Wednesday, 27 September 2017

China demonstrates its strength in numbers

Not so very long ago a Chinese delegate at an international mineral processing conference was a rare sighting. Not these days, however. China has more mineral processors than any other country in the world, and increasing freedom to travel has swelled their representation at major events, as the photo below, taken at the 2014 IMPC in Chile highlights, where the UK delegation stood at a mighty 4!
China's mineral processing strength was brought home to me last week during a four day visit to Changsha in southern China, at the invitation of the Central South University, to present a plenary lecture on the evolution of mineral processing to the Mineral Process of China 2017 conference. Central South University, with the world's largest mineral processing department, was one of the hosts, together with the Nonferrous Metals Society of China, Beijing General Research Institute of Mining & Metallurgy and Zhengzhou University. The conference was attended by over 1400 delegates, of which only 8 were from outside China! It was an interesting few days and below I share the highlights of my brief visit.
Thursday  20th September
After a long journey via Beijing I was met at Changsha airport yesterday evening by Dr. Zhiyong Gao of the Dept of Mineral Processing, Central South University (CSU), who I met last year at the IMPC in Quebec, Zhiyong's first time out of China. On the long journey through the Changsha rush hour he filled me in on some amazing statistics on the University, which has around 55,000 students and 20,000 staff.  There are 38 universities in China with mineral processing departments, and CSU, which specialises in non-ferrous metals, is the largest, with 60 staff, 400 undergraduate students and 200 post grads, of which around 100 are researching for PhDs! Prof. Yuehua Hu's group alone, of which Zhiyong is a part, has 25 PhD students and 41 Masters students. Zhiyong told me that around 40% of the mineral processing graduates stay on for post-graduate work, and around 20% go into industry or to Institutes.
Zhiyong and Prof. Hu hosted a fine lunch today where we were joined by some of their post-graduates, and also three of the international delegates, Prof. Jan Cilliers of Imperial College, UK, Prof. Kristian Waters of McGill University, Canada and Prof. Komar Kawatra, of Michigan Tech, USA, and his wife Geeta. Kristian is one of the new editors of Minerals Engineering and Komar edits the SME's Minerals & Metallurgical Processing
With Profs. Hu and Cilliers
With Geeta and Komar Kawatra
Later, for dinner, we met three more international delegates, Dr. Anh Nguyen and his wife Linh, from the University of Queensland,  Dr. Przemyslaw Kowalczuk, from Wroclaw University, Poland and Dr. Hanumantha Rao Kota from the Norwegian University of Science and Technology. 
Przemyslaw Kowalczuk, Anh and Linh Nguyen with CSU post-grads
Komar Kawatra, Hanumantha Rao Kota, Zhiyong Gao and Kristian Waters
Friday 22nd September
I must say that CSU treats its visitors very well. This morning we were taken to a copper and ceramic kiln area, and then on to visit the ancient town of Jinggang. Good to see my Minerals Engineering colleague Dr. Pablo Brito-Parada, of Imperial College, UK, who arrived late last night. 
The "Magnificent Seven", Chenyang Zhang of CSU, Drs Rao, Waters, Nguyen, Kowalczuk,
Prof. Cilliers and Dr. Brito-Parada
Outside the ancient town of Jinggang
After a quick lunch we were whisked over to the University Campus for an interesting tour around the mineral processing department's facilities.  
Outside the CSU Mineral Processing Dept.
During a lengthy round table discussion with CSU staff members it was very apparent that Chinese universities are extremely keen to forge collaborative alliances with their western counterparts, and that they would welcome every opportunity to travel and present their work at international conferences and publish in international journals.
With CSU mineral processing staff
It was also a pleasant surprise to hear how much environmental research is being carried out, in the processing of wastes, and recycling, particularly of the high-tech metals which pose enormous challenges. Hopefully China will be a major player in the ongoing quest for the circular economy.
Saturday 23rd September
The first day of the conference, at the magnificent Preess Hotel and Resort, highlighted that the Chinese work ethic is very different from ours in the western world. Chinese conferences are held over the weekend, as mineral processors are "too busy during the week"!
In the morning session Jan Cilliers and I were the only plenary lecturers presenting in English, although it was nice to see that Jan had recruited his post-graduate student at Imperial College, a graduate of CSU, to help him illustrate the slides in his excellent talk on the development of flotation models.
Jan and I found it quite challenging addressing a sea of faces bigger than we have ever encountered before.  
After the lunch break the sessions spit into two parallel sessions of keynotes, with the remaining 6 English speakers in one room, and in the adjoining room, unfortunately inadequately sound-proofed, were the Chinese-speaking presentations.
It has been a long hard day, which commenced at 8am, and finished at 6pm, with a short lunch break and only 10 minute morning and afternoon tea breaks. So it was good to relax in the early evening, wander around the small exhibition and talk to people over drinks and a buffet meal. 

Sunday 24th September
The 2nd and final day of the conference was devoted to parallel sessions, and as these were all presented in Chinese, CSU offered us a whole day trip to Shaoshan, the birthplace of Mao Zedong. Judging by the crowds flocking to visit the house in which he was born, it is very apparent that Mao's contribution to modern day China is still held in high esteem. 
My few days at Changsha proved to be a rewarding and enlightening experience. It is evident that China will play a key role in the future development of mineral processing. Many people have suggested that MEI should hold one of its major conferences in China and while that is tempting it is not an option.  Our aim is to increase the flow in the opposite direction, and to encourage Chinese researchers to travel to major international events, to present their work in English, and to publish their work in English language journals. It is vital that they become fully absorbed into the international community of minerals engineering, which has an exciting future ahead, and the only way that this can be effectively achieved is by broadening their experience outside their own country. They have much to offer and the mutual benefits could be enormous.
Finally let me express my sincere thanks to the Central South University for their hospitality during my brief stay. They really pulled out all the stops for the small group of international speakers. I am already looking forward to the 2nd in what will be a biennial series of conferences.
Twitter @barrywills


  1. Thanks MEI and Barry for your insights once again - Highlights our industry's truly global talent and opportunities - I look forward to hearing more great ideas and publications from our Chinese colleagues and friends, and welcome collaboration via CEEC and our network.
    Alison Keogh, CEEC, Australia

  2. Great to see this, Barry. Coincidentally, we are about to publish papers presented at IMPC’s 2016 symposium on Minerals Processing Education in Quebec City, which includes a paper by Professor Yuehua Hu, one of your hosts. It includes details of the 39 undergraduate programs, 28 masters programs and 14 doctoral programs in mineral processing in China. The numbers of graduates each year are indeed substantial, and growing! Professor Hu also provides a brief history of the development of these programs, starting with a program at Peiyang University in the 1920s and really accelerating over the last 10 – 20 years. China is a very significant part of the global educational scene!

    1. Thanks Diana. I look forward to seeing this publication. China is playing an increasingly important role in the continuing evolution of mineral processing


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