Wednesday, 27 February 2013

Leaving Denver

We are now in the BA lounge at Denver Airport, having a light lunch with J-P Franzidis our Flotation '13 consultant.

It has been a great week in Denver at the SME, which had a record turn-out.

I have some criticisms, which will be in my report on Monday, but overall it was a great networking event and I made many new contacts.

Sunday, 24 February 2013

Follow the SME Annual Meeting on Twitter

En route to Denver now from Breckenridge, on the Colorado Mountain Express. Heavy snow, and I hear that Denver Airport is closed at the moment due to a snow-storm.

The SME will be tweeting regularly @smecommunity during the week and I will be retweeting relevant updates from SME and others, as well as my personal views @barrywills. These updates can also be seen in the right hand column of the blog.

My report on the meeting will be published next Friday. Hope to see you in Denver!

Tuesday, 19 February 2013

Acclimatisation in Colorado's Rocky Mountains

Barbara and I are in our favourite American town, the Victorian gold mining town of Breckenridge, 9600 ft (2900m) high in the Colorado Rockies. We are here for nine days before descending to Denver, the "mile-high city" for next week's SME Annual meeting.

My first SME was in Denver in 1987, and I have missed very few since then, attending meetings not only in Denver but also in Phoenix, Salt Lake City, Reno, Albuquerque and Cincinnati.

But Denver is my favourite venue, not only for the pre-conference skiing in the nearby mountains, but also because Denver has one of the best Downtown areas in any American city, with great restaurants and amenities.

Barbara and I leave Breckenridge on Sunday for registration and the opening of the exhibition.

My report on the event is scheduled for publication on the blog on March 1st, so if you are at the meeting next week, and have any innovative mineral processing news, please try to let me know in advance.

There will be regular updates on the SME on Twitter (@barrywills), the latest of which can be seen in the right-hand column of the blog.

Monday, 18 February 2013

Sohn International Symposium Proceedings

The Sohn International Symposium on Advanced Processing of Metals and Materials was held in San Diego, California from August 27 to 31, 2006. It was organized to honour the very distinguished work and lifetime achievements of Prof. H.Y. Sohn, renowned for his impact in various fields, processing routes and investigation techniques. The symposium drew an overwhelming response from the international professional community, with 530 contributions received from authors and co-authors from more than 80 countries all over the world. A full report on the conference has been published in MEI Online.

The Proceedings of the conference has now been published by John Wiley. This nine-volume set captures all of the research and advancements presented at the Symposium. The wide range of topics includes nonferrous high temperature extraction and processing; iron and steel making; aqueous, electrochemical processing and molten salts; nano, composite, refractory and polymer materials; and, recycling, recovery and waste treatment.

We would appreciate any comments on these volumes.

Thursday, 14 February 2013

Lost persons and the power of Google

Barbara and I are in the BA lounge at Heathrow’s Terminal 5, waiting for our flight to Denver. We are off to Colorado for 9 days skiing in the Rockies, before returning to Denver for the SME Annual Meeting.

Last night we had dinner in the Terminal with Bob Schofield and his wife Jean, who we have not seen for over 43 years!

With Bob and Jean at the Houldsworth Ball
Leeds University, 1967

Bob and I shared a flat in Headingley during our undergraduate days at Leeds University, and then we went on to spend a further three years of PhD research, after which Barbara and I took off to Zambia, and Bob and Jean to Newcastle upon Tyne, where Bob spent six years with British Gas researching into the materials used for gas transmission, distribution and production. He then spent many years travelling around the world, working on major oil and gas pipeline projects in the UK, France, Netherlands and the Middle East. He is now an independent pipeline consultant, and like me has no thoughts on retiring.

With University flatmates Bob Schofield and Bill Cooke, 1965
We completely lost touch after leaving Leeds and going our separate ways, and in recent years I have tried to trace his whereabouts but to no avail. So it was a great surprise when a couple of weeks ago I had an email out of the blue, to tell me that he had traced me via Google! He and Jean live only 17 miles from Heathrow, so hopefully we will meet up again soon. We have both lost touch also with our other flatmate in Leeds, Bill Cooke, so if anyone has news of him, please let me know.

Tuesday, 12 February 2013

New MEI service- the very latest mineral processing news updates

MEI Online is now searching Twitter daily for all the latest tweets from minerals industry research organisations, Institutes, magazines, etc from all over the world.

These latest updates, with links to more comprehensive information, are collated on MEI's Twitter (@barrywills). The latest 15 tweets can also be seen in the right-hand column of the blog.

MEI Online headlines are also alerted, and I remind you to send any news of mineral processing people, events, innovations etc to Amanda at MEI. If relevant we publish such material free of charge.

If your organisation tweets mineral processing news, please let me know via @barrywills, and we will follow you.

Monday, 11 February 2013

The real cost of using neodymium in wind turbines

Following a directive from the EU on how to tackle climate change, where, by 2020, 15% of all the energy the UK uses must come from renewable sources, there has been a profusion of wind-farms around the country, and wind-swept Cornwall is now beginning to look like a giant pin-cushion.

