Thursday, 29 November 2018

The Blue Train: a sobering reminder of the diversity of South Africa

The Blue Train is often regarded as South Africa's equivalent of the Orient Express, a luxury train travelling the 1000 miles between the capital, Pretoria, and the "mother city" of Cape Town. It is often the visitor's introduction to the diversity of this huge country, and a potential option for MEI Conference delegates travelling via Johannesburg, as Pretoria is a short bus transfer from the airport.
After last week's conferences in Cape Town, Barbara and I flew up to Johannesburg and then on to Pretoria to experience the journey for ourselves, with a view to offering advice to future conference attendees. We chose the Pretoria to Cape Town option, rather than the return route, as it offered a 2 hour tour of the diamond mining town of Kimberley.
We left Pretoria station at 8.30 am on Monday, and headed for Kimberley, passing through some of South Africa's most dreary scenery, a landscape of gold mining tailings dumps, sprawling shanty towns and the flat, rubbish-strewn scrublands of Gauteng and the North West Province.
Tailings dumps on the horizon above the township near Potchefstroom
Due to interminable stops, the train was several hours late arriving in Kimberley, so the excursion was cancelled, and we later learned that it is very rare for the visit to actually happen, so this was a great disappointment.
After a fine dinner with good food, wine and company we retired to our cabin, waking early the following morning to the endless flat vista of the Northern Cape's Great Karoo plateau, and towards another long stop at Beaufort West in the Western Cape. 
Dinner on the Blue train
Then thirty hours after leaving Pretoria we emerged from the 11 mile long Hex River tunnels into the land of the travel brochures, the beautiful Cape Winelands and the town of Worcester.
A long stop in Worcester
Wine estates near Worcester
And from there a spectacular 110 miles to Cape Town, where we pulled into the station 3 hours after schedule and a total journey time of 34 hours.
Arriving in Cape Town
The Blue Train is without doubt an exceptional experience. The train itself is certainly luxurious, the service is first rate and the staff very professional and friendly, and we met some very interesting fellow travelers. However the many delays were frustrating and offering an excursion to Kimberley is misleading as it happens so rarely.
Many people might say that there are better ways to spend two days in South Africa, but we have no regrets about experiencing this very expensive journey. Just as trips to Robben Island and the townships show tourists that South Africa is not all about pristine wine regions and golden beaches, so the Blue Train gives a taste of the South Africa that you do not find in travel brochures. Functional rail lines are built where possible on the easiest and flattest routes, rather than through picturesque mountains, and it is only in the last few hours of the journey that the train follows the stunning valleys of the Cape winelands. The bulk of the journey passes through some of the most desolate regions of the country, areas of extreme poverty with high crime rates where rubbish is piled high around the flimsy shacks. Nevertheless, as we drifted by in our luxurious bubble, sipping our afternoon cocktails, in most cases we were greeted with friendly waves and only occasional hostility - the observation carriage three times being hit by bricks, shattering windows!
Contrasting images from the Blue train
So basically, if you know what to expect, that for the most part you will not be enjoying stunning scenery, I would recommend that this is an excursion that should be on the bucket list of every traveler to this land of extreme contrasts. It will certainly make you realise how fortunate you really are.
Twitter @barrywills

Saturday, 24 November 2018

Final Calls for Abstracts: Physical Separation '19 and Computational Modelling '19

