Tuesday, 31 March 2009

Departing for Cape Town

Jon, Barbara and I leave for the long journey to Cape Town shortly. I will be reporting regularly on events, and daily on the two conferences SRCR '09 and BioHydromet '09.

It is by no means too late to register for these conferences- to do so just email your registration form directly to Jon (jon@min-eng.com), and then we will see you at the beautiful Vineyard Hotel. The final programmes are on the websites.

SME Annual Meeting 2010

This meeting will be held in Phoenix from February 28th- March 1st. Many people will have the previous week in their diaries and calendars (as do MEI) as the wrong information was given on the SME web-site and also at the last meeting in Denver.

The Denver meeting attracted 4215 delegates and there were 603 exhibit booths.

Saturday, 28 March 2009

On human-induced climate change

Further to the recent postings on climate change there is a very thought provoking article in the journal Science of the Total Environment by Lillo and Oyarzun.

The authors highlight that we currently face a public debate that at least in part has become bitter and somewhat ideological. On one side stand those who mildly or strongly oppose the mere notion of man-induced climate change. On the other there is a strong faction that in its extreme side freely speaks in terms of a near-future 'doomsday'. In the middle stands a community (which includes myself) that would really want to see a sound discussion and actual proofs going beyond climate modelling.

To geologists, climate change is not the exception but the norm. There is not a 'standard climate' to start with, so change would be the least one could expect, either in the short or long term.

It would be naive to think that modern industrialised societies play no part in climate change but similarly the use of a single (such as CO2) or just a few parameters to understand climate seems over-simplistic. Earth is an extremely complex planet and an often overlooked but critical part of the analysis is to look at the interplay between variables. No variable on its own can fully explain everything, and data should be carefully analysed before grand conclusions are reached.

Most of the attention has focused on greenhouse gases, particularly CO2, a narrow vision that fails to consider other potentially (short-term) disruptive climate scenarios, such as those that could be induced by the oceans' role in climate change, and volcanic eruptions.

The full article can be downloaded from ScienceDirect.

Australian Broker Sees Light at the End of the Tunnel

In his 2009 conference market update at Australia’s RIU Explorers Conference, Patersons Securities Ltd’s head of research Mark Simpson painted a picture where things could well get a little worse before turning around for the better.

There was a perception, he told delegates, that the world had slipped into depression as opposed to just a recession, with the most telling factor perhaps being the number of jobs lost in the mining industry. In January alone, the sector collectively shed at least 4,440 Australian employees, with the biggest individual culprit being BHP Billiton Ltd, which laid off some 3,100 workers at operations in Western Australia (namely the Ravensthorpe nickel laterite disaster, which claimed 1,800 victims), Queensland (coal — 1,100) and South Australia (the Olympic Dam operation — 200).

This was followed by Rio Tinto Ltd (which cut 616 jobs), the publicly-listed Xstrata (379) and OZ Minerals Ltd (205). Then there was the fact that just about every economic commentary going forward predicted negative growth, with “horrendous” figures coming out of Japan, Germany “on its knees” and all the other major economies effectively heading into recession.

“The IMF’s latest numbers say that the advanced economies of the world essentially will grow at a negative 2% this year, and then a marginal recovery into next year,” Simpson observed. “And what we are seeing is that this economic view; focusing on this year, is turning into headlines about depression. How can you be optimistic when every paper you open, every TV station you turn to, is telling you that it can only get worse?”

“Well, essentially, I think that we are in uncharted territory — we are in a period when unprecedented monetary and fiscal stimuli are being pumped at the problem.”

The full article is in Gold & Minerals Gazette, March 2009 (p.27)

Tuesday, 24 March 2009

What is the SME afraid of?

I am intrigued by a posting on http://blogs.mining.com/. The headline is :

SME demands an apology from I THINK MINING
Written by Jack Caldwell on March 9th, 2009
SME has said they will not work or cooperate with InfoMine unless I say sorry for what I wrote in this blog about the SME conference. Now I have personally and privately e-mailed many a discussion with Dave Kanagy on what I wrote and we are on friendly terms. So no issue there
. “

That’s as far as it goes though, as the link to I Think Mining is broken, and the posting appears to have been removed.

Jack’s postings on his blog are merely criticisms of some of the papers presented at the SME in Denver last month so I find it disturbing that an organisation such as SME should threaten InfoMine in this way.

Large events such as SME and IMPC should be open to free criticism and debate. I have personally criticised SME and IMPC papers in the past (see my comments on the Turkish IMPC for example).

