Thursday, 10 September 2015

Zeiss Mineralogic Mining comes to Cornwall

Last week I reported on my visit to the impressive SGS Minerals Services laboratories at Wheal Jane, near Truro. Their mineralogical support is provided by Petrolab in nearby Redruth, whose local clients also include Wardell Armstrong International and Grinding Solutions, as well as Wolf Minerals' new Drakelands mine in Devon.

I called in at Petrolab last week to look at the installation of their new Mineralogic Mining automated mineralogy system (MEI Online), being installed by Al Cropp and Ben Tordoff of Zeiss. Both Zeiss and Petrolab are major sponsors of MEI's Process Mineralogy '17 and Zeiss is providing the same corporate support for Flotation '15 and Comminution '16, highlighting the company's current high profile in terms of innovation and industry presence.

Zeiss has worked very hard to make the Mineralogic platform versatile and robust in terms of method of analysis, automation and reproducibility. This versatility means that Petrolab can provide the latest innovative solutions and support for their metallurgical test programs. Petrolab Director James Strongman told me that, looking forward, he wants to see automated mineralogy become an integral part of all aspects of the mine from exploration and feasibility to environmental impact and remediation, and in collaboration with the application team at Zeiss he is very excited about the opportunities ahead.

Petrolab is actively involved and very keen on collaboration with academic research, and is currently supporting PhD research at the University of Plymouth into REE mineralisation and a recently completed MSc with Camborne School of Mines looking at the gravity and magnetic response of some rougher table feed samples supplied by Wolf Minerals. The MSc was very successful and James is now looking to take the student Jake Harrison on full-time as a junior mineralogist and lab assistant.

The link with CSM is an important one, and not surprising as Petrolab was founded in 1991 by Dr. Alan Bromley, who I worked with for many years at CSM. He was an inspirational geologist with a real interest in mineral processing, and a lecture that he gave way back in 1975 "A geologist looks at mineral processing" had a profound influence on the way that I also looked at mineral processing, as he showed that mineral processors should have a thorough knowledge of the mineralogical composition of their ores and concentrates. Now this is obvious, but at the time I had left Zambia only a couple of years before and during my time on the Nchanga Concentrator it is hard to believe now that, despite the wide suite of copper minerals, there was not even an optical microscope in the metallurgical office. If the tailings assay was creeping up, the answer was to add a little more reagent to the head of flotation, with little thought that the high assay may have been due to poor grinding, or the presence of poorly floating minerals.

It was great to see Alan at Petrolab. He sold the business to James in 2006, and John Fletcher joined James as co-Director in 2007. Alan had nothing but the highest praise for what they have done over the past decade, their impressive staff now comprising the two directors, two mineralogists, one software engineer and a thin section technician.

At Petrolab with Ben Tordoff, John Fletcher, Alan Bromley, Al Cropp and James Strongman
It is really good to see all the collaboration that is taking place now in the very dynamic minerals sector in Cornwall, and expect to hear much more of Petrolab and others in the future.

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