There is much debate on the effectiveness of wind turbines but I have been particularly interested in their construction, and life-cycle analysis, which quantifies to what extent they are a totally clean form of energy. In this sense we have to consider not only the emissions produced while they are in operation, but also the contamination and environmental impact resulting from their manufacture and the future dismantling of the turbines when they come to the end of their working life.

In this respect, a paper by Martinez et al, in the Elsevier peer-reviewed journal Renewable Energy (2009) analyses the real impact that this technology has if we consider the life cycle, quantifying the overall impact of a wind turbine and each of its components. The wind turbine is analysed during all the phases of its life cycle, from cradle to grave, with regard to the manufacture of its key components, transport to the wind farm, subsequent installation, start-up, maintenance and final dismantling and stripping down into waste materials and their treatment.

They conclude that there is an environmental benefit in starting up and running wind farms, and that the biggest environmental impact comes from the foundation, due mainly to the cement. The nacelle is the heart of the turbine and inside it carries the technology required for converting kinetic energy into electricity. Hence it is the most complex component, made up of a series of elements which are widely differing in nature. Each of these elements has its own associated technology and manufacturing processes, which certainly makes the study of the nacelle as a whole more complicated. The main environmental impact shown by the study is that of the cost in copper. This metal has an enormous value and environmental impact, although it has the advantage of being recyclable.

Although this is a very comprehensive report, they omit the life cycle analysis of a crucial component within the nacelle- the powerful direct-drive permanent magnet generator, which contains a critical rare earth element, neodymium. Neodymium is commonly used as part of a Neodymium-Iron-Boron alloy (Nd2Fe14B) which, thanks to its tetragonal crystal structure, is used to make the most powerful magnets in the world. It has been used in small quantities in common technologies for quite a long time – hi-fi speakers, hard drives and lasers, for example. But only with the rise of alternative energy solutions has it really come to prominence, for use in hybrid cars and wind turbines. A direct-drive permanent-magnet generator for a top capacity wind turbine would use around 2 tonnes of neodymium-based permanent magnet material.

Neodymium is found most often in monazite and bastnasite. Due to the fact that these minerals also contain lanthanides and other rare earth elements, it is difficult to isolate neodymium. The first isolation process involves extracting the lanthanides and metals out of the ores in their salt form. This step is carried out using sulphuric acid, hydrochloric acid, and sodium hydroxide. To further isolate the neodymium from other lanthanides and metals, procedures such as solvent extraction and ion exchange are used. Once neodymium has been reduced to its fluoride form using these processes, it can be reacted with pure calcium metal in a heated chamber to form pure neodymium and calcium fluoride. Some calcium contaminants remain in the neodymium, and vacuum processes are used to remove any of these contaminants. It is an expensive and potentially environmentally harmful process.

In a recent posting (February 1st), it was noted that China produces over 90% of the world’s rare earths, and that Beijing’s export reductions in recent years have forced high-tech firms to relocate to China. An article in a UK newspaper claims to have uncovered the distinctly dirty truth about the process used to extract neodymium: it has an appalling environmental impact that raises serious questions over the credibility of so-called green technology.

According to the report, hidden out of sight behind smoke-shrouded factory complexes lie vast, hissing cauldrons of chemicals in tailing lakes that are often very poorly constructed and maintained; throughout the extraction process large amounts of highly toxic acids, heavy metals and other chemicals are emitted into the air that people breathe, and leak into surface and ground water.

The report concludes that whenever we purchase products that contain rare earth metals, we are unknowingly taking part in massive environmental degradation and the destruction of communities. It is a real dilemma for environmentalists who want to see the growth of the renewables industry but we should recognise the environmental destruction that is being caused while making these wind turbines.

So, what are your opinions, on wind-turbines and the economic and human costs of extraction of neodymium?

Friday, 8 February 2013

Memories of Outokumpu Oy

I was pleased to read on MEI Online that Outotec has delivered the world's first university-based minipilot concentrator to the University of Oulu, Finland, as part of its active university cooperation.

Outotec has always had a good relationship with academia. Thirty years ago in April, Outotec, or Outokumpu Oy as it was known then, invited me to Finland to view its operations at the Pyhasalmi, Vianti and Vuonos mines in the north of the country. I was preparing the 3rd edition of Mineral Processing Technology, and was keen to see these operations and their advanced control techniques.

Pyhasalmi, treating a complex copper-zinc ore, was one of the first concentrators in the world to apply computerised control of grinding and flotation. With the exception of crushing, the whole process was monitored from a central control room, and I marvelled at the Honeywell computer, which occupied a whole wall. Installed in 1969 it had been used for the control of grinding and flotation since 1970, and had a 32kB central processor and a massive 784kB disc and magnetic tape storage unit!

During my few days in northern Finland I had my first taste of cross-country skiing. It was also a week of very heavy drinking, and I even received a “sauna certificate” for diving naked into the snow from the heat of the sauna!  This was probably influenced by the large volume of vodka which had been consumed while relaxing with mining staff in the sauna.
Skiing in northern Finland
Relaxing in the sauna with Pyhasalmi staff
It was a relief in some ways to take the train for the long journey back to Helsinki, but shortly after the train left Pyhasalmi I met a Finnish mining engineer and we consumed several (actually very many) beers in the bar. When we arrived in Helsinki my only aim was to reach the hotel, to recover before my early morning flight back to London.

But alas no. Waiting for me on the platform were a number of senior Outokumpu staff, who had arranged a final night dinner for me!  This began with several dry Martinis, followed by dinner with copious amounts of red wine, and then back to the ubiquitous vodka.

What happened next is too gruesome to relate to sensitive readers of the blog. Suffice it to say that, despite a brief relapse a year later in Istanbul, when I was led astray by Dick Burt and Gordon Agar, that was the last time that I ever indulged in binge drinking!

I have to say that the Outokumpu staff were great hosts, and I often wonder what happened to Gosta Diehl and Teppo Meriluoto who arranged my visit.

Tuesday, 5 February 2013

Mining Indaba 2013

Thousands of mining people have descended on Cape Town this week for the annual Indaba conference. This is not a technical event such as MEI Conferences, but more a meeting place, and a forum for those seeking to invest in mining projects in Africa.

At the Cape Town Waterfront with Indaba '05 delegates
Last year over 7000 attended, and judging by the many tweets from delegates (#MiningIndaba) this year will be equally as well attended.

For the benefit of those who could not attend, I invite those that did to leave their views and comments. Let us know how this differs from other conferences and what are the major benefits of being there.

Sunday, 3 February 2013

Canadian Mineral Processors 2013

The Canadian Mineral Processors is an annual meeting, held each year in Ottawa. I have attended three of these conferences but this year there was no representation from MEI, although a number of our close contacts were there, including our flotation consultant Prof. Dee Bradshaw.

Dr. Norm Lotter, of Xstrata Process Support, Canada, and a member of the Minerals Engineering editorial board, is a regular attendee, and I thank him for providing this short report on the event:

The Canadian Mineral Processors (CMP), a division of the Canadian Institute of Mining, Metallurgy and Petroleum (CIM), held their 45th national conference in Ottawa during the week ending 25th January 2013. 

Phil Thwaites with CMP Vice-President
Pierre Julien
A record 660 delegates attended.  Two keynote speakers presented interesting topics:  “From Electrons to Dollars”, by Kevan Ford, Vice President of SNC Lavelin; and “Manual Control, Process Autromation – or Operational Performance Excellence?” by Phil Thwaites, Manager of Process Control and the EIT Scheme, Xstrata Process Support.   Phil was awarded CIM Distinguished Lecturer for the lecture season 2012/13 in recognition of his contributions to best practices in Process Control. 

A total of 35 papers was presented at the conference, covering Geometallurgy, Comminution, Design and Development, Process Control and Flotation.  The conference is well-known and supported by industry for its practical mix of operations projects, innovation and method development, and greenfield project papers.

We would appreciate further comments on the conference from anyone who attended.

Friday, 1 February 2013

The increasing importance of rare earth metals

Rare earth metals (REM) are increasingly becoming a critical strategic resource. REMs comprise the fifteen elements of the lanthanide series as well as yttrium, and may be found in over 250 different minerals. They are required for many different applications such as high-strength permanent magnets, catalysts for petroleum refining, metal and glass additives and phosphors used in electronic displays.

China currently holds claim to over 90 percent of the world’s production. As global demand increases, Beijing’s export reductions in recent years have forced high-tech firms to relocate to China and forced other governments to pour money into their exploration and production. An emergent India is among those concerned about China’s control of rare earths. REMs are becoming a strategic resource over which the two emerging giants are competing in Asia.

The only REM bearing minerals that have been extracted on a commercial scale are bastnäsite, monazite, and xenotime. These minerals may be beneficiated using gravity, magnetic, electrostatic and flotation separation techniques. Increased demand for the different products manufactured from REM has resulted in a constriction of supply from China via export quotas. Many new rare earth deposits are currently being developed to help meet the demand void but most of these developing deposits include rare earth minerals for which there is limited processing knowledge.

So it is timely that an excellent review of the beneficiation of REMs has been published in Volume 41 of Minerals Engineering. The paper examines the separation techniques that are currently employed for rare earth mineral beneficiation and identifies areas in need of further research. The authors, from McGill University, Canada observe that there is still limited research into REM beneficiation and there is a significant gap in knowledge. In collaboration with workers from the University of Birmingham, UK, the authors will be presenting work at Physical Separation ’13 in June, showing how a series of magnetic separators (wet variable intensity, wet drum permanent magnet, Frantz Isodynamic Separator) in conjunction with gravity pre-concentration steps (Knelson and Falcon centrifugal concentrators) can beneficiate a rare earth ore.