Wednesday, 30 October 2019

Towards 2050: Visions of the future

I am writing this on the train from Bristol to Cornwall, after attending lectures on nuclear fusion last night at Bristol University.

Fusion will undoubtedly be the energy source of the future, but how far in the future is far from certain, as the engineering of fusion reactors is formidable and is only slowly becoming overcome. Containing a plasma of deuterium and tritium, isotopes of hydrogen, at temperatures of around 150 million degrees is an obvious challenge. Tritium also presents its own challenge, as, although deuterium is practically inexhaustible due to its presence in our oceans, the heavier tritium is radioactive, decaying with a half-life of 12.3 years, which explains its almost natural lack of existence. In fact, the natural tritium abundance is only around 3.5 kg, so it has to be "bred" in the fusion reactor by the fission of lithium isotopes.
Last night's young researchers from the UKAEA were a little cautious when I asked them when they felt that there might be fusion reactors in the UK feeding the National Grid, or smaller units serving local communities, but they were fairly confident that this would happen by the middle of the century, a little ironic maybe as this is only 30 years away and there has been a long-standing "joke" that fusion is only 30 years away- and always will be.
Our expert on this subject, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, is, however, less cautious, and he told the Conservative party conference earlier this month "They (UK scientists) are on the verge of creating commercially viable miniature fusion reactors for sale around the world. "I know they have been on the verge for some time,” he continued, “It is a pretty spacious kind of verge.” But now, he assured his audience, “we are on the verge of the verge."
A prototype compact fusion reactor being developed by Tokamak Energy
in UK who believe that these will be on sale by 2040
Well, having clarified that it is interesting to speculate what the future might hold, although predicting the future is virtually impossible. Thirty years ago the internet was in its infancy, having been invented 6 months previously, but it would be another year before the World Wide Web became universally used. Personal computers hadn't been around for long, smart phones and SatNavs were unheard of, and we were still taking pictures on photographic film.
But let's look 30 years ahead, to 2050, as the UN Paris Agreement demands that humanity must reach net zero greenhouse gas emissions by the middle of this century and former British Prime Minister Theresa May has committed the UK to attain this goal by 2050, making Britain the first major economy to do so.
In the posting of 21st July I suggested that zero carbon was unattainable if all vehicles driven by fossil fuel were replaced by electric vehicles, as there simply would not be a sufficient supply of raw materials to satisfy the demand. But what if there were fewer cars on the roads in 2050, far, far fewer in fact? Wouldn't that be wonderful? No more polluted and gridlocked towns and cities, with open space to walk, cycle and breathe the clean outdoor air.
How would this be possible? Last night in Bristol I was reminded of the efficiency and speed of Uber, the taxi service responding to a simple request by its smart phone app. Uber, however, is far from ubiquitous, being confined to relatively few major cities around the world. But it is not too outlandish to predict that by mid-century Uber-like taxi services will be everywhere, cities, towns and villages. And it is also a fair prediction that by then all cars will be driverless. Travel would be safe and stress-free, driverless taxis whisking you to your destination, before moving to the nearest charging point to await the next call.
In this world there would be little incentive for owning a private car, with all the associated hassle of insurance, maintenance etc, and inter-city travel would be by electric trains, and buses travelling on time and speedily on roads uninhibited by congestion.
And what about a world powered by nuclear fusion? How would this change the world we live in? It would certainly revolutionise industries, particularly mining, the world's most important industry and one of the most energy intensive.
There is one certainty about 2050 and that is that I will not be around to see it, so here's a question for all the young people out there who are involved with mineral processing, the most important technology within the crucial mining industry. How will limitless, cheap energy change the way we process ores? Copper for instance has to be comminuted and then upgraded by flotation before the energy intensive process of smelting. Would there be a need for the processing stage, which incurs losses to tailings, or would direct smelting be the preferred route? Would mineral processing have only a minor role in the mining industry, relegated to the production of industrial minerals only?
This is an area open to interesting discussion. Let's have your views.

