Monday, 11 August 2014

In Conversation with Alban Lynch, the first Director of the JKMRC

International Mining magazine's inaugural Hall of Fame took place this year at the SME Annual Meeting in Salt Lake City. Among the legends of the minerals industry profession who were honoured was Prof. Alban Lynch, one of the giants of comminution. This was one of many awards that he has received in his long and distinguished career. He is an Officer of the Order of Australia, and in 2010 in Brisbane received what is considered to be mineral processing's top award, the Lifetime Achievement Award of the International Mineral Processing Congress.
Alban Lynch (left) receiving the IMPC Lifetime Achievement Award
from Eric Forssberg, Brisbane 2010
I first met Alban in 1986 when he presented a keynote lecture at the NATO ASI in Falmouth. He and his wife Barbara live in Brisbane, and I phoned him recently to talk about his career and to hear his views on modern mineral processing and how he sees the future progression of our industry.
Alban Lynch was born in Queensland in 1930 and worked as an industrial chemist in the paint industry from 1947-1953, while studying part-time for a Diploma in Chemical Engineering from Sydney Technical College. After graduating in 1954 he took up a position as a metallurgist at Zinc Corporation, Broken Hill, as his fiancée Barbara was from there, and studied for a BSc and MSc as an external student at the University of New South Wales.
He spoke about Maurice Mawby who came from Broken Hill, and described him as "one of the real greats". Mawby was very much involved with the development of flotation and he ascended from metallurgist to Chief Executive and set up the great years of Conzinc Riotinto Australia, which became Rio Tinto Australia. Alban remembers him as a man with a remarkable memory who would walk around the plant at Broken Hill recognising everyone and asking about their families. It must have rubbed off on Alban, as this is exactly what T.C. Rao, who obviously had great respect and affection for him, said about him in our recent conversation. Alban remarked that he and Rao "had many an argument on a Sunday afternoon, which Rao always won!"
In 1958 Alban joined the Dept. of Mining and Metallurgical Engineering at the University of Queensland (UQ), where he would remain for most of his long career, spending the first 12 years as a Research Officer for mineral processing operations, and being awarded a PhD in the department in 1965.
His arrival at UQ was at an opportune time, as by 1960 the first mineral boom in 30 years was forming and in 1961 the Australian mineral industry, through the newly formed Australian Minerals Industry Research Association (AMIRA), established by Maurice Mawby, decided to fund jointly sponsored research to improve mining and mineral processing technology.  Mawby had set up a special projects laboratory at Broken Hill, which he staffed with 12 engineers, as he knew that technology had to change in the mining industry. In 1962 a three year AMIRA project on grinding started at UQ with a group consisting of Alban, two graduate students and two technicians. The theme of the research became the modelling and simulation of grinding circuits. Jim Foots, the General Manager at Mount Isa Mines Ltd, supported the work by permitting the circuits in its old concentrator to be experimental test sites and this was the start of the tradition of project research being plant based and of graduate students, including T.C. Rao, spending months at plants on thesis projects which had the objectives of improving local circuits and providing data to support the general programme on modelling and simulation. Funding of the project has been renewed periodically for 50 years, in what is now the P9 project, although changes have occurred in its scope and size.
By 1967 mathematical models had been developed for rod mills, ball mills and hydrocyclones and simulation of a copper circuit containing one rod mill, three ball mills and six hydrocyclones indicated a proposed rearrangement which, when made, resulted in a large increase in capacity. Similar simulation work with the rod mill, 2 ball mill, 2 rake classifier circuit at Zinc Corporation in Broken Hill had a similar result. By this time Bill Whiten had joined the group and brought much needed computing skills. During the next seven years research extended to modelling of crushers and screens at Mount Isa, autogenous mills at Tennant Creek, and banks of flotation cells at Mount Isa and Philex Corporation in the Phillipines, and to the control of grinding circuits using a PDP8/I computer provided by AMIRA. This culminated in the publication of one of Alban's most well known books, Mineral Crushing and Grinding Circuits.
Alban Lynch with AMIRA computer, early 1970s
In 1971 the research group was given strong encouragement by MIM Holdings Ltd when the company established the Julius Kruttschnitt Mineral Research Centre (JKMRC) to be its Brisbane base, with Alban Lynch its first Director, a position he held until 1989, when he handed over to Dr. Don McKee, allowing Alban to concentrate on his new role as UQ's Professor and Head of Mining & Metallurgical Engineering, a position he held until 1993. (Click here for a biography of Julius Kruttschnitt, who Alban regards as another outstanding figure in the history of Australian mining). 
By 1974 the modus operandi of the JKMRC group was well established and its research activities in modelling were extended to coal flotation in the Bowen Basin mines and crushing at the Mount Newman iron mine and the Bougainville copper mine. The establishment of the JKMRC made Alban "realise the importance of graduate students working in plants- to get anywhere in mineral processing you don't spend your time fiddling around in laboratories and the students realised that this was a great opportunity for them, and the mines were very supportive".
In 1975 the decision was made to extend modelling research to blasting because that was the first in the sequence of size reduction processes. The feasibility study was carried out with support from Mount Isa and Mount Newman and the blasting project became a large and long running AMIRA project. The research was very useful to blasting engineers but it was many years before the link between blasting and crushing and grinding was developed. Alban strongly believes that mineral processing in the future needs to be linked to mining, and he talked with enthusiasm of UQ's Gideon Chitombo, a Zimbabwean "who is a superb public speaker, and who is also wrapped up in the future of mining and has set up projects funded by many major mining companies". Gideon recognises that mining must take into account mineral processing, and he will be presenting a plenary lecture on this, hopefully followed by a forum, at the IMPC in Santiago in October.
By 1980 models of grinding and flotation circuits were well developed and another book was published Mineral and Coal Flotation Circuits, co-authored with N.W. Johnson, E.V. Manlapig and C.G. Thorne. Many short courses were given on modelling, but simulation could not be used widely because engineers did not have easy access to bureau type computers. Personal computers were becoming available so a project was established to put the models on a PC. To demonstrate the validity of the modelling work and debug the programme the engineer who wrote the software spent 6 months with the PC at plants of AMIRA sponsors in USA and 6 months with sponsors in Australia. This was the origin of JKSimMet, which he feels was so successful because "a guy called Dave Wiseman wrote it. He had a lot of experience at Mount Isa, so he knew what was needed from a simulator". Knowing Dave well, I could understand Alban's praise for him, and his ability to keep things simple, a failing of many modern models, which have become so complex and difficult to understand that they are not easily accepted by operators. I remarked that often at conferences I get the impression that academics are talking to each other, but that the people at the 'sharp end' are not truly involved.

Dave Wiseman keeping it simple for me in Seattle, 2012
It was interesting to hear that he is "very sceptical about where SAG mills have gone, I think they have taken us along the wrong track. They may be attractive in terms of high productivity, but their energy efficiency is poor, and I feel that these immense machines are going to turn into very large ball mills". 
Although he has been involved with hydrocyclones for very many years he feels that "the way they are used now is an absolute nonsense, with circulating loads in some cases of well above 200%. The future is high frequency screens". He and Hakan Dundar from Hacettepe University, Turkey, have analysed data from several large operations and "it is very clear that these screens are so much better than hydrocyclones and there will be a paper on this at the IMPC in October". It is interesting that the new tungsten mine in UK will be operating their ball mills in closed circuit with Derrick screens, rather than hydrocyclones, and we will be hearing more of this at Physical Separation '15 in Falmouth.
After 6 years as Head of Department at UQ. Alban spent a large portion of the next 15 years lecturing on modelling and setting up research programmes in other countries, notably in Malaysia, Brazil, Mexico and Turkey. The most successful was concerned with cement clinker grinding in Turkey where the research group has expanded from one graduate student in 1999 to 3 staff and 8-10 graduate students in 2009. Following the pattern developed at JKMRC the dry grinding group at Hacettepe University works closely with the cement industry and is expanding its activities into related areas.   He regards Hacettepe as being "far and away the best mineral processing University in Turkey, for exactly the same reason as why the JKMRC became so successful- the students are prepared to go out on plants and actually do the work, whereas this does not happen at the other Turkish Universities".
He also found time during this period to co-author two more books, in 2005 The History of Grinding, with Chester Rowland, and the latest in 2010, The History of Flotation with Greg Harbort and Mike Nelson.

Launch of History of Flotation at the 2010 IMPC in Brisbane,
with Mike Nelson and Greg Harbort
His latest project is a Handbook on Comminution, with the AusIMM, which he hopes will be available at Comminution '16 in Cape Town. He is also involved, with the AusIMM, in the development of a virtual museum at Broken Hill, recording the town’s mining industry and its great contributions to mineral processing technology.
Talking to Alban Lynch was a great pleasure and privilege and I hope that his interesting views on mineral processing will lead to some open debate.

More Conversations


  1. By bringing the "conversation with Alban Lynch", you took me down memory lane to the year 1960. You and Readers may kindly allow me to be a bit sentimental now.
    It was my fortune I got admission to Queensland University, thanks to Prof. White, the then Head of the Dept. I was put in the caring hands of Alban, a single- man- show in the site at Experimental Mine; a tin shed with no trimmings to talk about, no laboratory of any thing to write about, no assured grants either from the University and any funding agencies.
    Alban worked with passion, commitment and grit to take Mineral Processing Field into a untraveled trajectory and made sure that it eventually became J.K.M.R.C. a name respected by one and all across the world in Mineral Processing.
    The relevance and contribution of the work done by so many of his students would stand as land marks of industrial relevance and application.
    I will never forget the care he used to take of me; sit and plot graphs and do calculations (there were no computers leave alone even electronic calculators; only slide rules/mechanical calculators available) and made sure that I realised my potential; it has always been a pleasure interacting with him and his family.
    Even now, for me and for many in the area of Mineral Processing, he is and will remain as an exceptional person, a gift by God to the Profession.
    Though I used Alban above, because most address him as such, for me he is always Dr.Lynch. His wife Barbra is another rare person I will always remember and respect.
    May God give Dr. Lynch long, healthy and productive years.

    Prof.(Dr.) T.C.Rao
    Hyderabad, India

  2. It is really appreciated for me to hear the comments of Prof. Lynch on our group in Turkey. As he said, it was in 1999 when he first visited Hacettepe University and started the group on dry grinding. Since then, the capability of the group has been improved each time with the new ideas brought by Prof. Lynch.
    We still have good discussions with him and his invaluable comments are shaping our future plan. Everytime when i’m in Brisbane, i visit him and work together on something related to comminution. His endless contribution to mineral processing is respectable.

    Thank you Professor.

    Dr.Hakan Dundar

  3. A comment about the hydrocyclones' high recirculating loads made me curious about why industry seems to prefer hydrocyclones over screens. Is it because everyone else is using it, less wear on equipment so less downtime is needed, better separation or for some other reason(s)?
    Kate Siew, W. Australia

    1. At least part of the preference for hydrocyclones lies in the high throughput of modern concentrators. When you are processing 200 ktpd and grinding to a P80 of 200-300 microns with 200-400 % recirculating load in a grinding section, it would require a lot of screen area and there are related wear and maintainability concerns.

      These comments from Alban Lynch illustrate the critical necessity for research and development in mineral processing to include as a major part of their focus the industrial environment.

      Looking at mineral processing over the last century once could critically see much of the development in comminution, flotation, solid-liquid separation as being a case where the application as technology (including equipment sizing, flowsheet designs and other developments) has lead science, i.e., the practice of engineering where much depends on people-/team-related work. For us to ignore this aspect re pioneering and application is missing a major component of how mineral processing adds value (both from knowledge and economic perspectives).

      Thanks again to Dr. Lynch for the pioneering in this arena and demonstrating industrial operations are important sites for research work & that it is possible to do meaningful work at industrial operations.
      Robert Seitz, Manager - Crush, Convey, Concentrator at Freeport-McMoRan Copper & Gold Inc., USA

    2. I see a combination of screens and cyclones required for optimal performance. The simplicity and high capacity of a cyclone make it ideal for large scale operations, however we must scalp gravel out of the feed to a cyclone to avoid spigot blockages which could have disastrous consequences, placing a screen ahead of the cyclone to scalp out gravel from a cyclone feed is an ideal situation.
      But the biggest advantage of a cyclone (if designed correctly) is its ability to reject coarse gangue, thereby increasing throughput and reducing grinding costs ( don't grind what you don't need to grind!!).

      Enzo Artone, Principal Consultant at METOPS, Australia

    3. I think you will find, Enzo, that Prof. Lynch was referring to hydrocyclones in closed grinding circuits, where the underflow is fed back into the mill, rather than being used to reject coarse gangue. By rejecting coarse gangue are you confusing hydrocyclones with dense medium cyclones?

    4. Hydrocyclone and/or Heavy media cyclones separate particles based on the settling velocities and related velocity phenomena and fluid density. That is why a small liberated grain of galena is bound to go to underflow(which we do not really want) if it has the same forces acting as on a coarse unliberated particle of equal settling velocity (which we want).
      I made the observation during my talk with you; we need a different parameter based on behaviour of particles in fluid media while analysing cyclone performance; we should not talk in terms of screen size.
      Whether to use screens or cyclones in wet grinding systems have to be decided not only on screen size alone but many operating parameters like wear, floor space etc.
      T.C. Rao, India

  4. Sir, Professor B A Wills needs to be congratulated for introducing us the Legends of Mineral processing.

  5. Dr.A. Bandyopadhyay ( Bandyo)14 August 2014 at 11:10

    I would like to congratulate Dr. Wills for a such a comprehensive documentation of the life of a legend like Dr. Lynch. In a precise form he has brought out all the relevant information which we need to know. Earlier he had written about Dr.T.C. Rao, a worthy student of Prof. Lynch and a true flag bearer of the concept initiated by Prof. Lynch, that an operating plant should be utilized to understand mineral engineering in action. Both these stalwarts have shaped the way of thinking of many of us who joined the profession in & around 1970s. While modeling & simulation may be spectacular developments but both these require a deep understanding of the process involved and the parameters affecting the process or the performance of an equipment. I believe the singular achievement of these two persons have in the emphasis that these equipment's have a behavior pattern of their own and the mineral engineer should understand this first and then dabble in modeling efforts. Since Dr. Wills is making such great efforts to make us acquainted with the life & work of great scientists in mineral field, may I also request him to write such well articulated documents on earlier mineral scientists like Prof.Gaudin & Prof.Hukki.

  6. I have enjoyed reading the comments on our conversation. They have highlighted the importance of improving our understanding of classification and of using data from plant circuits to test and modify ideas. T C Rao's comments were, as always, very generous, he was right about cyclone modelling 50 years ago and even about the future of Indian cricket when its team was not too successful in those days.
    Alban Lynch, Brisbane, Australia

    1. I'd better not comment on the cricket!

  7. Dear Barry,
    Thank you very much for your account of your interview with my father. He shared it with all of his 7 children by email last week. As most of my brothers and sisters do not have access to this forum, I would just like to send my thanks to you on behalf of all of us for putting in writing (for us and our families) the things he has told us, or that we lived through with him, over the years. We well recall Prof T.C.Rao - he has always held a special place in our family, as has his wife and family.
    Your account is an excellent written record for when those memories fade over time and generations.

    Best regards,
    Suzy Lynch-Watson.Metso Minerals, Australia

    1. Many thanks Suzy. I was not aware that Alban had a daughter working at Metso! Strange that we have never met. Will you be at the AusIMM Mill Ops next month? If so, look out for my son Jon, who will be representing MEI

    2. Thank you, Suzy; I still remember those times--dealing with the tough task master (Your father at work) and the most exciting and pleasant working atmosphere I used to have in J.K.Centre(your father as Director); the very happy and most enjoyable homely atmosphere me and latter along with Girija, we used to have at your home with the motherly and gentle touch of your mother.
      Bless you all.
      Rao,T.C., India

  8. Mineral Engineering is a unique branch of study related to mineral industry. Unless one undergraduates at this, he or she would not be aware of the role of a mineral processing in the gamete of mine to metal. Keeping this in mind, it is at times difficult to feel inspired due to the lack of mainstream recognition that the other core branches of Engineering usually have. In Asia, if not in the entire world, Indian school of Mines (ISM) is the only Institute to feature an undergraduate Department of Mineral engineering. Therefore, the students in this branch at times feel lost to grasp the effective role they can play both in the development and practice of Mineral Engineering. The profile of Prof. Alban Lynch is a typical example and an immense source of inspiration of a man who has dedicated his life in developing the subject - MINERAL ENGINEERING.

    In this regard, the blogs of Dr. Barry Wills appearing in the MEI website, highlighting the Profiles of Prof T.C. Rao followed by Dr A J Lynch (a rare combination of a teacher and the student) sequentially, is a source of inspiration to all the students of Mineral engineering, at ISM. Both of them stand as founder members of Mineral Processing in their respective countries. The point to be noted is, Dr Barry Wills, another visionary, who could gauge these facts and made the world to be aware of it. Through these profile descriptions, initially of the student (Prof T C Rao) and then of his teacher (Dr Alban Lynch), Dr Barry cited how teacher-student collaboration could be effective and fruitful in the long term for the development of a subject.

    Although we do not know both of them (except seeing Prof Rao during his seminar/ conference presentations), but through this blog we could witness that transition of these men from the stature of hard working and passionate students to eminent figureheads, pioneered in many of the technical areas related to mineral Engineering.

    Dr. Barry not only made us proud but also inspired the younger generation being the leading figure in mineral engineering. Hats off to Dr Barry for being the path setter.

    Archit Mazumdar and Fellow Students of the Department of Fuel and Mineral Engineering, Indian School of Mines, Dhanbad-826004

    1. I am pleasantly surprised and extremely happy to see those comments from students of ISM. Let us congratulate Barry for bringing three generations of Mineral Engineers to the same platform.

      I must compliment you all for following Barry's Blog which is so informative, informal, relevant and probing. Barry, keep motivating the next generation, this will pay rich dividends to the knowledge and practice of the technology. I am happy that the 'sapling' Rao took to India from Australia has been planted at the right place, i.e. ISM, and the tree is growing strong and healthy. This is what I gathered after reading the comments by your Director Dr. Panigrahi. It was good of him to express those feelings about Rao and Barry in spite of his busy schedule. It also shows the importance given to Mineral Engn at ISM. There are many challenging issues which require first class research and their solution will contribute much to industry in the area of Mineral Engn. The industry has become more global now and I am sure all of you will do very well and play your rightful role with the strong fundamental knowledge of Mineral Engn you must be getting at ISM. I extend my best wishes to all of you.
      Alban Lynch, Brisbane

  9. Dear Dr. Wills,

    Are the four books written by Dr. Lynch available for purchase now? If so where can I get them? I wish to present those books to Andhra University Library so that next gen. students can study them.

    DMR Sekhar

    1. The two books published by Elsevier on Mineral Crushing and Grinding Circuits, and Mineral and Coal Flotation Circuits, were produced many years ago and are not now available as far as I know. Elsevier at PO Box 330, 1000 AH Amsterdam would be able to comment.
      The History of Grinding is available from SME, 8307 Schaffer Parkway, Littleton, Colorado, USA
      The History of Flotation is available from AusIMM, 15-31 Pelham St, Carlton, 3053 Australia.
      Alban Lynch

  10. Thanks Barry for your conversation with Alban. I was fortunate to attend the school in 1971/72 whilst working as a metallurgical engineer on the Bougainville Copper Project that was being constructed. Professor Lynch and Bill Whitten certainly were great motivators for a young process engineer with the breakthrough work they were doing at that time. Fond memories of the punch cards
    Brian Rear


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