Thursday, 28 May 2020

Recent comments

There have been comments on the following postings since the last update:

Memories of Egypt and CMRDI
Prof. Doug Rawlings, 1952-2020
2019 MEI Young Person's Award to Nikhil Dhawan
Hi-Tech Metals '20 and Process Mineralogy '20 are cancelled
Cape Town IMPC postponed until April 2021
An exciting new polymetallic mineral deposit found in West Cornwall
Return to Chingola
Major honours to Sue Harrison and Frank Roberto
AusIMM Honorary Fellowships to Tim Napier-Munn and John Ralston
Comminution: developments and thought over the last decade
Is the reopening of mines creating boundless joy?
Why good technical English is essential for journal papers
Malaysia: memories of Penang and the Kinta Valley

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Monday, 25 May 2020

Malaysia: memories of Penang and the Kinta Valley

In the 1980s I had four memorable visits to Malaysia and I hope that this blog posting might put me in touch with some of the many people that I met in that fascinating country, in the same way that my recent blog on Egypt brought me, and Antonio Peres, back in touch with our host in Cairo, Prof. Refaat Boulos.
In 1981 I spent 9 weeks in January-February and 4 weeks in July as a visiting lecturer at the Universiti Sains Malaysia on the beautiful island of Penang.
I wonder what became of the 4 students that I tought during my first visit:
Nine weeks was more than enough to present a short course on mineral processing, so I had plenty of time to explore the island, and to spend a couple of weeks back-packing in Bangkok, Singapore and Bali, but the highlight of both trips was the time that I spent on the mainland in Ipoh in the Kinta Valley. Here for the first time I saw the contrast between the mining and processing of tin in Cornwall, from hard rock ores, and the processing of alluvial deposits on a very large scale.
The tin mining industry was at the time of my visit the major pillar of the Malaysian economy.  The country was producing almost 63,000 tons of tin annually, accounting for 31% of world output. It was the world's leading producer and employed more than 41,000 people, the most important area being the Kinta Valley, the world's most productive tin field. Perak was the wealthiest state in Malaysia, its capital Ipoh being fondly known as “The City of Millionaires”. During my time in Ipoh I was hosted by Mike Joll of Osborne and Chappel, co-author of a book on Malaysian tin mining. The last time I saw Mike he was living in Helston, Cornwall, so I would love to know what became of him.
Dinner with local miners in Ipoh (Mike Joll is 4th from left)
Dinner at SEATRAD (South-East Asia Tin Research and Development)
By the end of the 19th Century, Malaya (now Malaysia) was the world’s largest tin producer and the Cornish industry, once the world's largest producer fell into rapid decline. The mines in Cornwall were very deep, and mining and processing were expensive, comminution of the hard rock being followed by gravity separation on shaking tables, calcining to burn off arsenic, and, in the 20th century, removal of sulphides by froth flotation. Due to large amounts of fines, and poor liberation, recoveries were low and concentrate grades typically lower than 40-60%. Although the alluvial ores were of much lower grade (as low as 0.02% tin) compared with the hard rock ores of Cornwall (around 1% tin), mining could be carried out at a relatively vast scale, no comminution was necessary, the minerals were coarse and fully liberated and very simple, cheap gravity methods effective in producing concentrate grades of 70-75% tin.
Chinese miners were the main producer of Malayan tin ores before the British came. The British brought in dredges, which increased tin production tremendously but the smaller gravel pump mining operations were most commonly used in the Kinta Valley. In these mines the ore-bearing ground is broken down by high pressure water jets known as monitors, the resultant slurry being pumped to a huge wooden sluice box, or palong, down which slurry flows over a series of baffles, behind which the cassiterite and other heavy minerals settle out. Periodically the flow is stopped, the baffles are lifted and the heavy mineral concentrate is sluiced out. Primary tin concentrate is further processed in a secondary concentrator or ‘‘tin shed’’ involving wet and dry gravity methods, magnetic and electrostatic separation, by-products including ilmenite, rutile, zircon, monazite, xenotime, and struverite.
Gravel pump mine
Palong concentrators
It was also interesting to see women toiling in the +30C heat to further recover cassiterite by panning, using wooden pans called dulangs. By 1900 the dulang had become widely used by groups of independent women (dulang-washers) to undertake freelance mining operations. During the 19th and 20th centuries it is estimated that dulang-washers recovered almost 150,000 tonnes of tin in concentrates, or over 2% of the country's total production.
Dredges are very expensive and were operated by large multinational companies, but they are highly efficient machines which can operate practically non-stop and lower grade deposits can be profitable because of the high tonnage of material treated. The dredge is essentially a floating mine where mining and ore dressing are done on board. The ore bearing earth, in flooded paddocks, is dug by chain buckets and broken down by monitors, jigs being used to concentrate the ore. The main disadvantage of dredges is that they cannot recover heavy minerals lying between limestone pinnacles, which are often very rich in tin.
In July 1985 I was back for four weeks at the University in Penang but this time accompanied by Barbara, Amanda and Jon.  
Amanda, Barbara and Jon exploring the Penang capital, Georgetown
With local children on our favourite beach at Batu Ferringhi
In the photo below I am with USM staff Radzali Othman, Tuan Basar, Abdul Latiff and Kok Keong Cheang. Where are they now I wonder?
During our 4 weeks in Penang I made only a very brief trip across the water to the Butterworth tin smelter but the tin operations on the mainland were blissfully unaware of the crisis that would befall on them 3 months later.
At the Butterworth tin smelter
Apart from a fairly recent stop-over in Kuala Lumpur for a couple of days my last visit to Malaysia was in 1988, to give a presentation at the International Symposium on Research and Development in the Extractive Metallurgy of Tin and Related Metals, a very low-key affair as the Malaysian tin industry had suffered very rapid decline since my last visit.
Malaysia had been the world's largest tin producer until October 1985 when prices dropped by 50% and more than 300 tin mines stopped their operations. By 1994, the country's production had fallen to 6,500 tons, with only 3,000 people employed in the industry. The only tin dredge remaining was not producing tin, but was open as a tourist attraction.
Visiting the remaining tin dredge with ISRADEMT delegates
By 2016 Malaysian tin output was only 3,500 tonnes, and by then the country was ranked 9th in the world for production. It seems unlikely that the Kinta Valley will ever be a major producer again, as no new deposits have been found, whereas Cornwall, whose tin mining days were eclipsed by the Malaysia finds, is set for a possible revival.
Whatever happens, we have very fond memories of our time in Malaysia and of its very friendly people.