We actively invite criticism of MEI Conferences, and publish all comments, no matter how adverse (good example at www.min-eng.com/appliedmineralogy/reps/5.html). Receiving feedback, whether it is good or bad, and acting on it, is the only way to improve the service we provide.

Come on SME, your shoulders should be broad enough to take criticism!!

Saturday, 21 March 2009

Copperbelt memories of Ireland's greatest rugby player

In the crowd today at Cardiff's Millennium Stadium, when a team led by Brian O'Driscoll ended Ireland's 61-year grand slam drought by beating Wales 17-15, was 83-year old Jack Kyle (pictured left).

Until today, Ireland had won only one grand slam, in 1948. The surviving captain of that side, Karl Mullen, attributes that success in no small way to the genius of Jack Kyle, the fly-half voted the greatest Ireland player in history.

I wonder how many ex-Copperbelt metallurgists remember Jackie Kyle for different reasons. After retiring from rugby he emigrated to Africa, and between 1966 and 2000 was a consultant at the Nchanga Hospital in Chingola, Zambia. Our fondest memory is that he confirmed the imminent birth of Amanda, who was born in Chingola in 1972.

Tuesday, 17 March 2009

Zambian Copperbelt Problems

My mineral processing career started on the Zambian Copperbelt, so it is really sad to hear the news of closures of great mines such as Mufulira and Nkana. Glencore has indicated that they will start the mines again once the copper price reaches $5500 per tonne, so there is a long way to go, the copper price yesterday being around $3700/tonne.

So let's hope that Metal Bulletin's forecast of an upturn later in the year comes to fruition.

Thursday, 12 March 2009

Carbon Emissions

I have had an exchange of emails with Prof. Ian Plimer of University of Adelaide (see March 6th entry).His controversial views on carbon dioxide emissions are shortly to be published in a book - Heaven and Earth.

As editor of a peer-reviewed scientific journal for the past 21 years, I have seen quite a bit of bad science, and have developed a high degree of scepticism towards unsubstantiated theories and conclusions. I have always suspected that the claim that climate change is man-made is dubious, and not based on solid evidence, and Prof. Plimer's article in Materials World seems to provide clear evidence to counter this claim.

I remember when I was at University in the ‘60s that we were about to enter a new ice age, as the world had been cooling since the beginning of the century. Temperatures started to rise shortly after that, but as Prof. Plimer points out, there has been only a 0.75C rise in temperature since the start of the industrial revolution (although I am also sceptical about the consistency of measurement of these temperatures over such a long period).The media love climate change and carbon footprints, researchers love it because of the highly lucrative grants available and politicians equally love it as it provides good reasons to impose green taxes and restrictions on just about everything, as highlighted by the UK’s plans to turn off lighting on hundreds of miles of motorway despite an admission from the Highways Agency that a small increase in crashes is likely to result! The measure is being introduced primarily to reduce carbon emissions but it will also save the agency several million pounds a year in electricity cost (The Times March 13th). I wonder if the latter could really be the primary reason?

To challenge what are considered to be generally accepted views is tantamount to heresy but carbon emission controls are highly expensive and damaging to industries such as ours. A great website for the pros and cons is at http://climatedebatedaily.com/ and I invite the views of mineral processors and others in the mining industry.

Monday, 9 March 2009

The perils of foresight

I have just been browsing the MEI archives, and came across this news item from February 12th, 2004:

"The strongest message to come out of February's African Mining Indaba '04 meeting in Cape Town was from international financier Robert M. Friedland, founder, chairman and President of Ivanhoe Mines Ltd, Canada.
China is now driving the world's economy, and is the world's largest producer of steel, despite being a net importer! Its insatiable demand for copper, nickel, platinum, gold and other metals is, according to Mr. Friedland, creating an unprecedented growth in the minerals industry, which should last for decades. This is not just a bubble, but a reality!"

I suppose the moral of this is, don't try to predict even the short term future!

Friday, 6 March 2009

A geologist opens up the debate on climate change

There is a very interesting little article in the March 2009 issue of Materials World, by Prof. Ian Plimer of the University of Adelaide, Australia.

His research on over 500 references indicates that carbon dioxide is undoubtedly a greenhouse gas but that water vapour is the main greenhouse gas. He believes the indisputable evidence of past CO2 at levels much greater than at present, and the fact that at times they correlated with cooler periods warrants consideration.