Monday, 28 October 2019

A brand new sponsor for Biomining '20

AFX Mixing and Pumping Technologies, a division of AFX Holdings, has extensive experience in the biomining industries. The company has never been represented at past MEI Conferences, but we are pleased to announce that they will be sponsoring Biomining '20 in Falmouth next June.
Bioleach tank and AFX agitator complete
with gas injection ring sparge and baffle coils
From the early days of the bioleaching process development, the company, through its South African Division AFROMIX, has been at the forefront of agitator design technology involving mass gas transfer. AFX (AFROMIX) have supplied over 90% of the worlds bioleach project agitators within the last 7 years. Their expertise goes beyond simple agitator design, having developed a range of specialist gas injection devices (sparges) high solidity and gas entrapment impellers, as well as cleverly designed heating and cooling coils that enhance mixing performance by acting as integrated tank baffles.
AFX joins our industry associate Cornwall Mining Alliance, and media partner International Mining for Biomining '20, which immediately proceeds Sustainable Minerals '20 at the National Maritime Museum in Falmouth next June. There are current calls for abstracts for these conferences, which should be submitted by the end of December.
#Biomining20  #SustainableMinerals20

Thursday, 24 October 2019

A final call for abstracts for Comminution '20 and a welcome to two new sponsors

This is just a reminder that, if you would like to present a paper at Comminution '20, abstracts must be submitted by the end of this month. More details of the conference can be found in the posting of 30th June.
And we also welcome two new sponsors. Maelgwyn Mineral Services are well known to us, and the company is also sponsoring Flotation '19. Their sponsorship of Comminution '20 will be the 3rd time that they have supported an MEI comminution conference in this way.
The Maelgwyn Mineral Services booth at Comminution '18
Sino Grinding International (SGI) is headquartered in China, with offices in Australia, South Africa and USA. The company has been represented at four MEI comminution conferences, but at Comminution '20 will be sponsoring and exhibiting for the first time. SGI is a designer and manufacturer of grinding media for mining companies around the world.
Current Comminution '20 sponsors
Regular updates on the event can be found at #Comminution20.

Sunday, 20 October 2019

The centenary of Cornwall's worst mining disaster

The iconic Crowns Engine houses at Botallack near Land's End typify 19th century tin mining, two engine houses, the large one for pumping water, and the smaller one for hoisting ore from the depths.
Crowns Engine houses, the lower for pumping, the upper for hoisting
But how did the miners get underground, I am often asked? In the majority of cases it was via ladders which disappeared into the gloom via narrow openings on the surface (Descent into a Cornish submarine mine in 1850, posting of 13 August 2015). Mortality rate among the miners was very high, due to rock falls, bad air and lung disease, but also due to the state of exhaustion produced daily by climbing to and from work on the ladders, it not being uncommon for 3 hours of a working day being spent on the ladders.
In the deeper mines man-engines were often installed. Essentially a moving ladder, the man-engine worked by fixing platforms on the wooden rods, connected to the beam engine on the surface, which moved slowly up and down in the shaft and which were connected to the pump at the bottom of the mine. There were platforms and handles on the side of the shaft with similar platforms and handles on the moving rod. To go up the shaft, the miner would step onto the platform on the rod and ride up to the next platform. Here he would step onto a platform onto the shaft. He would repeat this until he got to the top. Although intrinsically dangerous, the use of a man engine was in practice safer than climbing long ladders: it was less risky to be carried up at the end of a hard shift than to climb a ladder and risk falling because of exhaustion. It was also popular with the miners as they only got paid when they started work underground, so speeding up their journey to work increased their wages!
Ascent "to grass" in deep Cornish mines, 1890, by ladders and man-engine
Levant, like nearby Botallack, was one of Cornwall's submarine mines (posting of 2nd October 2014) where the mineral lodes extended beneath the ocean floor in a vast labyrinth of tunnels extending more than a mile out to sea.
A man engine was installed at Levant in 1857 but in 1919 it suffered a disastrous failure when a link between the rod and the engine snapped, killing 31 men, injuring many others and devastating the St. Just district mining community. This tragedy was the death knell of Levant mining, which experienced a steady decline until its final closure in 1930.
Levant Mine as it is today
Today was the 100th anniversary of the disaster and hundreds of people, including relatives of those killed, attended a very moving service this afternoon in the ruins of the mine 'dry' from where the miners accessed the tunnel which led to the man-engine, and their 30 minute journey to a depth of 1600 ft. The disaster was particularly tragic as many of these men had survived the horrors of the Great War, the role of experienced miners in the battlefields of Belgium and France testing their courage and endurance to extreme limits. 
Some of the relatives of the miners who perished, at the centenary service
Pupils from Cape Cornwall school
Representing the Cornish Mining Sundowners at the man-engine shaft:
Barry Wills, Linda Shimmield, Barbara Wills, Sam Wood and Carol Richards
This afternoon's service, and enactment of the events of October 20th 1919 by pupils from nearby Cape Cornwall school, was a reminder of how dangerous mining was, and still is, but also of the pride that miners have in their profession, recognising its vital importance to society, a view which unfortunately is not appreciated by many outside our industry.
A memorial in honour of the courageous men of the St. Just Mining District.
who worked the narrow lodes in hazardous conditions, and the women
and children who toiled on the surface crushing and dressing ore

Friday, 18 October 2019

Grinding Solutions hosts the first of the winter Cornish Mining Sundowners

Last night's Cornish Mining Sundowner was kindly hosted by Comminution '20 sponsor Grinding Solutions Ltd (GSL), in their extensive laboratory and pilot facilities at Tresillian near Truro. It is exactly two years since GSL hosted a sundowner, and since then the company has expanded considerably, in terms of personnel, facilities and services offered. Originally offering comminution capabilities, GSL now has a range of pilot scale set-ups, ranging from gravity to leaching, and they have recently completed a number of early stage metallurgical studies to support the exploration and evaluation of deposits in Portugal and Ireland.
GSL's Nick Wilshaw welcomes sundowner guests
Since our last sundowner at Tresillian, the comminution testing facilities have been extended to include a Versatile Comminution Rig (VCR), designed to conduct Bond ball and rod mill work index tests as well as continuous milling whilst monitoring the energy input. Also on display was a HIGmill™ from Swiss Tower Mills. With the VCR, GSL can now offer grinding test work from AG/SAG design through Bond ball and rod work index and then further down in size with the Jar mill and SMD, ISA and HIGmill™.
GSL's expanded gravity separation equipment gives them full capability from spirals and tables down to fine separation via Multi-Gravity Separator (MGS) and Falcon enhanced gravity separators. They have also broadened their horizons into flotation, with a pilot scale flotation bank and a Maelgwyn Imhoflot™ Pneumatic Flotation Cell. Maelgwyn Mineral Services, also a Comminution '20 sponsor, as well as sponsoring Flotation '19, have also supplied an Aachen Reactor™ which achieves efficient high level oxygen mass transfer in slurries, particularly useful in refractory gold processing.
So it was a very special night for GSL, with a record number of sundowner attendees (around 100) being guided around the facilities by the Managing Director, birthday boy Nick Wilshaw, and his wife Felicity and their young team of metallurgists. And it was great to catch up with a number of new faces among the regulars.
It was particularly good to see Neville Plint, all the way from Brisbane. Prof. Plint is the Director of the University of Queensland's Sustainable Minerals Institute, who will have an input to next year's Sustainable Minerals '20 conference in Falmouth.
Nick Wilshaw and Neville Plint
Also good to see Dave Dew again. Dave will be a keynote lecturer at Biomining '20 next June. In the photo below he is with Paul Norris, a keynote lecturer at Biohydrometallurgy '12, and Eugene Els and Toby Frostwick, of AFX Mixing and Pumping Technologies, UK. The company manufactures a range of top entry agitators from 0.18kW to 750kW, for use in processing, manufacturing, storage and treatment throughout a wide range of industries, and they hope to have an involvement with Biomining '20.
Dave, Toby, Eugene and Paul
The MSc courses at Camborne School of Mines started this month, and I was pleased to see 5 of the 10 mineral processing course students at their first sundowner. 
With mineral processing students Toby French, Jonny Coad, Ahmet Yamantas, Erdogan Savas and (seated) Tom Rigby.
Ahmet and Erdogan graduated from Hacettepe University, Turkey
It was also great to see Nick Wilshaw present two MSc mining students, Laura Carter-Greaves, from UK, and Sarah Mojuetan, from Nigeria, with their scholarship cheques, awarded by Women in Mining and the CSM Trust.
Nick with Sarah and Laura
All in all, a wonderful evening at Tresillian, and a big thanks to all at GSL for their hospitality.
The next sundowner will be on Thursday November 21st, from 5.30 pm at the Portreath Arms Hotel.

Monday, 14 October 2019

The very impressive Helmholtz Institute Freiberg

Last week I "celebrated" 50 years in the minerals industry. In that half century I have seen enormous changes in mineral processing, both in plant practice and research, so it was perhaps an appropriate time to present a guest lecture at the Helmholtz Institute Freiberg for Resource Technology (HIF) on The Evolution of Mineral Processing.
I had been invited to HIF by Dr. Martin Rudolph, an MEI Rising Star (posting of 12th February 2018), an assistant editor for Minerals Engineering, and head of mineral processing at HIF.
With Martin Rudolph
HIF pursues the objective of developing innovative technologies for the economy so that mineral and metalliferous raw materials can be made available and used more efficiently and recycled in an environmentally friendly manner. It was set up in 2011 by the German government as part of its national strategy for raw materials.  The founding Director, Prof. Jens Gutzmer, a keynote lecturer at last year's Hi-Tech Metals '18, was joined 4 years later by Prof. Markus Reuter, MEI's consultant to Sustainable Minerals '20, and who has been our consultant in this series since the first sustainable minerals conference, Material, Minerals and Metals Ecology 2006 in Cape Town.
With Jens Gutzmer and Markus Reuter
Under the leadership of the two co-directors, and a very impressive team of young researchers, the HIF has rapidly developed into one of the world's premier mineral processing research institutes, equipped with state of the art equipment.
HIF is a constituent part of the Helmholtz-Zentrum Dresden-Rossendorf (HZDR) and  works in close collaboration with nearby TU Bergakademie Freiberg, the world's oldest mining university, which was established in 1765. The chemical elements indium (1863) and germanium (1886) were discovered by scientists of Freiberg University.
HZDR is a research laboratory based in Dresden and is member of the Helmholtz Association of German Research Centres. Research is conducted in three of the Helmholtz Association's research areas: matter, health, and energy, of which HIF deals with energy.
During my two days at HIF I met up with members of Martin's team, many of whom are now familiar faces at MEI Conferences, and who regularly publish quality work in Minerals Engineering. Martin alone supervises 12 PhD students, and it was a pleasure to have dinner with some of them after my long first day. Martin and five of his students will be pesenting papers at next month's Flotation '19 and there will be a further 3 representatives from HZDR.
Dinner in Freiberg with (L-R) Edgar Schach (Germany), Bruno Michaux (Belgium), Martin Rudolph,
Anna Vanderbruggen (France), Nathalie Kupka (France), Ahmad Hassanzadeh (Iran) and Duong Hoang (Vietnam)
Like Cornwall, Freiberg and district has a very rich mining heritage, and like Cornwall, the ore genesis is related to the Variscan Oregeny. Mining around Freiberg has been carried out since the 12th century, initially for silver, followed by tin in the 13th century, copper lead and zinc in the 15th and 16th centuries, cobalt nickel and bismuth in the 18th centuries, and tungsten in the 20th century.
Martin and I visited Altenberg, the most famous tin mine in the region, 45 km from Freiberg and close to the border with the Czech Republic. Now a mining museum, Altenberg ceased production in 1991 after over 550 years continuous operation. One of its claims to fame is that, in 1937, it was the first tin mine in the world to concentrate fine cassiterite by flotation. 
I had dinner on my final night in the centre of Dresden with Martin, and Markus Reuter. The beautiful centre was devastated by the Allied bombing raids of February 1945, but reconstruction began after the war and was intensified after German reunification in 1990.
Dresden 1945. view from the city hall over the destroyed city
I was last in Dresden in 1991 for the XVIIth IMPC, and one of the social events was a night at the opera at the magnificent reconstructed Semperoper opera house for a performance of the Magic Flute.
Semperoper in 1991
Amidst the still ruined city, the huge mound of rubble which had been the Lutheran Frauenkirche was a particular poignant sight, which had become a symbol of the bombing. In the intervening years, the baroque church, completed in 1743, has been completely rebuilt, and now dominates the skyline much as St. Paul's cathedral does in London.
The Frauenkirche (X) in 1945, 1991 and 2019
The Dresden IMPC was chaired by Prof Heinrich Schubert, who was Director of the TU Bergakademie Freiberg from 1960 to 1991. He was awarded the IMPC Lifetime Achievement Award in 2006 and he died in May last year at the age of 92 (posting of 10th May 2018).
My two days in Saxony were immensely rewarding and interesting and I thank Martin Rudolph and his admirable team for their hospitality. I look forward to seeing him and some of his group in Cape Town next month for Flotation '19.

Thursday, 10 October 2019

New Book: Agglomeration of Iron Ores

This book, by Ram Pravesh Bhagat, focuses on agglomeration, or the size enlargement process, of iron ores. This process sits at the interface of mineral processing and extractive metallurgy.
The book begins with a discussion of raw materials preparation and the beneficiation process. It then describes fundamental principles of the sintering and pelletisation processes, including formation of green mix through granulation and green balls as well as chemical reactions during sintering. Finally, it offers a brief description of iron making processes and correlations related to the agglomerates: quality parameters and BF productivity and coke rate.
The book, published August 2019, is available from CRC Press.

Sunday, 6 October 2019

Action needed to raise the profile of mining education

Mining makes an enormous contribution to the UK economy and will continue to do so long into the future. To underpin this, it is vital that we continue our tradition of producing world-class mining engineers. From a career perspective, it is reassuring, given current university tuition fees, that mining engineering graduates have exciting and well-paid employment opportunities world-wide. Despite these positives, the University of Exeter’s Camborne School of Mines (CSM) is now the UK’s only provider of Mining Engineering degrees at undergraduate level at a time when the mining industry is becoming increasingly technology-driven and reliant on a highly-skilled workforce.
Ben Williamson
According to Ben Williamson, Associate Professor in Applied Mineralogy at Camborne School of Mines, this is mainly due to the negative perception of mining as ‘dirty’ and old-fashioned, and because students are not aware of its tremendous career opportunities and importance: “Without mining we would still be living in the pre-Stone Age. Just imagine life without your phone or car, or more mundane commodities such as cement or copper wires?” The industry is estimated to contribute around 45% of global GDP, either directly or via the use of mined products, and the gross value added to the UK economy of the extractive industries was around £6.5 billion in 2017. It also funds research and development in renewable energy technologies and numerous social and environmental projects.
Recycling of most metals is very far from total, such as for copper at around 50% globally, and there is still therefore a considerable requirement for primary raw materials. Of additional importance, for our transition to green and renewable energies, is that many new devices and products require huge amounts of metals for which there was previously little mining, and we therefore need new deposits. As an example, a typical wind turbine requires tonnes of the metal neodymium for high power magnets in its electric generator, which has sparked a huge increase in exploration for this metal over the last decade. Electric cars incorporate more than 3.5 times as much copper as conventional cars and a wholescale switch to their use will massively increase demand for metals such as lithium and cobalt for rechargeable batteries. The urgency for the discovery and large scale mining of raw materials is magnified in the light of an expected world population increase from the current 7.6 billion to 9.8 billion by 2050.”
Professor Williamson adds: “Most large shallow deposits of many essential commodities have already been discovered, and therefore mines will need to be deeper and for smaller deposits, which presents a number of technical and financial challenges. As such, it is crucial that we maintain a modern, efficient and environmentally and socially responsible mining industry, underpinned by a highly educated workforce. Most Mining Engineering graduates are now employed abroad, as metals and coal mining activity in the UK have all but disappeared over the last 50 years. Industrial minerals mining (mostly for aggregates) is still relatively strong. There is light at the end of the tunnel however, with the UK Department for International Trade having recently promoted Cornwall as having excellent potential for the extraction of tomorrow’s high-technology metals. Success there will hopefully build upon the high global demand for Mining Engineers, particularly for the UK’s CSM graduates, for whom the saying now goes ‘Look down any hole in the world and you will find a CSM’r!”
Far more needs to be done by the government, industry and education sector to highlight the vital role of mining in modern society, excellent career opportunities, considerable investments made by mining companies to be more environmentally and ethically responsible, and the importance of the mining sector to the UK economy.

% recycling of copper: Schipper et al. (2018). Estimating global copper demand until 2100 with regression and stock dynamics. Resources, Conservation & Recycling 132: 28–36; International Copper Association (2017)
Neodymium in wind turbines: Elements Magazine; Chemistry World  
Mining % global GDP: Mining Weekly 
Extractive industries gross added value UK economy: UK Gov
World population growth: UN

Thursday, 3 October 2019

More Nchanga catch-ups

The photo below was taken during our first few months in Zambia, in late 1969. We made friends early and here we are spending a day by one of the sunken lakes near Luanshya.

Left to right are Barbara and me, Alan Minty, fellow metallurgist Tony Watts, Ann Howieson, Pete Love, Chris Hulme and Jens Mende.
We caught up with Alan Minty and his wife Sheila in Cape Town in 2005, on a visit to Robben Island, but the whereabouts of the others proved elusive, until early this month, when I had a message on LinkedIn from geologist Pete Love. Now semi-retired, he is a consulting geologist based in Eastbourne in Sussex, and we had a long phone conversation reminiscing about the good times in Zambia, particularly our early years when we ran a weekly disco, aided by computer specialist Jens Mende
Saturday night fever in Chingola, with Pete, and Jens Mende

Great days, but Pete had some very sad news as well, that Jens had been tragically killed twelve years ago.

Pete and Pam Love at their home in Sussex
Pete and I will stay in touch now, but we would love to hear from anyone who has news of the others in the photo. I would particularly like to know what became of Tony Watts, who was a metallurgist on the concentrator when I arrived in October 1969.