Thursday, 21 May 2020

Is the reopening of mines creating boundless joy?

Just about now the May Cornish Mining Sundowner should have been starting at Falmouth's Chain Locker. But, of course, it lies deserted, although I did call by earlier on my afternoon exercise.
What would we have been discussing today? Probably that a number of mines which temporarily closed at the start of the Coronavirus outbreak are now cautiously reopening, but it is difficult to see how underground mines can transport men up and down the mine shaft while observing social-distancing rules. Ironically a century ago, some of the Cornish tin mines had a means of transportation which allowed a constant stream of workers to ascend and descend into the bowels of the mine- this was the formidable and fearsome Man-Engine! (MEI Blog 20 October 2019).
Man-engine at Dolcoath tin mine in the 1890s
(Photo: JC Burrow)
But it is doubtful if everyone is happy with the reopening of mines. The mining industry supplies nearly every product and service in the world, and is fundamental to the development of technologies needed for the transition to clean energy.  A new World Bank Group report suggests that the production of minerals, such as graphite, lithium and cobalt, could increase by nearly 500% by 2050, to meet the growing demand for clean energy technologies. It estimates that over 3 billion tons of minerals and metals will be needed to deploy wind, solar and geothermal power, as well as energy storage, required for achieving a below 2°C future.
Yet mining companies are often faced with intense criticism from society, particularly as younger generations are increasingly aware and conscious of the industry’s social and environmental impact. If the mining industry has to continue to supply the world as we know it, it is essential that it repositions itself by changing the way it communicates to the external world while, at the same time, move to more sustainable practices and processes.
The Social License to Operate plays a key role in this context, being the acceptance of a mine or mining company by its employees, by its community stakeholders and by the general public. The extended stakeholder network that adjudicates on social licence also includes ethical investment funds, international human rights activists, international financial institutions and local and national governments. These key stakeholders are demanding stronger engagement and transparency, so much so that social licence will soon be akin to a mining licence, without which mining companies will find it impossible to operate (click here for more on Social Licensing).
We have discussed on the blog many times how crucial mining is to society, but really we are talking to the converted. How do we reach out to society in general? I would be asking sundowner regulars this today, but maybe blog readers might have suggestions? Maybe we could put together a survey for our non-mining friends to see what they think of the industry, and, just as important, what they know about it?

Monday, 18 May 2020

Comminution: developments and thoughts over the last decade

Comminution '20 was the first of the MEI Conferences to be postponed until 2021. We were expecting a record turnout, with news of all the recent developments taking place in comminution.
As a substitute I have thrown together edited highlights of some of the developments and thoughts on comminution which took place during the past decade. This is by no means a comprehensive review, it is intended to illicit discussion from comminution specialists from around the world, many of whom would have been in Cape Town last month.