The present base line of 280ppm set by IPCC as a pre-industrial level, a level noted in 1880, is the lowest in the past 200 years. The first few ppm atmospheric CO2 do have a profound effect on Earth temperatures, but after 40ppm, the effect declines continually. This is supported by the geological, archaeological, historical and present day observations.

Maybe we shouldn't feel too guilty about making that plane journey?

Copper Prices Set to Rise?

With copper prices at half the level they were in the first part of 2008, 2009 looks like being a tough year for most in the copper supply chain. But, according to Metal Bulletin, the general consensus is the year will be one of two halves, with demand and prices recovering as we head into the second half. Just how quickly the industry can move back towards balance will be a key discussion point at Metal Bulletin Events' 22nd International Copper Conference – a timely meeting place for those in the copper business who want to get a handle on where the challenges – and increasingly the opportunities – lies.

Having outperformed many other commodities in the last three or four years, when copper’s fall came it was always likely to be heavy. But the downside may well be overdone, given the metal’s singular failure to keep production plans on track in recent years. High prices and substitution may have eaten into the demand side, a factor now compounded by the credit squeeze and consumer conservatism. But on the opposite side of the coin, a combination of technical problems, falling ore grades, labour unrest, re-estimated mine economics and financing restraints could equally keep a rein on supply growth. ICSG figures show a less than 2% rise in mine output in 2008, with most of the growth feeding SX-EW production, and while a 10% increase is forecast for 2009, past experience shows us that actual output tends to fall short of expectations.

By June 2009, the current gloom and doom should be starting to lift, allowing the copper industry experts on Metal Bulletin’s conference programme to provide a clearer view of the mid to longer-term marketplace – especially in terms of both primary and secondary supply growth, and demand dynamics in the key consuming markets.

Thursday, 5 March 2009

International Mining media sponsors of Flotation '09

Good to hear via Amanda that International Mining are to be media sponsors, along with Gold & Minerals Gazette, of November's Flotation ’09 conference.

International Mining is one of the most proactive and dynamic trade journals, under the high-profile editorship of John Chadwick, and always have a presence at major exhibitions and conferences, as at last week’s SME Meeting in Denver (see picture with John Chadwick centre). They are a very friendly bunch, so I hope that our relationship will be ongoing.

Tuesday, 3 March 2009

PROCEMIN '09 highlights the current importance of conferences

I had an email today from the organisers of PROCEMIN 2009, which will be held in Santiago, Chile, in December.

One paragraph caught my eye, as it echoes my sentiments on conferences in the current economic climate:

"Undoubtedly, the year 2009 will pose major challenges for all companies that are active in the global mining industry, given the low base metal prices and the uncertain financial outlook. Many companies will be facing great pressure to reduce costs and to maximize efficiency. However, given this scenario, the Organizing Committee strongly believes that the mining industry would greatly benefit from the opportunity that is offered by PROCEMIN 2009, to meet many of the global players in the mining industry within just a few days time. Participants will have the chance to discuss in person with colleagues from all over the world, the alternatives and opportunities that are available to successfully deal with the adverse and uncertain conditions that currently characterize the global economy and hence the mining industry. "

Dead right!! It is essential that minerals engineers get together and discuss common problems and aims, and there is no better forum for doing this than a quality conference.

Monday, 2 March 2009

SRCR '09 Cape Town

I have been looking over the very full programme for SRCR ’09, which will be held in Cape Town next month. It really is a very interesting programme, with many papers outside what we consider to be mainstream mineral processing.

For instance a paper by Jane Hope of Plymouth College of Art & design is likely to illicit some discussion.

She states that the mining of precious metals and gemstones for jewellery is responsible for vast amounts of well documented environmental and social degradation. It will continue to make an increasingly untenable demand on water and energy at a time when businesses, communities and nations are having to find ways of combating or coping with climate change and global depletion of natural resources. Her paper will address four interrelated issues:

1. Can the jewellery industry exist in a carbon based economy?
2. Are multinational mining corporations justified in eclipsing artisanal and small scale mining enterprises?
3. Could the demand for precious metals and gemstones diminish?
4. Should the jewellery industry and the precious metals mining corporations be talking to each other?

I hope we have representatives from the South African gold mines at the event- this should cause quite a buzz!!

I have also had a message from our accommodation agent, to remind anyone who is thinking of attending the conference, and would like to book accommodation at the Vineyard Hotel, that conference block bookings are being held until March 9th.