There is a lot to look forward to in Falmouth next June, with two well-established MEI Conferences, Computational Modelling '19 and Physical Separation '19 at a new venue- Cornwall's National Maritime Museum in the harbour area.
Falmouth's inner harbour with the Maritime Museum in the background
We are now calling for abstracts, which should be submitted by the end of January. Authors of accepted abstracts will be required to submit draft papers, which will form an unrefereed Proceedings.
Following each conference authors will then be invited to submit final papers to Minerals Engineering. These will be refereed, and, if accepted, published immediately in the first available regular issue of the journal, and included in the Virtual Special Issue of the conference on ScienceDirect. This is an ideal opportunity to present your work to an international audience and have your paper published in a refereed journal of high repute.
Computational Modelling '19 is the 7th conference in the series, the aim being to bring together both users and developers of computational modelling from academia and industry to share their knowledge and expertise. This conference is aimed at the full spectrum of people involved in computational modelling in minerals processing and materials handling, from model development, validation and all the way through to application. This year we have a very eminent keynote speaker, a leader in this field, Dr. Paul Cleary, of CSIRO, Australia, who will present "Recent developments and future of modelling in mineral processing using particle methods" (posting of 13th November).
This conference is a must for anyone involved with modelling of mineral processes, and it will be followed by Physical Separation '19, the 5th in the series covering an area which is becoming of increasing importance in an industry where efforts to reduce energy and water consumption are crucial. It is no surprise that two of our major sponsors, Steinert and TOMRA are leaders in sensor based automatic ore sorting, and our industry advocate is the Coalition for Eco-Efficient Comminution (CEEC). Other major sponsors are Holman-Wilfley, Hudbay Minerals, Master Magnets and Outotec. Our media partner for both events is International Mining.

High capacity microwave treatment of ores may soon be a reality, and we are fortunate to have Prof. Sam Kingman, of the University of Nottingham, to present a keynote "What's cooking in mining?" where he will show for the first time that microwave technology can be used in commercial mineral processing plants and that it can be used at significant scale with several of the largest microwave processing plants ever built being applied (posting of 29th October).
The last afternoon of Physical Separation conferences has always been devoted to visits to Cornwall's historic copper and tin mining areas, and this year, for the first time, we will be making a short trip to Wheal Peevor, situated in a remote area 1.5 miles north-east of the once rich mining town of Redruth. The five hectare site is unusual because it is the only 3 engine-house mine site in the important central mining district around Camborne and Redruth. It contains the remains of three engine houses: the largest engine was used for pumping water out of the mine; the second, used for winching material in and out of its shaft and the third operated 48 heads of Californian stamps for crushing the ore, which was then treated in buddles, and the concentrate calcined to remove arsenic, the ruins of the processing plant also being part of the trail.
As with all Falmouth conferences, we will give you a taster of the beauty of Cornwall on our evening walks, where we will finish at the 17th century Chain Locker pub to sample some of the fine Cornish ales.
Physical Separation '17 delegates by the Fal estuary
Welcome drinks at the Chain Locker
But if you are making the effort to join us down in this remote area of England, try to make some time in your busy schedule to stay on and see more of this most beautiful area of the world. Some ideas of what to do if you are travelling without a car can be found here, and there is much information on Cornwall and walks on the magnificent coastline on the blog.
The latest updates on the conferences are at #ComputationalModelling19 and #PhysicalSeparation19 and full reports on Computational Modelling '17 and Physical Separation '17 are available on the blog.

Twitter @barrywills

Friday, 23 November 2018

Day 2 of Hi-Tech Metals '18 and the end of a great week at the Vineyard

The final day of Hi-Tech Metals '18 began with a morning of six presentations, from Brazil, France, Canada, Finland, Germany and South Africa, on lithium processing, particularly from hard rock ores and the recycling of batteries. Traditionally, lithium has been obtained from brines, however, the expected increase in demand for electric vehicles will require new hard rock deposits to be found and exploited, the main mineral containing lithium in pegmatite hard rock deposits being spodumene. 
The final session of four presentations, from Australia, Germany, USA and Canada dealt with cobalt, rhenium and niobium, after which Amanda Wills summarised the conference and invited everyone to the gardens once more for a farewell wine function.
It has been a great week at the Vineyard, and our attention now turns to the next MEI Conferences, Computational Modelling '19 and Physical Separation '19, which will be held in Falmouth, Cornwall next June. The final calls for abstracts will be announced tomorrow.
Twitter @barrywills

Thursday, 22 November 2018

New Faces on the first day of Hi-Tech Metals '18

I opened the conference this morning, welcoming 31 delegates, representing 10 countries, half of whom had attended Process Mineralogy '18.
Although a small conference, it is good to welcome five new members from UK to the MEI fold and to the general world of mineral processing. We have never had a delegate from Coventry University, and now we have four, and all from the Research Centre for Sport, Exercise & Life Sciences, an area which would, at first sight, appear to be well outside our usual scope. However, the centre has recently received a 3 year Innovate UK Knowledge Transfer Project (KTP) to develop bioleaching capabilities for the processing of waste from printed circuit boards (PCB's), of great relevance to this, subsequent Hi-Tech Metals, and other MEI conferences. With over 2 million tons of Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment (WEEE) discarded every year in the UK, WEEE represents 5% of all municipal solid waste worldwide; this is nearly as much as plastic packaging but with major health risks including cancer and poisoning leading to multiple impairment. WEEE also constitutes a major economic challenge with considerable quantities of precious and rare metals being exported and lost to Asia for further processing. 
The Coventry project is in collaboration with Network 2 Supplies (N2S), a company based in Bury St Edmonds, Suffolk, whose aim is to attain zero waste technology, and we welcome CEO Jack Gomarsall to Cape Town. Jack is the father of fellow Director, Andy, a former England rugby union player.
N2S has a unique approach to IT recycling, using a refined process of dismantling each item to reduce cross contamination and ensure every element is recycled correctly. Currently the PCB waste is sent to Asia for incineration, but pilot experiments at Coventry are aimed at transferring this knowledge to build a pilot facility at the company site. The Coventry team have very diverse backgrounds, the project leader Derek Renshaw's specialism being endocrinology. Sebastien Farnaud, who was unfortunately indisposed due to illness, and John Graves are joint academic supervisors, with backgrounds in microbiology/enzyme function and electrochemistry/PCB manufacturing respectively, and Mahsa Baniasadi, the post-doctoral KTP Associate, is a chemical engineer.
Jack, Mahsa, John and Derek
Jens Gutzmer, of the Helmholtz Institute Freiberg for Resource Technology, Germany, is also attending his first MEI Conference, and this morning presented the keynote lecture "High technology metals: facts, fiction and recycling".
With Jens Gutzmer
Jens's keynote was followed by three presentations, from Australia, Germany and Belgium on metal recycling, an area which is going to be crucial in the quest for a circular economy, and one in which mineral processing will play a very important role, albeit one of its greatest challenges.
The rest of the day dealt with the processing of rare earth minerals, with presentations from Canada, Australia, France and South Africa, after which we enjoyed the late afternoon sunshine for the first of our garden sundowners.
Twitter @barrywills

Wednesday, 21 November 2018

Process Mineralogy '18: the final day

An interesting day acting as a prelude to tomorrow's Hi-Tech Metals conference, with papers on the process mineralogy of rare earths, lithium, and metals such as germanium and gallium recovered as by-products of base metal mining. The day began with an excellent keynote from Frances Wall, of Camborne School of Mines, UK, on common problems - and progress towards solutions - in the process mineralogy of rare earths.
Frances Wall with Petra Dinham and Desh Chetty of South Africa
At the end of the day Megan Becker briefly summarised the conference before MEI's Amanda invited everyone back to Cape Town again in November 2020 for Process Mineralogy '20. And then out into the hotel gardens for a farewell wine function, where we were joined by some of tomorrow's Hi-Tech Metals delegates.
Thanks once again to our sponsors, chairpersons, presenters and delegates for making this such a worthwhile conference. A full technical report on Process Mineralogy '18 will be published on the blog in a couple of weeks time.
Twitter @barrywills

A great evening at Kirstenbosch with Process Mineralogy '18

Even on a dull wet day Kirstenbosch lives up to its reputation as perhaps the most beautiful of the world's botanical gardens.
Last night we dodged the heavy showers before an excellent conference dinner at Moyo restaurant in the gardens.
A reunion of former staff of Intellection, which ceased trading 10 years ago

A welcome respite from the conference atmosphere, relaxing with great people, great food and superb entertainment from the Xhosa troupe "the Rise of Mbokodo".
Twitter @barrywills

Monday, 19 November 2018

Process Mineralogy '18 gets underway

Another beautiful day in Cape Town, and this morning MEI's Jon Wills opened the conference, and welcomed the 84 delegates from 16 countries, thanking our sponsors Zeiss, ThermoFisher Scientific, Bruker, Petrolab and our media partners International Mining and Mining Review Journal Zambia.

MEI's consultant Megan Becker was last week named as one of the top most influential women in mining of 2018.  Deservedly so, as she is passionate about minerals and teaching. Her research, which addresses mineralogy right through the value chain, prompted the South African National Research Foundation to name her a “young researcher with the potential to become a future leader in her field.”  This morning she followed Jon's introduction by speaking movingly of her great friend and mentor, Prof Dee Bradshaw, who was well known to all in the process mineralogy field, and who died in June after a long battle with cancer.
Megan (right) and Dee with me and Norman Lotter at Process Mineralogy '17
I have known Alan Butcher for many years, since he was a geology lecturer at Camborne School of Mines in the early 1990s. He then moved on to Australia and CSIRO, where he was heavily involved with QEM-SEM. During his time as Chief Scientific Officer with Intellection he was involved in the organisation of MEI's Automated Mineralogy conferences in Brisbane. After the demise of Intellection he was with FEI for a few years, and he is now Professor of Geomaterials and Applied Mineralogy at the Geological Survey of Finland. So it was good to have Alan present the first keynote lecture at the conference "When Scientists and Engineers Talk – Lessons from the Oil Industry and Applications to Mining".
Alan with MEI consultant Megan Becker
 Following Alan's keynote there were 14 high class presentations today from Australia, Brazil, Chile, Germany, South Africa and UK, but also plenty of time in the long lunch and coffee breaks to meet the exhibitors, view the posters and to welcome new members to the MEI club. This included 5 researchers from the Botswana International University of Science and Technology, attending and presenting papers at an MEI Conference for the first time.
Our Botswanan delegates

First lunch break in the exhibition area
After a long day it was good to enjoy the evening sunshine for the first of our sundowners in the hotel gardens.

Twitter @barrywills

Sunday, 18 November 2018

Process Mineralogy '18 welcome reception follows from Zeiss Workshop

A beautiful Sunday morning in Cape Town, with preparations for Process Mineralogy '18 in full swing.
At lunchtime I called in to see the start of the pre-conference workshop organised by ZEISS, where new developments in automated mineral analysis were discussed by leading players in the automated mineralogy field.  
Zeiss workshop delegates and presenters
Process Mineralogy '18 sponsor ZEISS will be launching its largest new release of its Mineralogic software tomorrow. This is the 7th installment of the Mineralogic software since the software was brought to market in July 2014 and introduces a significant advancement in both features and productivity.  Mineralogic software  combines a scanning electron microscope with one or more EDS detectors and a mineral analysis engine – all controlled and operated from a single user interface. It can be used with all standard sample types, including stubs, geological slides and core cuttings, and conventional or field emission systems. 
The workshop ended late afternoon to coincide with the start of Process Mineralogy '18, a welcoming wine reception in the conference exhibition area.
There are two Cornish companies, Petrolab and Grinding Solutions Ltd, exhibiting in adjacent booths, so nice to get a photo of all the delegates with a Cornish connection, mainly via the Camborne School of Mines.
I also enjoyed meeting Borbor Gibson, who I highlighted on the blog last year. Borbor is a graduate of the University of Liberia and is now in his first year of a Masters degree at the University of Cape Town.
A great start to the conference and all looking good for tomorrow.
Twitter @barrywills