Grinding is evolving and changing fast, with innovations in high pressure grinding rolls and stirred mills threatening to make the tumbling mill, which has been a stalwart for well over a century, obsolete. At the final panel discussion at Comminution '14 (posting of 5 May 2014), Tim Napier-Munn said that in terms of the future of comminution "we really have to get rid of tumbling mills". Are rod mills now finally obsolete? Ball mills would have dominated comminution conferences little over a decade ago, but they are mentioned only rarely now.
SAG mills are still of major importance, but I asked the question at Comminution ’12 whether ball mills would play a significant role in comminution circuits, or would they be superseded by SAG mills. Chris Rule, of Anglo Platinum, felt that rod mills would play an insignificant role, as they are severely limited in terms of size, and ball mills may play a diminishing role as the upper feed size range of stirred mills increases. Stirred mills, unheard of in mineral processing a few decades ago, are now increasingly used for ultrafine grinding applications.  At the SAG '15 conference in Vancouver, Chris showed how ISAMill™ technology has progressed from the original Mount Isa Mines ultrafine grinding applications. Larger ceramic media is now pushing the boundaries of feed size and can offer advantages in grinding efficiencies, product size distribution and internal wear.
At the 2012 SME Meeting in Seattle I was discussing SAG mills with someone who had heard that many operations were having to increase the proportion of steel balls in their SAG mills in order to improve performance, effectively converting them slowly back to ball mills! There was a lot of debate on the blog posting of 25 August 2014 which asked "Where are SAG mills going?".  An article from Weir Minerals suggested that there was an increase in demand for larger cone crushers that are matched with large high pressure grinding rolls for customers who want to replace SAG mills in order to increase efficiency. Utilising cone crushers and HPGRs allows ore to be processed from 250mm to 50mm in cone crushers, then down to less than 6mm from HPGRs.
In his keynote lecture at Comminution '18, Holger Lieberwirth asked whether SAG mills will still be relevant in 50 years’ time. Maybe they will be replaced by circuits containing only High Pressure Grinding Mills, which are crushing ever finer, and stirred mills, adopted for untrafine grinding, but whose upper particle size limit is being pushed towards coarser sizes. At SAG '15 in Vancouver, Paul Staples of Ausenco, Australia, asked whether SAG mills are losing market confidence. Although a mature technology, he said that a number of recent projects were not achieving nameplate capacity, but at Comminution '18 John Starkey, of Starkey & Associates, Canada, a company well known in SAG mill design, showed how single stage AG/SAG milling has the potential to reduce operating costs and increase profitability significantly when properly designed, installed, operated and maintained.
Mining is energy intensive, and grinding is responsible for consuming about 40% of the energy in the whole mining chain. Inefficiency in grinding has long been an outstanding problem, in particular when production of fines and ultra-fines are considered. Unlike milling, crushers are much more energy efficient, therefore it is logical to push the comminution process towards the crushing stage for energy efficiency, said Hamid Manouchehri of Sandwik, Sweden, at Comminution '18. Furthermore, crushing is done dry which reduces water consumption and related potential water contamination. Hamid said that finer crushing could be achieved through design of new crushing chambers, introducing more energy and higher rotation speeds in the crushing chamber, etc.  At the same conference Hakan Benzer, of Hacettepe University, Turkey, explained how novel energy efficient comminution circuit flowsheets incorporating energy efficient dry comminution technologies such as HPGR, Vertimill etc. have the potential to result in significant energy savings.
At Comminution '16 Gerard Van Wyk of ThyssenKrupp Industrial Solutions, Germany, asked if dry final grinding with HPGRs could be the next step ahead in mineral comminution? Historically, HPGRs have been used mainly as tertiary crushers in mineral applications for the production of ball mill feed. In the cement industry, however, HPGR systems have been successfully applied for grinding limestone, clinker and slag to a final product fineness (P80) of between 30 and 90 ┬Ám without the need for downstream ball milling. The total energy consumption of HPGR finish grinding systems in the cement industry has been found to be 30 to 50 % lower than in ball mill systems. This leads to the question of whether the same methodology can be adopted in the mineral industry. Such a step would require the use of dry rather than wet grinding systems.
The comminution circuit is usually made up of comminution devices operated in closed circuit with different types of classifier. The closed circuit arrangement can have separate comminution and classification devices linked through pump-sump arrangements or integrated comminution-classifier systems. It is well documented that the choice and operation of the classifier have a major influence on the performance of the comminution circuit as a whole. An inefficient classifier can increase the energy consumption of the comminution circuit and in most cases also compromise the quality of the product reporting to downstream processes, leading to losses in recovery of the valuable mineral.
Although Prof. Alban Lynch has been involved with hydrocyclones for very many years, in his conversation with me (MEI Blog 11th August 2014)  he said that "the way they are used now is an absolute nonsense, with circulating loads in some cases of well above 200%. The future is high frequency is very clear that these screens are so much better than hydrocyclones."
By classifying by size-only, screens, compared to hydrocyclones, give a sharper separation with multidensity feeds and reduce overgrinding of the dense minerals. Derrick Corporation is the leader in this field and at Comminution '18 Nic Barkhuysen, of Derrick Solutions International, South Africa, said that replacing the ubiquitous cyclone cluster with Stack Sizer screens creates additional capacity, improved mineral recovery and a simultaneous reduction in power consumption.
