Friday, 7 October 2011

Conference of Metallurgists 2011 (COM '11) Conference Diary

The Metallurgy and Materials Society (MetSoc) of CIM celebrated its 50th Anniversary at the Hilton Bonaventure Hotel in Montreal from October 3-5, 2011. MetSoc encompasses the broad field of metallurgy, from the primary extractive industries to steel making and physical metallurgy. This was highlighted by the number of parallel symposia taking place over the three days, including New Technology Implementation in Metallurgical Processes, Light Metals, Waste Processing and Recycling, Management, and Innovations in Joining Advanced Materials.

The Canadian Institute of Mining, Metallurgy and Petroleum (CIM), the Australasian Institute of Mining and Metallurgy (AusIMM) and the Southern African Institute of Mining and Metallurgy (SAIMM) jointly convene a World Gold Conference every two years on a rotational basis. The conference series completed its first loop with the 2009 World Gold Conference held in Johannesburg. Now, after three successful events, the World Gold Conference also formed a major part of COM '11's programme.

Because of this very broad scope, what follows in no way provides a comprehensive report on the week's activities, so I invite delegates to add their own comments at the end of this posting.

Monday October 3rd

Due to a 24 hour flight delay at Heathrow, I arrived in Montreal late last night, so unfortunately missed the opening wine reception.

One of the plenary lectures this morning was delivered by Fathi Habashi, of Laval University, who explained the historical development of MetSoc, which was originally the Metallurgical Society of CIM until 1967. In another plenary, Chris Twigge-Molecy of Hatch discussed the global challenges in the mining industry, particularly in view of the tremendous stress imposed on the minerals and metals supply chain by global growth, particularly driven by China.

Standing room only at a World Gold session
I caught up with Guy Deschenes, of CANMET this morning. Guy is an Editorial Board member of Minerals Engineering, and also Chairman of World Gold. Although no delegate list is available, he tells me that over 800 have registered for COM '11, and around half of these are for World Gold, which was evident from this morning's sessions, where it was standing room only, with people spilling out into the corridor. Parallel sessions also created a number of dilemmas for many people. Mineralogy of Precious Metals ran all day, in parallel with the morning's Plant Practice and Projects, and the afternoon's Refractory Ores sessions. There was also conflict between the day's sessions on New Technology Implementation in Metallurgical Processes, which included two interesting keynotes, one from Bert Wasmund of Hatch. He showed that success in implementing new technology is not a foregone conclusion. He defined success not only as meeting the schedule and budget to mechanical completion; the key goal is fast ramp up to the full design production level, with minimum plant and equipment modifications required after start-up.

Guy Deschenes and Leon Lorenzen
Shortly after talking to Guy I was pleased to see my old friend Leon Lorenzen, of Snowden, Australia, who will be Chairman of the next World Gold symposium, to be held in Australia in 2013 at either Perth or the Gold Coast. It is hoped that it will be run back to back with Geometallurgy '13, which makes sense as many people will have a great interest in both. For a similar reason, MEI is organising next year's Precious Metals '12 in Cape Town in conjunction with Process Mineralogy '12.

After the morning sessions I attended the MetSoc Awards luncheon, where several CIM members who have excelled through their outstanding achievements were honoured.

Greg Richards and Richard Lawrence
Teck has recently established an award to promote innovation and development in the field of environmental control technology for the metallurgical industry in Canada. The award recognises significant contributions to the field of environmental science and engineering and sustainable development, and this year's recipient was Richard Lawrence, the Principal of Lawrence Consulting Ltd, in recognition of his significant contributions in the area of acid rock drainage, which has advanced the knowledge of prediction methods, improved waste management practices and developed new water treatment methods. He received his award from Greg Richards of Teck Resources Ltd.

Arthur Barnes and Engin Ozberk
The Airey Award is a memorial to the late H.T. Airey, who played a significant role in the creation and organisation of the Annual Conference of Metallurgists. It is supported by Xstrata in recognition of highly significant contributions to the advancement of metallurgy in Canada. Arthur Barnes, of Xstrata Process Support, presented this to Engin Ozberk, Vice-President, Innovation and Technology Development of Cameco Corporation, for his important contributions to process development and design and for continuing leadership through active and strong involvement in CIM.

Immediately after lunch there was an excellent panel discussion with the top leaders in the gold industry. Pictured left to right are Peter Kinver, EVP and COO of Barrick Gold Corporation, David Harquail, President and CEO of Franco-Nevada, Sean Roosen, President and CEO of Osisko Mining Corporation, and Gordon Stothart, EVP and COO of IamGold Corporation.

Most conference forums are a disappointment and fall flat due to a lack of motivation to speak, but this one was driven by the professionalism of Amanda Lang, Senior Business Correspondent with CBC News , the Guest Moderator, who asked pertinent and leading questions and maintained the momentum of the discussions.

The panel were unanimous in that the key driver for gold in recent years has been investment demand and the exploding economy in China. It is relatively easy to buy gold these days and the Chinese government encourages people to do so. As long as the 8-9% global growth continues there will be a demand for gold and the bull market of the last ten years will continue.

The great technological challenge, however, is in maintaining this with decreasing ore grades and increasingly refractory and complex ores, and there is a need to encourage young engineers to join the industry. Investment in new processes, and improvement of existing ones, is of great importance.

The perception is still that mining is a dirty and socially unacceptable industry, so it is essential that people in the industry display their pride in the industry and extoll its virtues. Cyanide usage typifies this general attitude, and its use is emotive and prone to punitive legislation, even though in reality it is fairly easy to manage and control. Personally I have no problem in arguing the case for mining, particularly for base metals and industrial minerals, on the basis of "everything we use is either mined or grown", but I have always had some difficulty in convincing people of the essential need for gold mining (see posting of August 9th 2009).

The general conclusion of the panel was that this is probably the best time ever to be a gold miner but the industry must take advantage of it to build the foundations for the next generation of mines.

Tuesday October 4th

There was a bewildering array of parallel sessions this morning, with many papers of interest, so it is good to know that a complete set of COM 2011 printed proceedings will be available from MetSoc after the conference. The 5 books in the set comprise Advanced Materials, Light Metals, New Technology, Waste Recycling and World Gold. The fifth book in the set is a commemorative 50th Anniversary volume, documenting how the 'metallurgical landscape' in Canada has evolved over the past 50 years, this retrospective allowing one of the morning's keynote speakers, Nathan Stubina, of the Mining Association of Canada, to look forward and try to predict the forces that will shape the industry in the next 50 years, while Jurgen Beier of Deloitte & Touche discussed the top 10 issues mining companies will face in the coming year. He argued that these are 1. The fickel face of financing; 2. When supply can't match demand; 3. Securing a licence to operate; 4. New taxes, new regulations and new governments; 5. How to invest more strategically; 6. The war for talent; 7. Maintaining the search for new deposits; 8. Climate change disclosure; 9. Inadequate infrastructure in developing jurisdictions; 10. New revenue opportunities.

Running in parallel with these keynotes were 4 papers showing how industry and universities have interacted as a research consortium on the processing of a low grade ultramafic nickel ore. Vale Base Metals Technology Development invited Cytec and the Universities of McGill, Columbia and McMaster to attack the problem, each with a different approach. The McMaster University group, with little mineral processing experience, but with a strong track record in colloids, polymers and chemical additives for papermaking, proposed employing hydrophobic nanoparticles to replace conventional low molecular weight, water-soluble flotation collectors, and showed that these can function as efficient collectors, and efforts to commercialise the technology are ongoing. There is more information on MEI Online.

And to compound the parallel session dilemma, the morning sessions of World Gold contained three parallel sessions, on environmental aspects, including acid mine drainage, gold recovery by gravity concentration and developments in cyanide leaching.

With Lucky Amaratunga and Louis Mercier
I have been very pleased to see the high esteem in which Laxman (Lucky) Amaratunga, of Laurentian University is held in Canada and I am looking forward to tomorrow's luncheon in his honour. I have known Lucky and his wife Nan for 20 years, when they attended Minerals Engineering '91 in Singapore. As a graduate of Camborne School of Mines, they have also visited Cornwall in recent years and attended MEI Conferences in Falmouth. Although now confined to a wheel-chair, Lucky is as cheerful as ever, and he enthused about his latest research, on the use of nanoporous silicas in gold processing, which his colleague Louis Mercier will be presenting tomorrow. They are planning to submit a paper on this innovative work to Minerals Engineering. As they explained, thiosulphate is a promising alternative lixiviant to cyanide, but it is not well absorbed by activated carbon, making its industrial use for gold leaching impractical at present. They have shown that the efficient adsorption of gold thiosulphate by thiol-functionalised mesoporous silicas, with pore channel diameters in the range 3-10 nm, is possible, whereby the thiol groups in the materials bind with the gold complexes by ligand displacement. The absorbed gold could be leached out using cyanide, regenerating the absorbent for further uptake cycles. We discussed the possibility of preesentation of this promising candidate for the preconcentration of gold from thiosulphate leach solution at next year's Precious Metals '12.

Following an excellent World Gold Luncheon, there were some interesting papers on the comminution and concentration of gold ores, including a paper by Ronel Kappes of Newmont Mining Corporation on the current status of the chemistry of gold flotation, which reviewed current gold flotation practice and how these applications tie in with the current understanding of gold flotation chemistry.

As discussed by Qi Liu of the University of Alberta, gold recovery from refractory ores can be very complicated depending on the cause of the refractoriness. Typically a fine grind and/or the oxidation of the gold-bearing sulphide minerals are required to liberate gold from the host rock matrix. Mineral separation techniques can be used to pre-concentrate the gold and sulphide minerals, or to remove mineral species that are harmful either to the oxidation of the gold-bearing sulphides or to the cyanidation following the oxidation. Dr. Liu described several possible processes, including oil-agglomeration-flotation recovery of fine gold, reverse flotation of carbonate minerals prior to pressure or bio oxidation, reverse flotation of elemental sulphur after pressure or bio oxidation but prior to cyanide leaching, and flotation recovery of fine gold-bearing activated carbon, as well as magnetic concentration of gold-bearing iron oxides. The integration of these techniques with gold hydrometallurgical processes may make the economic recovery of gold from an otherwise uneconomic refractory ore possible.

In the late afternoon I took some time off to explore Montreal. I took a taxi to the man-made Île Notre-Dame on the St. Lawrence River, a small, peaceful island where there is more wildlife than people. For one week each year it explodes into vibrant life and becomes the noisiest place in Montreal, as it is home to the Gilles Villeneuve Grand Prix circuit. After walking the circuit I had a very long walk back to the hotel via the old city.

On the Gilles Villeneuve GP Circuit
Red fox on Île Notre-Dame
Montreal from St. Lawrence River
In the Old City
Wednesday October 5th

This morning I sat in on an interesting presentation in the Student Activities section of the conference. Alicia Ferdinand, President of Proven Resources Recruitment, presented different stategies to help guide students along their career path. She emphasised the importance of networking, and that 80% of jobs come via getting to know people at conferences, etc, as well as via professional networking sites, notably LinkedIn. It was disappointing, however, to see that only 6 students made the effort to attend.

Alicia's presentation unfortunately clashed with a paper given by Utigard Torstein of the University of Toronto on energy recovery from smelter slags. The worldwide consumption of energy is steadily increasing and by 2030 it is forecasted to grow by another 50%, leading to mounting political and economic pressures. In many pyrometallurgical processes a large amount of energy is lost in off-gases, slags, mattes and molten metals. The presentation reviewed previous attempts to recover some of this energy and evaluated some potential novel technologies. I missed the presentation and wonder if the Warner Process for direct smelting of complex sulphide ores was mentioned. This interesting process was developed at Birmingham University in the 1980s, and although proven at pilot scale has never found any industrial application.

In the World Gold symposium unfortunate programming split New Concepts into two parts, and then ran them in parallel! Because of this there was a clash between two very interesting papers. Virtually every conference that I have attended this year has had at least one paper on sensor-based sorting, a technique that was once limited to diamond processing and a few other operations, but due to high speed computer processing is now finding many other preconcentration applications, notably for gold ores and waste dumps in South Africa. As processor speeds continue to increase, expect more and more applications for this technology.

The paper on the potential for sensor-based sorting, by authors from RWTH Aachen University, and CommodasUltrasort was given at the same time as Damian Connelly, of Mineral Engineering Technical Services, discussed the significant innovations which have taken place in the Australian gold mining industry. Research and development plus innovation by companies themselves and assistance from consultants has resulted in Australia becoming a leading supplier of commodities and an exporter of resource sector technology. Institutions such as the JKMRC, the Parker Centre, the Ian Wark Research Institute, CSIRO, AMIRA and the Cooperative Research Centres have fostered these innovations.

Lucky Amaratunga celebratory luncheon
After attending the lunch to honour the life and works of Lucky Amaratunga (see Wednesday's posting), where I at last managed to catch up with MEI's Precious Metals '12 consultant Mike Adams, and Flotation '11 keynote speaker Jim Finch, I decided to call it a day and explore a little more of Montreal on foot.

This is a difficult conference to summarise, as it has been a bewildering maze of too many discrete symposia and parallel sessions.

The centre-piece has undoubtedly been World Gold, and Guy Deschenes and his team must be congratulated on all the hard work that they have put in to organise this symposium, which attracted around half of the total COM '11 delegates. However, its impact was diluted by a further 400 delegates at the venue, many of them mining engineers, geologists, physical metallurgists and materials scientists, which made catching up with contacts difficult.

I understand why MetSoc wished to incorporate World Gold into COM '11 on its Golden Jubilee, but World Gold is important enough to be a stand-alone conference, and would have had more impact held back to back with COM '11.

The AusIMM are wise to have decided to run World Gold '13 as a discrete conference, running back to back with Geometallurgy '13, as many people have an interest in both, but will be able to focus on each individually without the frustration of conflicting parallel sessions. Similarly next year's Precious Metals '12 in Cape Town will be stand-alone, with no parallel sessions, but back to back with Process Mineralogy '12.

Finally, although I have been disappointed by the eclectic nature of the 3 days in Montreal, I would like to congratulate individual teams on the organisation of their specific symposia, and I look forward to seeing the final Proceedings volumes in print. Next year's COM will be held at Niagara Falls from September 30 to October 3rd and will feature Pressure Hydrometallurgy 2012.


  1. • Thanks for the blog Barry. Did you attend the workshop over the weekend leading up to World Gold? I'd be interested in anyone's comments on how this went.
    Elizabeth Lewis-Gray, Gekko Systems, Australia

  2. Hi Elizabeth. No I didn't attend the workshop. As I mentioned in the blog, my flight was delayed 24 hours, and I arrived too late even for the wine reception! I would be interested in comments from others on any aspect of the event.
    Barry Wills

  3. I attended the World Gold 2011 conference, it was a huge success. It was hosted jointly by the CIM, AuIMM and SAIMM. About 500 delegates from worldover attended this conference. I must say the organisers did a marvelous job. It was also an occasion to celebrate the 50th anniversary of MetSoc (Metallurgical Society) in Canada.
    Sunil Koppalkar, CANMET, Canada


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