Monday, 30 May 2011

ALTA 2011 Conference Diary

ALTA 2011 comprised 3 International Conferences held over five days, May 23-27, at the Burswood Convention Centre in Perth, Western Australia.

Burswood Complex from Swan River
The Convention Centre is part of the Burswood Complex, a few miles south-east of downtown Perth, containing two upmarket hotels, a casino, golf course and expensive restaurants. In recent years the conference has been held in downtown Perth, and I would be interested to know how regular attendees feel about the move to Burswood. Being neither a gambler nor a golfer, I know that I would have preferred downtown, but I am aware that there were sound reasons for choosing this venue.

The week started off with the 3-day Nickel-Cobalt-Copper conference from Monday to Wednesday and then the Uranium and Gold Conferences, run in parallel on Thursday and Friday.

The annual ALTA conferences are now well established, and have been held every year in Perth. Just as the CMP conference in Ottawa is an annual meeting place for Canadian Mineral Processors, so does ALTA provide a meeting place for Australian hydrometallurgists to gather. But ALTA is much less parochial than CMP and in the 5 day programme only half of the 71 papers were from Australia, which is commendable as Perth sits close to the huge catchment area of Western Australian mining. This was indeed a truly international event with a total of 286 delegates preregistered, 171 of these from Australia, one of the 26 countries represented, with 19 from USA, 15 from Canada, South Africa (12), Japan (11), China (8), Finland (10), Germany (7), UK (6), France and Singapore 4 each, Poland (3), Russia, Italy, Philippines and New Zealand with 2 each, and South Korea, Sweden, Egypt, Turkey, Ghana, Netherlands, Papua New Guinea and Chile each with one delegate.

There was very little representation from academia. This is essentially an operators conference, although major research institutions, such as CSIRO and the Parker Centre were well represented, as were suppliers of equipment and chemicals to the mining industry.

The conferences are run by ALTA Metallurgical Services, led by its Principal, the indefatigable Alan Taylor, with his wife Joan. Apart from overseeing events, he presented three papers in the technical sessions, as well as presenting two one day short courses, prior to and immediately after the conferences!

The following is my diary of events over the week, which I hope will be supplemented by comments from delegates.

Sunday May 22nd

After registering in the afternoon I attended the evening "Icebreaker" held in the conference exhibition area, where 35 exhibitors displayed their services. Having looked through the delegate list, this is a unique conference experience for me, as I recognise only about a dozen of the names, so there are many new people to meet this week.

I met for the first time Alan and Joan Taylor of ALTA, pictured with Bryn Harris of Canada, who I had never met before, but is very active with CIM, John Canterford (Australia) and Mike Adams of Mutis Liber, Australia.

Monday May 23rd

David Weight
Alan Taylor welcomed delegates to the conference this morning, then introduced David Weight, of the Cobalt Development Institute, UK, who opened the Ni/Co/Cu sessions with his review of cobalt and its future challenges. This was followed by 7 papers on the treatment of laterites and 4 on heap leaching and bioleaching.

As always I will be reporting more on people than presentations, and reports on the latter will be published in the June issue of Gold & Minerals Gazette (GMG). A preview of the papers can also be found in the May issue of the magazine (pps. 30-36).

While MEI is the International Media Sponsor, GMG is the official media magazine for the conference. The magazine, run by Australia's Resource Information Unit (RIU) is also a media sponsor for MEI's Cape Town events, Flotation '11, Comminution '12 and Precious Metals '12. GMG's Advertising Manager, Marcia Lewis, was keen to show me the new iPad version of the magazine, launched in the May issue, which will soon be a free application on iTunes.

Exhibitors were given maximum exposure, as lunch and coffee breaks were held in the exhibition area.

With Jonas Addai-Mensah
One of the few academics at the conference, Prof. Jonas Addai-Mensah, of the University of South Australia's The Wark, presented a paper today on optimisation of nickel laterite ore agglomeration for enhanced heap leaching. It is a shame that there are not more academics here. Jonas tells me that he attends this meeting every year and finds it invaluable to network with people who are at the 'sharp end' of processing, and as a result has found many sponsors for his research.

Tuesday May 24th

Delegates from Outotec
There were 13 papers presented today, dealing with solvent extraction, ion-exchange, electrowinning, sulphide leaching and new projects. Two of the papers were from our Flotation '11 sponsors Outotec, who are represented by a strong team of 7 from Finland and Australia. They were enthusiastic about their new high efficiency cooling towers, seen as a solution for processes requiring efficient direct cooling. Zinc and copper solvent extraction are examples of the new processes in which the cooling towers can be used with low emissions. They are also being used in zinc plants for electrolytic cooling and gypsum removal and are also included as part of the chloride removal process. We hope to have more information soon on MEI Online.

Alan and Joan Taylor
The convention centre was the venue for this evening's conference dinner. During predrinks a few delegates, who were accompanied by their wives, expressed surprise that Alan Taylor had chosen such a social event to present his keynote lecture on pressure acid leaching (PAL). They need not have worried, as this turned out to be an entertaining 10 minute double act between Alan and his vivacious wife Joan. After Joan had wittily and affectionately introduced Alan, he provided a light-hearted look at the ups and downs of the life of PAL, comparing it to the fortunes of the long life of 007 in the movies, drawing on parallels such as "You Only Live Twice", "Never Say Never Again" etc.

Judging the success of a conference dinner is a very personal thing, dependent mainly on two things, the quality of the food, and the personalities of your table partners. The food was excellent, as it has been all week, and I was lucky enough to be sharing a table with Alan and Joan, Suresh Bhargava of RMIT, and Pete Smith of Mogas Industries, the sponsor of the dinner. I was also pleased to be sitting with the affable Jonas Addai-Mensah and got the opportunity to talk to David Weight, who opened the conference, and his delightful wife Mandy. All in all I had a very pleasant evening.

Wednesday May 25th

Morimatsu delegates from China
The last day of the base metals conference, starting with 5 presentations on equipment and materials, including a paper from the Shanghai Morimatsu Pressure Vessel Company. This Chinese company has five representatives at the conference. The Morimatsu Industry was founded in Japan in 1947, the Shanghai company being established as a subsidiary of Morimatsu Japan in 1990. The company manufactures a wide range of carbon steel and stainless steel vessels. A series of titanium-clad autoclaves has been developed for pressure and atmospheric leaching, and will be installed in nickel refineries in Madagascar, Papua New Guinea and Botswana.

After last night's light-hearted look at pressure acid leaching, the day finished with a serious forum on PAL, concluding with a panel discussion on the subject.

It is interesting to note that over half of the papers in this Ni-Co-Cu programme have been directly related to nickel, particularly to the processing of laterite deposits, which is increasing in importance with increasing demand for nickel. This is one of the main themes of next year's Nickel Processing '12 in Cape Town.

Thursday May 26th

ALTA split into parallel sessions today, with the start of the conferences in uranium and gold. Each conference commenced with a keynote address. Suresh Bhargava, of RMIT University, Australia, discussed the challenges and research opportunities in uranium leaching, and Ed Clerk, of Golder Associates, Australia, presented an overview of the application of the Cyanide Code. Most of the day's papers in the gold conference were concerned with leaching, and in the uranium conference with solvent extraction, ion exchange and refining, but both conferences opened with non-hydromet papers. Lutke von Ketelhodt, of Commodas Ultrasort, South Africa provided an update on the optical sorting of Witwatersrand gold ores, while Mark Pownceby of CSIRO discussed the geometallurgy and processing of Australia's uranium deposits.

Geometallurgy is one of the hot topics in mineral processing at the moment, and Mark is hoping to present more of his work at next year's Process Mineralogy '12. He is one of five members of the CSIRO team at ALTA who are involved with the peer-review of papers submitted to Minerals Engineering.

The CSIRO/Parker Centre booth
There have been 7 presentations during the week by the CSIRO/Parker Centre, who are here in force, not only to present their work, but to display and discuss it in their exhibition booth. The Parker Cooperative Research Centre (CRC) for Integrated Hydrometallurgy Solutions has grown, since its establishment in 1994 into the world's leading hydrometallurgical research and education provider. It is a multi-million dollar collaborative venture between CSIRO Process Science and Engineering, Curtin University (including the WA School of Mines), Murdoch University and the University of Queensland, and several major industrial participants.

The Au/U conference dinner in the evening was held at the Royal Perth Yacht Club. Good food and company again, with entertainment provided by a local singer.

Friday May 27th

The last day of the uranium conference dealt mainly with SX/IX/Refining, and leaching, while the whole of the day in the gold conference was spent on cyanide destruction and recovery. The traditional methods for cyanide destruction, Caro's Acid, sodium meta-bisulphite (SMBS)/air and hydrogen peroxide were discussed in depth, and Mike Adams presented an interesting alternative, the MMS CN-D process, which is claimed to provide complete destruction of total cyanide and cyanate using oxygen only, in a superoxygenated Aachen Reactor, thus having the advantage of no requirement for hydrogen peroxide storage or generation of sulphuric acid or sulphates, as with the other options.

With Stuart Glen, metallurgist at MMS Australia,
and Mike Adams
The process has been developed by the small, dynamic UK company Maelgwyn Mineral Services (MMS), who Mike was representing, as a consultant, at the conference. Mike is well known as the editor of the seminal book Advances in Gold Ore Processing. He has his own consultancy company, Mutis Liber, and consults for various other organisations, including MEI, where he advises on Precious Metals '12.

And so at 4pm, after short panel discussions, ALTA '11 came to an end. I have been really impressed with this conference, its participants and its organisation and hope to make it a regular MEI fixture. I am told that around 250 people finally registered for the 3-day base metals conference, and about 200 for the two days on gold and uranium, 140 delegates being registered for the full five days. Having now returned to UK, there are a few delegates that I would like to contact about various things, but unfortunately email addresses were not supplied with the delegate list. Maybe this is something which could be considered for next year?

My only gripe, which is nothing to do with ALTA, is the price of WiFi internet connection in Australia. When are major hotels going to wake up to the fact that business travellers these days expect free WiFi in their rooms - cable connections are useless with devices such as iPads, which are increasingly used? I had to work in the noisy hotel lobby, where WiFi was $10 for 30 minutes. Even more scandalous, the convention centre charged conference delegates a "special" rate of $75 per day!

There is a call for papers for ALTA '12, to be held in Perth again, from May 28th-June 1st.

The papers from ALTA '11 are available as either E-Documents (by email) or CDs. Contact for further details.


  1. ALTA 2010 was attended by me.It was really a good gathering and some very great R&Dfacts and results were presented.

    Mr. Abhilash, National Metallurgical Laboratory, India

  2. I have attended the ALTA conference since 2009 and have always enjoyed the technical sessions covering HPAL/PAL & POX processing and equipment.

    I find this conferenece very useful in keeping up-to-date with the latest developements and projects in these areas.

    My only gripe/question is why is it so expensive, compared to other conferences around the world?

    For example, at $850 per day, it is twice as expensive as 'Nickel Processing '12'.

    If the price was reduced to fall in line with similar conferences, I'm sure the number of delegates would be increased to compensate for the lower price and/or delegates would attend for more days.

    This would enable the information to be dispersed to a wider audience and may well be one of the reasons why there are so few academics attending...

  3. It was a good gathering of the clans. Nice to have been part of some good interactions between operators and technologists. Reminded me of the great dialogue at the last Precious Metals 10 conference, so have a look at participating in Precious Metals 12 (, Cape Town, 12-13 Nov 2012.

    Mike Adams

  4. A review of the technical sessions can be found in Gold & Minerals Gazette, June 2011, pps. 56-61


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