At Comminution '16 Elizma Ford, of Mintek, South Africa, evaluated the potential throughput benefit of adopting Derrick fine screening technology and  concluded that it is becoming apparent that the ability of these machines to accurately classify by size only at efficiencies in the mid 90% range, as fine as 45 micron, has resulted in a paradigm shift in milling circuits, replacing hydrocyclones in the closing of secondary and tertiary circuits. At Comminution '18 Martyn Hay, of Eurus Mineral Consultants, South Africa, also emphasised that over the past decade there have been a number of success stories where cyclones have been replaced by wet screening resulting in improved grinding efficiency, higher throughput, lower operating work index, better liberation and increased recovery in downstream flotation. He highlighted that inefficiencies in classification efficiency account for the majority of metal loss from the milling/flotation process as well as excessive mill power draw.
The last major comminution conference before the Coronavirus pandemic was the European Symposium on Comminution and Classification, held in Leeds, UK last September. In his plenary lecture, Malcolm Powell, of the University of Queensland's JKMRC, and a regular contributor to MEI's comminution conferences, said that it is high time to dramatically upgrade historic empirical comminution models, that are based on back-fitted breakage rates, to mechanistic models. He presented an approach to embracing the available computational power and the progress in understanding of comminution systems to rewrite models to be predictive and reliable with respect to the range of conditions to be encountered in the current and future devices we use in industry. Underpinning such an approach is the need for appropriate measurement of breakage properties that include mineral association, that respond to the range of conditions encountered in comminution equipment for mineral processing.
Simulating comminution processes is one of the most complex tasks in mineral processing research and the Discrete Element Method (DEM) is one of the most widely used tools. DEM has provided the ability to resolve the complex phenomena experienced by ore within comminution devices such as tumbling mills. The new developments in DEM techniques and the corresponding increase in computational power has made it more feasible to study the movement of individual ore particles as they traverse a tumbling mill. Modelling of energy distribution in tumbling mills is also being increasingly investigated using positron emission particle tracking, a technique now really proving its worth in understanding comminution and flotation processes, as is coupled DEM and SPH (smoothed particle hydrodynamics).
At the Comminution '14 panel discussion (MEI Blog 5 May 2014) Wolfgang Peukert of University of Erlangen-Nuremberg, Germany, said that much could be gained if the science of comminution and industry could come closer together. It is apparent that modelling now gives us a greater understanding of what is going on in a milling circuit, and there is a lot to be gained from detailed modelling. The models, however, must be checked by reality to give us a reliable toolbox to assess what is happening, particularly with complex multi-phase particles which can be characterised to assess liberation, the balance between strength of grain boundaries and strength of grains.
An interesting debate on liberation was on the blog posting of 16 January 2014, where I asked the question "Is anyone researching liberation enhancement". Prior to this, Frank Shi, of Australia's JKMRC gave an interesting paper at the European Symposium on Comminution and Classification in Germany in 2013. He outlined the programme of work on electrical comminution by high voltage pulses which has led to a number of publications in Minerals Engineering over the last few years. Pre-weakening ore particles and preferential liberation of minerals at coarse sizes are the two major outcomes that may have potential benefits for the mineral industry. He described a novel particle pre-weakening characterisation method by single-particle/single pulse, developed in collaboration with the Swiss company SELFRAG AG.  Dr. Shi discussed the emerging challenges to bring electrical comminution to the mineral industry, including scale-up for industrial application, hybrid circuit design, maximisation of pulse-induced cracks and study of the downstream processing effects.
Gregor Borg, of PMS GmbH, Germany and Martin Luther University Halle-Wittenberg, Germany, showed at Physical Separation '19 how the innovative VeRo Liberator® applies a mechanical high-velocity comminution principle, where numerous hammer tools rotate clockwise and anti-clockwise on three levels around a vertical shaft-in-shaft (hollow shaft) system. The resulting high-frequency, high-velocity impacts cause a highly turbulent particle flow and trigger fracture nucleation and fracture propagation preferentially at and along mineral boundaries. Breakage of coarser particles occurs from the high-velocity stimulation of bulk ore particles, where the elasticity and compressibility modules control differential particle behaviour. The improved breakage behaviour results in reduced energy consumption and very high degrees of particle liberation in the relatively coarse fraction of the product.
Grinding of complex massive sulphide ores consumes vast amounts of energy, and extremely fine mineral dissemination leads to relatively low concentrate grades, and high metal losses, not only in the flotation tailings, but into the ‘wrong’ concentrates, penalties often being imposed for the presence of zinc and lead in copper concentrates. Way back in 2013 (MEI Blog 3rd June 2013) I asked "is there a technique currently available that could eliminate the comminution step in the treatment of these important sources of base metals?" Well, yes there is, and not only could it remove the comminution stage, but also the difficult and inefficient flotation stage! It may seem economically impossible, but it has been proven at pilot stage to be viable. Noel Warner, Emeritus Professor of Minerals Engineering at the University of Birmingham, UK, has often talked passionately of the process that he and his team at Birmingham developed for the treatment of polymetallic massive sulphide deposits. The process was direct ore smelting, but despite its attractions, the process has never been used at full scale, but it was suggested (MEI Blog 3rd June 2013) that it should be looked at more closely.
Alan Muir, Vice President Metallurgy at AngloGold Ashanti, South Africa also asked whether comminution could be eliminated from the mining process in his keynote lecture at Comminution '14, as he felt that current comminution activities were rapidly becoming unsustainable. He suggested that comminution might be removed from the gold mining process completely by moving directly to in-situ liberation and leaching.
I have no doubt that comminution and concentration techniques will continue to evolve, but will there be a time when they lose the battle, when the remaining ores are so finely disseminated and intergrown that they can no longer be treated by physical methods? Is no mineral processing the future of mining, and will the future be direct hydrometallurgical and pyrometallurgical routes?
Hopefully much food for thought here, so let's have your views please.

