickel comes out of the ground as he said "I’d just like to re-emphasise, any mining companies out there, please mine more nickel".


Sunday, 21 February 2021

Comminution '21 provisional programme now live

Comminution '21, MEI's 12th International Comminution Symposium and our first online event, will be held over four days, April 19th-21st.

We are pleased to announce the publication of the provisional timetable, a fine mix of presentations from academia and industry, including three keynote lectures from well-known comminution experts.

Registering for the conference will give access to the seven technical sessions:

  • Energy & Breakage
  • Control & Instrumentation
  • Modelling & Simulation
  • HPGR
  • SAG Mills
  • Stirred Mills
  • Mills & Circuits

as well as a Panel Discussion on "What will comminution circuits look like in 2050?"

There is also a Virtual Exhibition and networking opportunities. The programme is still evolving, so if you would like to make a presentation it is not too late to submit an abstract.

I would like to thank once more our sponsors for supporting us during these difficult times.


Thursday, 18 February 2021

Recent Comments

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

We welcome and encourage your comments on blog postings (see also the posting of 2nd April 2019). If you do not have a Google account, the simplest way to add a comment is by selecting 'anonymous' as your profile, but please leave your name and affiliation in the comment. Alternatively, email your comment directly to

Last month there were around 14,000 page views, so interacting with the blog enhances your international presence by providing you, and your company or Institute, with valuable exposure.

If you are in Web View (mobile users can access this by scrolling down to the bottom of the screen) you can also check various things in the right hand column:
  • The latest MEI tweets from @barrywills
  • The most viewed posts in the last 7 days, month and year
  • Dates of blog posts (click on the black arrows to open up individual months and postings)
  • Labels, or categories
You can also subscribe to blog alerts by email, and access MEI's Facebook page and MEI Online via links in this column.

Monday, 15 February 2021

Keys to Best Practice Comminution

This will be the title of a keynote presentation at Comminution '21, to be presented by John Starkey of conference sponsor Starkey & Associates Inc, Canada. John has worked for 15 years in operating mineral processing plants, 15 years in engineering companies designing concentrators, and 30 years as a Consulting Engineer. He invented the SPI, and SAGDesign tests, and the lab mills required to do these tests.  

John Starkey (right) and his wife Donna, at Comminution '18
with Erik Spiller of Colorado School of Mines

John says that there are three reasons for his keynote. For operators to manage good operations; for designers to produce workable designs; and for educators to provide useful education for mineral process engineers.

In all cases, he considers that an understanding of the transfer size (T80) to the ball mill is critical to achieve best economics in a SAG mill grinding plant. T80 is important to operators because when SAG energy and Bond Ball Mill Work Index on SAG ground ore are measured, accurate prediction of future throughput in any SAG circuit is possible. Without the plant T80, it can take many months to figure out how to correct what is really a SAG mill grinding problem, because that problem is hidden if the T80 is not measured.

Best practice comminution means running a SAG mill at its best conditions, and avoiding overloading, overspeeding and using excessive steel additions, during the design and operating stages of plant setup. When normal limits for these parameters are exceeded in the design stage, production shortfalls result and operating costs are high. Extra SAG mill capacity is a bonus while lack of capacity is a disaster.

John will show how to design workable grinding circuits on the same ore, using either single stage SAG milling, SAB grinding, SABC grinding, or HPGR pre-crushing followed by ball milling. There are many ways to set up a SAG plant and future expansion should always be considered at the design stage. This opportunity is often overlooked because the designer did not understand the options available.

The provisional programme for Comminution '21 will be announced very shortly.


Thursday, 11 February 2021

A new editor for Minerals Engineering: Ahmet Deniz Bas

As Editor-in-Chief of Minerals Engineering it gives me great pleasure to announce that Dr. Ahmet Deniz Bas has been promoted to Editor of the journal, after serving as an assistant editor since 2017. He joins the other two editors, Dr. Pablo Brito-Parada, of Imperial College, UK, and Dr. Kristian Waters, of McGill University, Canada.

Ahmet Deniz Bas has been an Assistant Professor in the Department of Mining Engineering, Division of Mineral Processing at the Muğla Sıtkı Koçman University (MSKU), Turkey since February 2020 and has recently been appointed as co-head of the department of mining engineering.  Before joining MSKU, he worked as a Researcher at COREM, Québec City, Canada for two years where he led research and technical projects in extractive metallurgy and flotation, including pilot plant scale trials.

Deniz received his B.Sc. in mining engineering (2009) and M.Sc. in the field of hydrometallurgy (2012) from Karadeniz Technical University, Turkey and his Ph.D from from Université Laval, Canada (2017). On completing his Ph.D., he was a Postdoctoral Fellow in Chemical Engineering at the same university. 

Deniz has more than ten years of hands-on experience in (bio)hydrometallurgy and mineral electrochemistry and has co-authored 1 book chapter, 15 SCI journal papers as well as 15 conference papers.

He is the recipient of the “2016 Gordon M. Ritcey Ph.D. Award”, and has been awarded the “2017 MetSoc Emerging Professional”. In 2016 he was recognised by MEI as a Rising Star.

Since 2018 he has served as a member of the technical committee of the Hydrometallurgy section of MetSoc of CIM. He has been a member of the organizing committees of several international conferences including COM 2016-XXVIII IMPC, Extraction 2018, COM-Copper 2019, and IMCET 2022. He was also co-organizer for the electrometallurgy short course at COM 2019, Vancouver. In 2019, he and colleagues started the Metallurgical Processing News Bulletin initiative. He is a member of the Chamber of Mining Engineers of Turkey, CIM, SME andTMS. 

I look forward to continuing to work with Deniz in his new role on the journal.


Monday, 8 February 2021

Memories of the 2008 IMPC in Beijing

Last month I looked back at a memorable IMPC held in Istanbul in 2006. Two years later an even more lavish affair was held in Beijing, China. The XXIV IMPC of 24-28 September 2008 was attended by 850 delegates representing 45 countries. Of these almost 400 were from China. 

A record 690 papers were presented, 282 in innumerable parallel sessions, and 308 in poster sessions, and these were published in a massive 4-volume proceedings, weighing in at nearly 12 kg- a total of around 10 tonnes of paper, most of which probably ended up in hotel bins, as the organisers also provided a much more convenient CD!

The organising committee, led by the chairman Prof. Wang Dianzuo must be congratulated on the organisation of the huge timetable, and three associated workshops, and particularly the spectacular social events, which included a magnificent ‘Beijing Night’ Dinner show at the Imperial Ancestral Temple, and the final night banquet in the Golden Hall of the Beijing Hotel, the highlight of which was the presentation of the Lifetime Achievement Award to Prof. Janusz Laskowski

The photos below might stir a few memories: