Friday, 30 May 2014

Special Physical Separation issue of Minerals Engineering published

Physical Separation '13 was held in Falmouth last June, and 18 selected papers have now been published in Volume 62 (July) of Minerals Engineering after peer-review, and are available for download on ScienceDirect. The volume includes papers on magnetic separation, gravity concentration, electronic sorting, hydrocyclones and DMS cyclones, microwaves and solid-liquid separation. The full list of papers presented at the conference can be seen on MEI Online.

The next conference in the series, Physical Separation '15, will be held in Falmouth again next year, back to back with Computational Modelling '15.

Tuesday, 27 May 2014

In conversation with John Ralston, Founding Director of The Wark

John Ralston
South Australian of the Year, Officer of the Order of Australia, these are just two of the many accolades and awards showered on Prof. John Ralston, founding Director of the Ian Wark Research Institute (IWRI), now an Australian national treasure and known simply as The Wark. Prof. Ralston, Emeritus Laureate Professor of the University of South Australia, is an internationally recognised expert in colloid and surface chemistry and their application in metallurgical engineering and technology. His research is internationally recognised in the physical chemistry of mineral flotation processes, the surface chemistry of metal sulphides, and the static and dynamic wetting behaviour of simple and structured solid surfaces.

I first met John in 1986 at the SME Fall Meeting in St. Louis, USA, and was immediately impressed not only by his obvious intellect, but by his approachability- he is a very easy person to talk to. Two years after our first meeting I set up Minerals Engineering journal, and he was an obvious choice to represent Australia on the Editorial Board, which he did for over 20 years. So it was good to talk to him recently via Skype and to find out what he and Ann, his wife of 45 years, are doing now, his views on modern mineral processing research, and his long and varied illustrious life as a research scientist who has worked with many of the legendary names in mineral processing.

John Ralston graduated from the University of Melbourne in 1968 with a degree in physical chemistry, where he did a 3rd year project, followed by an Honours Degree project, with Prof. Tom Healy and became interested in the thermodynamics of air-solution interfaces. This led to a paper in Nature. John continued with a Masters degree with Healy, investigating the influence of inorganic salts on surface behaviour, which led to his fascination with colloid and interface science applied to minerals. He then took up a post as assistant lecturer at what is now Swinburne University of Technology Melbourne. After that, and with encouragement from Tom Healy, and Keith Sutherland, co-author of the seminal Sutherland and Wark text Principles of Flotation, he left Australia for a research fellowship at Imperial College in London working under Joe Kitchener (1916-2009), one of the UK's foremost colloid scientists of the 20th Century and who John describes as "in the top two of the most perceptive people I have ever met in my life". Keith Sutherland (1916-1980) he also describes as "a very special individual who had an influence on me which could have been much greater had he lived longer". Sutherland was a catalyst who made John think, at quite an early age, about where his scientific inclinations and motivations were.

After being awarded a Diploma of Membership of Imperial College (DIC), for his work on the properties of asbestos minerals, John returned to Australia in 1974 as a full-time lecturer at Swinburne, while carrying out doctoral research at the University of Melbourne on the surface chemistry and solid state properties of sphalerite, using mass spectrometry to show that when zinc sulphide is activated by copper ions elemental sulphur is produced on the surface. He explained the mechanism for this as part of his research, for which he was awarded a PhD in 1978.

After finishing his PhD, John took an extended sabbatical from Swinburne to work at the University of Bristol in UK with Prof. Ron Ottewill, one of the top colloidal scientists in the UK at that stage. John worked on time average and dynamic light scattering, as well as neutron scattering associated with microemulsions, realising that to be "a complete person it was necessary to change fields and move into different areas". He also worked with Peter Pusey who was then the doyen of photo-correlation spectroscopy at the Royal Signals and Radar Establishment in Malvern. The Bristol Research involved a project with ICI Plant Protection at Jealotts Hill, working on 4-dimensional phase diagrams for microemulsions. All this provided a vital link between fundamental research and practical applications in industry.

In 1979 he and Ann and their young son moved into Europe and he then spent nearly a year in The Netherlands working with Hans Lyklema, Professor of Physical and Colloid Chemistry at Wageningen University, which gave him the opportunity of changing fields again, working on the properties of macroemulsions, using techniques such as rheometry.

In early 1980 the family returned to Australia, John resuming his position as lecturer and then senior lecturer in physical chemistry at Swinburne. He set up a centre for colloid and interface science and developed a "sort of country club for people from industry to drop in and talk about real problems and use the equipment”. He also established a coursework graduate diploma, and then a part coursework, part thesis Masters degree, in colloid and interface science, with people from industry coming in to do this course who had PhDs, Masters and honours degrees. He paid tribute to these people by saying that, although he taught them something, they taught him a "fantastic amount".

Around 1983 he began to become frustrated with Swinburne and a position came up at what was then the South Australian Institute of Technology, which subsequently became the University of South Australia, as a Professor of Chemical Technology in a school which involved a blend of over 30 chemical engineers, chemists and industrial microbiologists. He built the undergraduate programs, introduced an Honours degree and catalysed the research. After six years, John realised that as the Institute was about to become a University, to become a truly good University it must have excellence in high quality research. In the late 1980s, when his colleague Roger Smart joined the School, John realised that to build up a centre of excellence he would have to relinquish the role of Professor of Chemical Technology, and set up an independent research institute within the fledgling University.

As the then Vice-Chancellor was unsupportive, John had to raise AUD4 million for the first building for what was to become the Ian Wark Research Institute. “Why Ian Wark?”, I asked. John remembers Sir Ian Wark (1899-1985) as a formidable, rather stern man, who he met a few times during his visits to Tom Healy's lab in Melbourne. He describes him as Australia's founding father of colloid and interface science applied to minerals, and felt that not enough had been done to recognise him.

Once the first building had been erected, the Institute was embedded within the University’s research portfolio, giving it a large measure of independence, a critical element in its success. Initially there was very little support from the University, so the bulk of money for the goal of undertaking high quality fundamental and applied research had to come from industry and he paid tribute to the many companies within and outside Australia who supported the Institute. The Wark later, in 2000, became an Australian Research Council Special Research Centre for Particle and Material Interfaces, a testament to its high quality staff, students and publications.

John became the first, and founding Director of the IWRI in 1994 and retired as Director in March 2012 and during his tenure was the principal researcher, along with Tom Healy, Graeme Jameson, Tim Napier-Munn, David Boger and Derek Chan, who led the initiative to establish the Australian Mineral Science Research Institute (AMSRI) which commenced on 1 January 2006. AMSRI was a virtual institute in particle science and engineering, with its headquarters at The Wark and involved collaborative research at the Universities of Queensland, Melbourne and Newcastle. Major international companies were involved, through AMIRA International, along with overseas collaborators. During John’s tenure The Wark became recognised very strongly internationally and also became one of the few institutes in Australia to be awarded two top Excellence in Research Australia ratings, with 5-star rankings in physical chemistry, as well as in resources engineering and extractive metallurgy.

Although now formally retired from The Wark, John still spends several days a week there, "mentoring/terrorising younger staff and a few PhD students". Although one of the current staff, Prof. Bill Skinner, will be presenting a keynote at Flotation '15, there has been a noticeable lack of involvement from the Institute at recent major mineral processing conferences, and I asked John if the emphasis has changed since he stepped down as Director. He feels that The Wark is now going through a period of transition as the new leadership, with new Director Magnus Nyden, formerly with Chalmers University, Sweden, settles in, along with several other new Chairs, and the final positive changes should become evident in a few months’ time.

During his time at The Wark, John worked very closely with Dr. Stephen Grano, who he recruited from Mount Isa Mines (Stephen did his Masters and PhD with John), and I asked him if he agreed with Stephen's views on flotation research which I published on the blog some time ago. Stephen felt that much flotation research was recycled material and researchers are not making use of literature published over 10 years ago. John believed that Stephen makes a great point and feels that the quality of flotation research over the past 5 years or so has in general been of quite low quality. Later in the year he will be delivering the Delprat lecture for the AusIMM, on 21st Century challenges in the chemistry of mineral processing, and one of the points he will make, which his colleagues in industry endorse, is that if we want to maintain a cutting edge we must attract people into universities who are first class researchers, and the industry at present is not attracting the best talent. If we do not attract the very best minds in physics, physical chemistry, geology, mineralogy and the very best people out of chemical engineering we will not get the best research outcomes and the innovations that industry needs. John feels strongly that one of our biggest challenges is to attract first class people into research and also first class minds in industry, the latter working with the people in the Universities and other research organisations to apply the knowledge (see also posting of 5th May 2014).

He argues that a first class research group requires a distinguished professor, probably 6-8 post-doctoral fellows, a couple of senior staff and 12-15 PhD students, with half the funding coming from industry. Without that critical mass it is not possible to perform quality research work and within that team industrial projects and regular visitations from key people in industry are necessary.

John and Ann Ralston with Barbara Wills and Stephen Grano, Cape Town 2003
John feels that the major development that he has seen in flotation over his long and varied career has been its movement from an art to a true science, and the techniques we now have available are as sophisticated as those used to investigate the human body. For instance mineral processing research now utilises tomography down to the nano-scale. The Wark is now looking at microfluidics for improving techniques such as solvent extraction to achieve the "Holy Grail of minimum disruption of the Earth's mantle". The concept is breakage by pulsed explosions to produce micro and nano fissures in rocks, followed by very sophisticated leaching techniques, coupled with very fast solvent extraction, then electrochemistry to produce pure metals in a way which will be transformational to our entire industry. A pilot project has already commenced with a major international precious metals company and a refiner to take advantage of Wark research in this new field.

The great thing about 'retirement' is the freedom of choice to do the things that you want, and a few days after speaking to John, he and Ann left Adelaide for Canada. He will be spending some time at the Dept. of Chemistry and Materials Engineering at the University of Alberta. John was also in Namibia in April, as were Barbara and I. He is helping the Polytechnic of Namibia (PoN) to transform later in the year to the Namibia University of Science and Technology. He is working with the Vice-Chancellor, Prof. Tjama Tijvikua, and the Head of Mining and Process Engineering, Dr. Harmony Musiyarira, to assist in the new University's engagement with industry and government, and to organise the research and undergraduate activities. The PoN currently has over 13000 students. Within the Faculties of Engineering and Science, the intention is to create a critical mass of expertise, which will hopefully become a resource for the minerals industry in Namibia. John has travelled all over Namibia visiting over a dozen mining operations, including diamonds, zinc and fluorspar, so he feels that in a way this is "back to the future for me, and it is important to give something back, to do something for Namibia, a very important country in Africa, which has the potential to set an example for the rest of the continent".

I really enjoyed talking to John and hope that our paths may cross again somewhere around the world. I particularly appreciated his view that "MEI has become an Institution in its own right: it is the glue that binds the international mineral processing community together". Praise indeed from a man of his stature.

More Conversations

Monday, 26 May 2014

The Great Western to Penzance

Pirates of Penzance

Barbara and I travelled by train to Penzance today to see Amanda and family take part in the Guinness World Records attempt to regain the town's record of 'Most Pirates in one Place" as part of Penzance Town Council's 400th Anniversary to celebrate the town being granted it's Charter by King James I in 1614.

A multitude of pirates on Penzance prom
If you are an MEI Conference delegate staying on for a few extra days in Cornwall, then the Falmouth-Truro branch line offers an easy way of seeing something of Cornwall if you do not have a car.

Here is a suggested great day out. Buy a return ticket from Falmouth to Penzance (you can buy this on the train). You will have to change at Truro for the mainline train to Penzance, which travels through the heart of the historic tin and copper mining area, stopping at the old mining towns of Redruth, Camborne and Hayle, before proceeding to St. Erth and then Penzance. On the left you will have a great view of Mount's Bay and St. Michaels Mount as the train approaches the end of the line at Penzance, roughly 80 minutes after leaving Falmouth.

Approaching Penzance
Walk into the centre of town, to the statue of Sir Humphry Davy, who was born here (see posting of 18th October 2010) and then walk down Chapel Street to the Harbour, maybe stopping for morning coffee at the excellent Lost & Found Tea Rooms. Then back to the train, and alight at the first stop, St. Erth, where you can take the branch line train to the lovely north coast town of St. Ives.

St. Ives
There is plenty to see in St. Ives, with its many steep alleys and great restaurants serving local seafood. If you are feeling energetic walk westwards towards Zennor one of Cornwall's most rugged cliff walks. Then back to St. Ives station, and the return train to Falmouth, via St. Erth and Truro.

The coastal path west of St. Ives

Sunday, 25 May 2014

Process Mineralogy '14- a reminder of call for abstracts

Just a quick note to remind you all that if you would like to present a paper at Process Mineralogy '14 in Cape Town in November, abstracts should be submitted by the end of next week.

Current conference sponsors are:


Friday, 23 May 2014

The first Cornish Mining Sundowner of the Summer

There was the usual eclectic mix of mining people at the Chain Locker last night for the May Sundowner, including a handful of mineral processors. It was particularly good to see a couple of my old CSM students, Dr. Dave Dew and John Ross.

Dave graduated in 1979, in the first group of students to be awarded the honours degree in Mineral Processing Technology (posting of 16 July 2009). The undergraduate degree course terminated a few years ago, and now the last remaining mineral processing course, the MSc is to finish this year. As I was very much involved with the development of both these courses I feel sad and disappointed to see their demise, particularly at a time when there is a great need for mineral processors in the industry.

After leaving CSM, Dave had a high profile career in biohydrometallurgy in South Africa, and is now an independent consultant, based in Cornwall. He has just returned from a 6-day trip to Chile where he has been advising for the past 2 years on improvement of the massive 40 square km sulphide bioheap leaching project.

Dave is also an Associate Fellow of CSM and is involved with Dr. Paul Norris, also a biohydrometallurgist, formerly with the University of Warwick, who is now an honorary associate of Exeter University's Environment and Sustainability Institute (ESI), also based at the same campus in nearby Penryn. He and Dave work closely with last night's missing link in the trio Dr. Chris Bryan, who is roughly 50/50 ESI/CSM, to establish work in biomining at the University. Chris, MEI Consultant to Biohydromet '14, is currently in South Africa, working with fellow MEI Consultant Prof. Sue Harrison at the University of Cape Town. Dave, Paul, Chris and Sue will all be very much involved with Biohydromet '14 in two weeks' time.

Also very good to see John Ross, who graduated in 1991 and who has recently retired from Glencore at the ripe old age of 45! He had a very successful career in various mines in Africa, latterly with Xstrata-Glencore as an in-house consultant. He is now taking time out at his home in Feoch, a small village between Falmouth and Truro, to assess his options for the future.

With CSM Experimental Officer Rob Fitzpatrick, Paul Norris, Dave Dew and John Ross

The June Sundowner will be held on 19th June, and as usual there is an open invitation to anyone in the industry who is in Cornwall at that time. But there will be two more important visitations to the Chain Locker before then, on June 9th with Biohydromet '14 delegates, and June 12th with SRCR '14 delegates. If you are around at that time, please call in and join us.

Wednesday, 21 May 2014

New Book: Solid-Liquid Separation in the Mining Industry

This book, by Fernando Concha of the University of Concepcion, Chile,  covers virtually all of the engineering science and technological aspects of separating water from particulate solids in the mining industry. It begins with an introduction to the field of mineral processing and the importance of water in mineral concentrators. The consumption of water in the various stages of concentration is discussed, as is the necessity of recovering the majority of that water for recycling. The book presents the fundamentals under which processes of solid-liquid separation are studied, approaching mixtures of discrete finely divided solid particles in water as a basis for dealing with sedimentation in particulate systems. Suspensions, treated as continuous media, provide the basis of sedimentation, flows through porous media and filtration. The book also considers particle aggregations, and thickening is analyzed in depth. Lastly, two chapters cover the fundamentals and application of rheology and the transport of suspensions.

Solid-Liquid Separation in the Mining Industry is suitable for researchers and professionals in laboratories and plants, and can also serve as additional reading for graduate courses on solid liquid separation as well as for advanced undergraduate and graduate level students for courses of fluid mechanics, solid-liquid separation, thickening, filtration, and transport of suspensions in tubes and channels.

Published by Springer (2014), this hardbound book of 446 pages is available from the SME Bookstore.

Monday, 19 May 2014

Looking to Comminution '16

By all accounts Comminution '14 was an exceptional conference, as giant strides are being made in the evolution of this important area of the industry.

So, although 2 years away, we look forward with anticipation to Comminution '16. Much of the equipment we already have has much potential for further development. The cone crusher has been around for a very long time, but the design is now being re-tuned, HPGRs have enormous potential, particularly in how HPGR circuits can be configured and controlled. Stirred mills will undoubtedly play an increasing role, not only for their present role as ultrafine grinding machines, but increasingly taking over the role of tumbling mills, as the coarse product size range is extended.

Many of the papers at Comminution 14 touched on energy, clearly a very hot topic and much must be done here by the researchers and operators getting together. Modelling of all aspects of comminution is also now highly developed and can now be effectively used in the design of plants.

The only real criticism of Comminution '14, which reflects on comminution in general, as well as other areas of mineral processing, was the need for more operator interaction. It is the operators who will see the benefits of the latest innovations in equipment and models, so they must get more involved with the researchers if these benefits are to come to fruition. I realise that conferences are often seen as an expensive luxury for operators, and there is little incentive to prepare papers or posters, but there is much to be gained from their attendance. As Clifford Mutehve, of Anglo American Platinum, Zimbabwe, observed "It [Comminution '14] not only enhanced my knowledge but also helped me identify solutions to the milling circuit I manage. Some of the discussions we had, we have carried them forward as part of the business process improvements. I also managed to identify with a huge pool of knowledgeable people from across the world. I could not imagine communicating daily and interacting with people from SA, USA, France, Iran, China, Australia and various other countries. Some have become my friends, importantly."

We will therefore be making every effort to attract plant operators to Comminution '16. Acknowledging that preparing a poster or a paper might not be an option from someone for industry, one possibility is that we may have a session devoted to Innovations in Plant Operations, where operators can present short talks on their operations with accompanying papers not being mandatory. It would be great to hear operators presenting case studies on the operation and design of equipment and circuits, and the validation of the advanced models which are now available.

There is already much early interest in Comminution '16, with some companies already giving their support, and it is particularly good to have our first ever Industry Advocate, the Coalition for Eco-Efficient Comminution (CEEC).

Regular updates on the conference will be posted on Twitter (@barrywills and #Comminution16).

Friday, 16 May 2014

Pertti Lamberg to deliver keynote lecture at Process Mineralogy '14

It was good see Prof. Pertti Lamberg in Falmouth on Tuesday, and to finalise details for his keynote lecture at Process Mineralogy '14 in November.
Pertti's keynote will identify a way forward in process mineralogy, utilising automated mineralogy for modelling and simulating beneficiation processes.
Pertti started in 2009 as a professor in geometallurgy at LuleĆ„ University of Technology, Sweden. Before that he worked for 20 years in mining and technology companies Outokumpu and Outotec.  Pertti's research areas have covered lithogeochemical exploration of nickel sulphides, applied/process mineralogy, modelling and simulation of minerals processing and development of metallurgical software HSC Chemistry. His current activities are mainly in geometallurgy of iron ores and modelling of minerals processes based on particle properties.
His keynote complements that of Prof. Bernd Lottermoser, of the University of Exeter, UK, who will present "Predicting ore and waste characteristics: past, present, future".
If you would like to present a paper at the meeting, abstracts should be submitted by the end of this month. Current sponsors are:

Wednesday, 14 May 2014

Tuesday was Process Mineralogy day in Falmouth

We had a brief visit yesterday from MinAssist's Dr. Will Goodall and Al Cropp. I first met them when they were involved with Australian company Intellection, which went into receivership in 2008, its QEMSCAN automated mineralogy system assets being acquired by the FEI company (MEI Online). 
Jon with Will Goodall and Al Cropp at MEI
MinAssist Pty Ltd, based in Melbourne, is a progressive young company offering services to the minerals industry in the interpretation of mineralogical information for metallurgical applications. Utilising the expertise of Dr Goodall, founder and Principal Consultant, MinAssist specializes in the characterisation and optimisation of precious metals ores, the current climate of increasingly complex ore reserves making proper understanding of the mineralogy and metal deportment vitally important. This is particularly apparent in the gold mining industry where easily recoverable free-milling deposits are being exhausted and increasingly complex, refractory gold deposits are replacing them.
 Despite being on other sides of the world, Will works closely with consultant Al Cropp, who is based in Cornwall.  Al divides his time between MinAssist and his duties as a Research Fellow at CSM. He is a geologist who has been involved with automated mineralogy for over 7 years. As a student in Industrial Geology at CSM, Al first became involved with CSIRO and the QEMSCAN technology during his honours thesis.   Following the success of his project work, a series of papers were published on the techniques, and Al moved to Brisbane, Australia to aid in the establishment of Intellection by CSIRO, to commercialise the QEMSCAN technology. 
 Will is hoping to present work at Process Mineralogy '14 in November, and we will no doubt see Al at Precious Metals '15, which is being held in Falmouth in 12 months time.

In the early evening I called at the Chain Locker pub (again!) to meet up with Prof. Pertti Lamberg of Lulea University of Technology, Sweden, who was down here briefly to act as external examiner for a PhD thesis on geometallurgy from CSM student Kelvin Anderson, who will soon be returning to Sierra Leone to take up an appointment at the University. Pictured below are Kelvin's supervisor, geologist Dr. Charlie Moon, Kelvin, Pertti, internal examiner Dr. Ben Williamson, and me.

I am pleased to announce that Pertti has agreed to present a keynote lecture at Process Mineralogy '14, and this is an opportune time to remind everyone that the deadline for submission of abstracts, 31st May, is fast approaching.

Monday, 12 May 2014

In conversation with CEEC Director Tim Napier-Munn

Twenty seven years ago I attended a conference on Hydrocyclones in Oxford. I remember very little about the conference, but I vividly remember having a pint or three in an Oxford pub, and meeting for the first time Tim Napier-Munn. I immediately liked his dry, self-deprecating sense of humour, and so began a long friendship, although as we live on opposite sides of the world we meet fairly infrequently.

So it was good to catch up with Tim at Comminution '14, which he attended with his wife Georgie, and where he presented a keynote lecture and took part in an excellent panel discussion on the future of comminution.

Tim (right) with fellow CEEC Director Mike Battersby, at Comminution '14
It also gave me the opportunity of having a long chat with him, to find out how the boy from England became Director of Australia's JKMRC, one of the world's most prestigious mineral processing research institutes, and then a Director of the Coalition for Eco-Efficient Comminution.

Although a couple of years younger than me, we both gained valuable experience in Africa at around the same time, in the early 70s. Also, like me, a career in mineral processing was something not ordained from an early age. One of his school friends had been accepted for the degree course in mining at the Royal School of Mines (RSM) in London, and Tim, very much like me, had fairly ordinary science grades, and wanted to do something a little different from the usual degrees in physics, chemistry etc, so followed his friend and applied to RSM. At the interview he was advised that he might not be suited to a mining career but was offered a place on the Mineral Technology degree course. As this looked more interesting he signed up for it, but did a 'gap year' after school and applied for a scholarship from the Overseas Mining Association, and  Anglo American sent him for 6 months to Finsch Diamond Mine, one of the De Beers mines near Kimberley in South Africa.

After graduation in 1970 he was offered a job at the De Beers Research Laboratory in Johannesburg and spent 7 years there, gaining valuable industrial as well as research experience. During his time there he undertook a part time MSc with the late Prof. Peter King of the University of the Witwatersrand, then returned to RSM to work under the late Prof. Henry Cohen for his PhD on Dense-Medium Cyclones. Part of the deal was for Tim to teach a number of courses, as a full time lecturer, including flotation, and notably statistics which had become one of his interests, and after completing his experimental work he returned to South Africa and De Beers, running the Mines Division of the Diamond Research Laboratory for four and a half years, and writing up his thesis in the evenings. He was awarded his PhD in 1984.
With Tim and Peter King in Brisbane, 1998
We both felt that our early industrial experience provided the foundations for our later careers, so I asked him what he thought of many modern academics, particularly those in Eastern Europe, who have followed a path of PhD-Research Fellow-Lecturer, with no industrial training, many not even having visited a mine. He believes there is a role for such routes and there are some excellent productive academics who have chosen this route, although engineering academics should teach with a knowledge of the industry and how it works. The advice he always gives to students who have just obtained their PhDs is to go as far away from the University as possible! "By all means come back later after practical experience, so that your teaching can be from strength".

There are very few 'general practitioners' these days in mineral processing, specialism being the apparent way forward, which leads to very deep understanding within a narrow field, but is this a good thing?  Looking at Comminution '14 for instance, there were very few people there who also attend other MEI Conferences. Chris Greet was a notable exception, a regular attendee at the flotation conferences, but Tim singled out his colleague Rob Morrison as a general practitioner with both an academic and industrial background, and a deep understanding of many facets of mineral processing, but such GPs are now a dying breed.

So how did Tim end up in Australia?  Tim and the family had been in South Africa for many years, and lived through the apartheid era, so it was time to move on and he had his sights on the Julius Kruttschnitt Mineral Research Centre (JKMRC) in Brisbane, as it had academically rigorous research completely linked into mining operations. He introduced himself to the Director and founder, Prof. Alban Lynch at an APCOM conference in London and they then flew out to another conference in Johannesburg, where Tim had the opportunity of showing him the De Beers Laboratory, which impressed him so much that in 1985 he offered Tim a position at the JKMRC as a senior research fellow to look after the P9 project, and other AMIRA projects, which gave him the opportunity of traveling around Australia and overseas, making valuable contacts for the JK.

When Don McKee took over from Prof. Lynch, Tim became Research Director, then when Don moved on to establish the Sustainable Minerals Institute at the University of Queensland, Tim took over as JKMRC Director in 1997, and in 2001 as managing director of the newly incorporated JKTech Pty Ltd. He also found the time to lead a small team of specialists in editing the 7th edition of what became known as Wills' Mineral Processing Technology.

Tim and Georgie with Don McKee, Cape Town 2003
Now 'semi-retired' he currently divides his time between the JK, mostly with the students, presenting professional development courses on statistics, consultancy work with JKTech, and his involvement with the Coalition for Eco-Efficient Comminution (CEEC).

CEEC is the invention of Gekko's Elizabeth Lewis-Gray, described by Tim as 'one of the great movers and shakers'. She created CEEC from nothing to bring together information on energy efficiency in comminution. With board members now from around the world, and only one paid employee, the "brilliant" Sarah Boucaut, CEEC now highlights important issues and facilitates debate in comminution energy efficiency.

We talked about his deep interest in statistics and his latest project, his book Statistical Methods for Mineral Engineers, which in a way has been his life's work, having just delivered the 135th of his statistics course which he presents around the world. He is passionate about our profession utilising statistics properly. He feels that we don't at present, which is why he gives the courses and has written the book, which will be published in the JK series of books in a few months time.

It was a pleasure to talk to Tim, and hopefully it won't be too long before we meet up again.

More Conversations

Saturday, 10 May 2014

International reunions at Falmouth's Chain Locker

Falmouth's 17th Century Chain Locker pub is now established as the great meeting place for minerals industry people visiting Cornwall. Last night Barbara and I met up with Klaas van der Wielen, of SELFRAG, Switzerland, and Nick and Felicity Wilshaw, of Cornish company Grinding Solutions, who were all at Comminution '14 last month, both companies being sponsors.

With Klaas, Felicity and Nick
With Ron Easteal
It was also a special evening, as Camborne School of Mines graduates who had commenced their course in 1964 had come from all over the world to take part in a 50th Anniversary reunion.  One of those was Ron Easteal, who had travelled all the way from Canada for the reunion. On graduating as a mining engineer from CSM, Ron had studied for a higher degree at Queen's University, and in 1977 brought the Queen's University squash team over to Camborne, where they thrashed the CSM team! Ron is pictured 1st left on the back row, and I am 1st left on the front row in the photo below.  Ron, now 70 years old, is still at Queen's, enjoying his complete career change- he is now a Professor of Anatomy!

Queen's University and CSM squash teams, 1977

The next Cornish Mining Sundowner will be at the Chain Locker on Thursday May 22nd. Hope to see some of you there.

Thursday, 8 May 2014

New Book- Pressure Hydrometallurgy

I have had an email from Prof. Fathi Habashi, of Laval University, Canada,  announcing the publication of his new book Pressure Hydrometallurgy.

Pressure Hydrometallurgy is a supplement to the author’s Textbook of Hydrometallurgy. It is an update to the new processes described in the literature dealing with recovering metals from ores and concentrates using this technology. Great progress has been made in this field, necessitating this review.

Tuesday, 6 May 2014

In memory of Peter Fiore, an Nchanga legend

Peter Fiore will be well known to most people who lived in Chingola in the early 70s. He was an instrumentation technician on the mine and we got to know each other during his regular visits to check flowmeters, density gauges and other essential instruments on the concentrator. He was also the Zambian light-heavyweight power-lifting champion. Only 1.63m tall, he was built like an ox and was immensely strong.

Peter Fiore (left) with Nchanga metallurgists Doug Edmunds, Vic Bryant and me, 1971
In 1972 I was blossoming as a squash player, and Peter took me under his wing and essentially became my personal trainer and close friend. He also introduced me to the Nchanga Fire Brigade. He was Deputy Fire Chief and for two wonderful years I had a great experience as a fireman in the auxiliary service.

In 1978 he became world powerlifting champion in the middleweight class, and later became President of the Commonwealth Powerlifting Federation. He was still competing at a high level in his 70s. I last heard from him 16 months ago when he told me that he had won the Master 4 World Championships in the 83kg class in Texas in the previous October. He was the only man to have won an "Open" World Championships and a "Master World Championship. He had been a Personal Fitness Trainer for many years and was an Australian Powerlifting Coach.

So I was saddened and shocked today to hear of his sudden death last month at the age of 74.  He truly is an Nchanga legend and our thoughts are with his family.

Monday, 5 May 2014

Integration is the key to the future of comminution

Comminution '14 ended with an excellent panel discussion on the future of comminution, admirably chaired by MEI consultant Dr. Aubrey Mainza, of the University of Cape Town. The four panelists were Dr. Rob Morrison and Prof. Tim Napier-Munn, of Australia's JKMRC, Prof. Marcelo Tavares, of University of Rio de Janeiro, Brazil and Prof. Wolfgang Peukert of University of Erlangen-Nuremberg, Germany.

Aubrey Mainza, Rob Morrison, Marcelo Tavares, Wolfgang Peukert and Tim Napier-Munn
Following are highlights from this discussion:

Prof. Peukert began by saying that much could be gained if the science of comminution and industry could come closer together. It is apparent that modelling now gives us a greater understanding of what is going on in a milling circuit, and there is a lot to be gained from detailed modelling. The models, however, must be checked by reality to give us a reliable toolbox to assess what is happening, particularly with complex multi-phase particles which can be characterised to assess liberation, the balance between strength of grain boundaries and strength of grains. On a larger level classification and mill throughput are critical, as they affect energy efficiency and overgrinding and we need a better understanding of the transport properties and an ability to remove particles which are properly stressed. We do not yet know how the particles are stressed and we have to accept that we do not as yet have ideal models for process simulation. He says that the Universities are prepared to undertake work on these problems, and if industry comes in as well we can solve a lot.

Prof. Tavares said that it was important to compare what we saw two years ago at Comminution '12, particularly in crushing and dry comminution, and the potential now for grinding finer using compression crushers, which is important with the need to conserve water in our industry.  We have seen this year different levels of comminution modelling living together, from the very basic Bond equation, which has its place in the minerals field, to the population balance models of the 1960-80s, to the advanced models of today. He also stressed that it would be good to see at Comminution '16 some strong case studies with industry results to demonstrate the effectiveness of these modern methods, so it is important now for the researchers to strengthen their relationships with industry. He stressed again that we must increase our understanding of machine and material contributions, particularly fracture response and its contribution to liberation.

In Prof. Napier-Munn's opinion, Comminution '14 had been an exceptional conference. He had "been blown away" by the vigour and enthusiasm of the smart people who are doing great work in a very mature field, and it is extraordinary to see new ideas still coming along.  He said that in terms of the future of comminution "we really have to get rid of tumbling mills". The energy crunch will soon come and it will be very bad for our industry and we must put the next few years to work with the people who attended. It is obvious that there are many new ideas out there. New crusher developments, HPGRs, fine grinding devices and circuits offer new approaches and some hope for the future.

As with the others, he expressed his disappointment that the heavyweights of the mining industry did not attend the conference, with the exception of Anglo American, who were present in force, and unless the operators, who are the users, drive these new ideas in a constructive and intelligent way, then we will not make progress as fast as he thinks we need to.  He enthused about the modelling, which he feels has now given us a mature set of tools. DEM, CFD, SPH and their combinations, are now ready to solve problems, which was not true 20 years ago. However they are only being used to solve problems in a few patchy areas, and the challenge to change the comminution scene is to make much better use of these models with some real integration between the modellers and the people with the problems, and this must be driven by the companies.

Jeremy Mann, of Anglo American, South Africa,  remarked that we had fantastic tools available now, but we should look more towards understanding selective liberation rather than just breakage, and to use the models in process control systems, which means that we need better understanding of process mineralogy and the variability of our ores.  Rob Morrison agreed with Jeremy, and noted that the few people at the conference who had talked about liberation had all been interested in the liberation of the valuable components, but the real challenge is to liberate and discard the major proportion of the ore, the gangue, at a coarse size. He congratulated Chris Greet for presenting a flotation paper at a comminution conference, but then said that if people followed his strategy most mines would go broke very quickly! He was disappointed that no one had mentioned at the conference that in rougher-scavenger grinding we are actually trying to liberate the gangue, we cannot afford to liberate the valuable minerals, and the most difficult decision is how far to grind, and this is largely an economic one.

Dr. Greet responded to this by agreeing with Rob, in that we only try to attain 60-70% liberation, dependent on the mineralogy, but we aim for much greater liberation in the regrind circuit. He made the point that comminution is not just crushing and primary grinding but regrinding as well, so basically both he and Rob are right!

Adrian Hinde of Mintek also highlighted again the need for integration between the researchers and industry, and also argued the case for more integration between the mining engineers, dealing with blasting, which is essentially the first stage in comminution, and the mineral processors.

I think the key message here is that there is a need for greater integration between academia, research institutes, suppliers, all of whom were well represented at Comminution '14, and industry, which was not. Hopefully the operators will be out in more force at Comminution '16. There is much to be gained by their presence, preferably to present case studies on operating plants, validating the work of the researchers, or just to network. As Clifford Mutevhe, of Anglo American, Zimbabwe observed "(Comminution '14) not only enhanced my knowledge but also helped me identify solutions to the milling circuit I manage. Some of the discussions we had we have carried forward as part of the business process improvements. I also managed to identify with a huge pool of knowledgeable people from across the world. I could not imagine communicating daily and interacting with people from RSA, USA, France, Iran, China, Australia and various other countries."


Thursday, 1 May 2014

Eating out in Falmouth

MEI's Falmouth 2014 conferences are only 5 more weeks away. If you have never visited this part of the world, you are in for a very pleasant surprise. Cornwall is one of the most beautiful parts of the world, and Falmouth has been voted one of the best places to live in UK (see posting of 16th March).

Apart from the beauty of the coastal scenery, Falmouth has some of the best restaurants in Britain, suiting every ethnic taste.

We have just updated our Falmouth Restaurant Guide. Most of the restaurants are in Old Falmouth, close to the 17th Century Chain Locker pub, MEI's 'local'. At the end of the first day of every Falmouth conference, we unwind with a walk along the coastal path, ending up with drinks at the Chain Locker, so what better time to book yourself and your colleagues into one of these restaurants on the evening of June 9th for Biohydromet '14 and June 12th if you are attending SRCR '14.