Thursday, 27 December 2018

2018 with MEI

Apart from Brexit, which I promise I will not mention again, this has been a good and very interesting year for MEI, tinged with some sadness at the passing of old friends.
A resurgence in the mining industry was on everyone's Christmas list, but unfortunately we are still waiting for this, the prices of most metals, including copper, falling rapidly mid-year for various reasons, including the trade war between USA and China, and a slowing down of the Chinese economy.
Copper prices 2018
January was a landmark month for Minerals Engineering journal, with its new look and editorial structure after merging with International Journal of Mineral Processing.
I was in Minneapolis in February for the Annual SME Meeting, the first time that the event has been held in the biggest city in the state of Minnesota, the largest producer of iron ore and taconite in the USA.   The attendance was just over 5000, the lowest for the best part of a decade, partly due to the state of the industry, but exacerbated this year by Minneapolis as a venue.
Minneapolis was not a popular choice, but I found the city to be attractive, and the convention centre and local accommodation were of high standard.
The western bank of the Mississippi, Minneapolis
In a couple of months time the SME will be back in the ever-popular Denver, so I am hoping for big numbers again, boosted I hope by the International Symposium to honour the 90th birthday of Prof. Douglas Fuerstenau, and where he will be presented with the IMPC Distinguished Service Award.
Prof. Fuerstenau on his 90th birthday, December 6th.
There were some sad occasions during the year, with the passing of old friends and colleagues. Camborne School of Mines lost a number of well known characters. Paul Burton was a student when I started lecturing at CSM in 1974, and his early death in March was marked by a great sundowner turn-out at the Portreath Arms Hotel, where we celebrated his life and raised our glasses to his memory.
Paul is pictured 2nd left in the picture below, at a previous sundowner. In the centre is Prof. Keith Atkinson, former CSM Director, who died last year. We also lost two other great CSM characters during the year, Ron Hooper, who died in May, and former head of mining John Shrimpton in September.
199 comminution specialists from 24 countries were at the Vineyard Hotel in Cape Town in April for MEI's  11th Comminution Conference. The highlight for me was presenting Australia's Dr. Grant Ballantyne with the 2017 MEI Young Person's Award.
Grant Ballantyne (2nd right) at the Comminution '18 welcoming reception
It was a great conference, and a beautiful evening for the conference dinner, which was held at the Lagoon Beach Hotel at Milnerton, on the shore of Table Bay, with its backdrop of Table Mountain and Robben Island.
It was good to see our two former Flotation consultants from nearby University of Cape Town, Profs. Dee Bradshaw and J-P Franzidis, although Dee had some devastating news.
Dee and J-P
We all knew that she had been having treatment for cancer, and were were all hoping that she was recovering, but she asked that it be known to everyone that she was now terminally ill. She expressed an hope that she would be strong enough to come out to Namiba in June for Sustainable Minerals '18, and maybe even Process Mineralogy '18 in November, but sadly it was not to be, and Dee passed away in early June. Dee bore her illness with amazing fortitude and spirit and she was a wonderful ambassador for the role of women in modern mining.
Our last picture with Dee
Less than a week after her untimely death, Dee was very much on the minds of many people at Biohydromet '18 and Sustainable Minerals '18 in Windhoek, Namibia, and we observed a minute's silence in her memory at Sustainable Minerals, a conference to which she would have had a major input.
The two conferences were MEI’s first outing in Namibia and we were pleased to be associated with the relatively newly formed Namibia University of Technology. The events were held at the impressive Windhoek Country Club, and we held a very informal, joint conference dinner at the Xwama Cultural Village, in the heart of Katutura, Windhoek's most diverse and vibrant township.
Sundowner in the Country Club gardens
Relaxing at the conference dinner
Namibia in June proved to be a good choice, with its relatively mild winter temperatures. Many of the delegates chose to stay on to explore the incredible natural attractions of Namibia, Barbara and I spending a couple of nights at the Namib Desert Lodge, a 4 hour drive from Windhoek and just outside the Namib National Park. We had a memorable day with our guide, driving along the Tsauchab dry riverbed, which passes through the impressive dunes until it reaches the Sossusvlei clay pan, from where we walked to the awesome Dead Vlei, where 900 year old dead acacia tress stretch their branches into the blue sky.
Climbing Dune 45
Dead Vlei
We arrived back in Falmouth just in time for the June mining sundowner, where it was good to welcome some new faces, including three representatives from King's Ceramics and Chemicals, China. Alex Wang, an MEI 'Rising Star' was accompanied by two of his colleagues, Jiaye Luo and Ray Xu. They had travelled from Beijing to visit local company Grinding Solutions Ltd for two days of meetings.
In Falmouth with Jiaye, Ray and Alex of King's, and Felicity and Nick Wilshaw and James Strong of Grinding Solutions
King's Ceramics and Grinding Solutions Ltd (GSL) both sponsor MEI's comminution conferences, as does Magotteaux, and in early July Barbara and I enjoyed a great meal with Dr. Chris Greet, of Magotteaux Australia, and Nick and Flee Wilshaw of GSL, in the most beautiful of settings overlooking Falmouth's Swanpool Beach.
With Chris, Barbara, Flee and Nick
July was an exceptionally hot month, too hot in fact for hiking, so I took to my bike to explore the many mining trails in easy access to Falmouth. The most impressive of these is the coast to coast trail between the ports of Devoran on the south coast and Portreath on the north, and which passes through the Gwennap Parish copper mining district, once regarded as the 'richest square mile on earth'.
The Wheal Maid tailings lagoon in Gwennap Parish
While cycling off the main trail I "discovered" a hidden gem, the ruins of Wheal Peevor, mined for copper and tin in the 18th and 19th centuries. So impressed was I with the ruins, and the well maintained trail, that we have incorporated it as a visit during next year's Physical Separation '19.
The stamps engine house at Wheal Peevor, with Portreath in the background
 Amanda managed to escape the Cornish heat in July, to the relative coolness of the Zambezi Valley in Zambia. She was in Livingstone for the SAIMM's Southern African Base Metals Conference and thoroughly enjoyed her first visit to the land of her birth.
Amanda with the SAIMM President Prof. Selo Ndlovu
Sundowner on the Zambezi
In the Victoria Falls Boiling Pot with Joe Felix
It's always a great pleasure to show people around our wonderful county of Cornwall, particularly if guests have a keen interest in the history and beauty of the area, as did Prof. John Ralston and his wife Ann, who spent three nights with us in August. John and Ann are great fans of the BBC series Poldark, so in their limited time in Cornwall Barbara and I took them to some of the filming locations, beginning with the beautiful Kynance Cove on the Lizard peninsula, one of the settings for the fictitious Nampara Cove.
And then on to the tin mines of Botallack near Land's End, finishing with welcome refreshments at Falmouth's Chain Locker pub.
At the Crowns Engine Houses at Botallack
Jon and his partner, Dr. Kathryn Hadler, were in Brisbane at the end of August for the AusIMM's Mill Operators' Conference. Jon has attended a number of MillOps, but this was Kathryn's first, representing Imperial College, UK, and I thank her for her input to the conference updates.
Jon with Chris Smith of Rio Tinto and Alison Keogh of CEEC
I attended my first International Mineral Processing Congress in 1988 in Stockholm and had missed only one since then, the Rome IMPC in 2000, where MEI was represented by Amanda. The IMPC in Moscow in September was the first at which MEI was not represented. Unfortunately the Russian Embassy had made it very difficult (and expensive) to obtain visas, necessitating a long journey from Cornwall to the Embassy to be fingerprinted, and then a wait of up to several days for the visa to be processed. So this year we relied on others to feed back information on the event. I thank you all for that, including John and Donna Starkey, of Starkey & Associates, who made the long journey from Ontario to Moscow, stopping off in UK and dropping in to Falmouth for a few hours to catch up with us at MEI.
I spent four days in Changsha, China in October, having kindly been invited to present two short seminars at the Central South University (CSU), and to be honoured in a ceremony to confer on me Honorary Professorship of the University. An honour indeed, as CSU has around 55,000 students and 20,000 staff and is in the top 20 of 2800 universities in China. There are 38 universities in China with mineral processing departments, and CSU, which specialises in non-ferrous metals, is ranked number 1, and is the largest, with 110 staff, 1000 undergraduate students and 500 post grads. It was recently ranked number 2 in the world in the ShanghaiRanking's Global Rankings for 2018.
I have visited countless universities and research institutes over the past decades, but I can honestly say that I have never met such an impressive team of young researchers and staff. I can say with complete confidence that CSU will play a major role in the future evolution of mineral processing.
With some of CSU's mineral processing post-graduates
 We were back in Cape Town in November for Process Mineralogy '18, and a new conference Hi-Tech Metals '18. Although the latter was one of our smallest conferences, it brought in new faces, and we are confident that the series will grow in size in future.
It was a great week at the Vineyard, and the sun shone on every day but one- when we held the Process Mineralogy conference dinner at nearby beautiful Kirstenbosch Botanical Gardens.
Enjoying the evening sunshine at one of the conference sundowners.....
.....and dodging the showers at Kirstenbosch
Barbara and I travelled up to Pretoria after the conference, and then took the famous Blue Train back to Cape Town. An interesting journey on a luxurious train travelling through some of the most impoverished areas of South Africa. A land of contrasts indeed!
Enjoying the luxury of the Blue Train
And then back to a very wet and windy Falmouth, bracing ourselves for another long Cornish winter, but plenty to look forward to in 2019, including the 20th anniversary of MEI, and the anniversary of my 50 years in the minerals industry.
It has certainly been an interesting year and, on behalf of all of us at MEI, I would like to thank all of you who were a part of it. We hope to catch up with as many of you as possible in 2019. Happy New Year!
The MEI Christmas lunch at the New Inn, Mabe, near Falmouth
Twitter @barrywills


  1. Thank you Barry, Amanda, Jon and Barbara! You bring the community together and through this many new contacts have been made and collaborations kicked off. Best wishes to MEI for the new year.
    Anita Parbhakar-Fox, University of Tasmania, Australia

    1. Many thanks Anita, and best wishes to you, Nathan and the family for 2019

  2. What a Great Year It had been--both you and Barbara not only a part of so many technical events; making all Mineral Engineers to know of the developments and bonding the mineral engineers--.
    Let me wish you another power packed active and exciting year
    Keep the Mineral Engineering Flag flying high.


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