Thursday, 14 May 2020

AusIMM Honorary Fellowships to Tim Napier-Munn and John Ralston

Amidst all the gloom, this has been a week of congratulations to friends of MEI and our conferences.  Earlier in the week Sue Harrison and Frank Roberto received our plaudits, now it is the turn of two well-known Australian scientists, Profs. Tim Napier-Munn and John Ralston, both of whom I have had the pleasure of interviewing for MEI.
First awarded in 1935, AusIMM Awards celebrate outstanding contributions to best practice professionalism and the Honorary Fellowship recognises exceptional achievement, service or contribution to the resources sector.  Tim and John are the two recipients of Honorary Fellowships in 2020.
Tim Napier-Munn (MEI Blog 12 May 2014) I first met 33 years ago in an Oxford pub, during a hydrocyclones conference. He is a former Director of the JKMRC, and now in semi-retirement he works part-time for the JKMRC and as a consultant for JKTech. He was appointed Emeritus Professor at the University of Queensland in 2015.
Tim was the editor of the JKMRC’s ‘Blue Book’ on Mineral Comminution Circuits. He is a recipient of the Futers Gold Medal of the UK IOM3 (2009), the AusIMM President’s Award (2011) and the AusIMM Sir Willis Connolly Memorial Medal (2015).
I was proud to have Tim as the first co-editor of Wills' Mineral Processing Technology, which was published in 2006 in 7th edition and was followed by a Chinese translation in 2011.
Tim and me with the English and Chinese versions of Mineral Processing Technology
Tim has been a long-serving member of the Minerals Engineering Editorial Board and has presented keynote lectures at MEI Conferences, at Comminution '14 in Cape Town and Physical Separation '17 in Falmouth.
Tim (2nd right) at Physical Separation '17 in Falmouth, relaxing with Nick Wilshaw,
Simon Hille, Mike Battersby and Sandy Gray
In 1994 John Ralston (MEI Blog 27 May 2014) established the Ian Wark Research Institute (the Wark) and was Director until his retirement in 2012. In 2007 he was awarded South Australian of the Year and South Australian Scientist of the Year and in 2008 was made an Officer of the Order of Australia. UniSA has established the Ralston Medal for Excellence in Physical Chemistry and the John Ralston Chair in Minerals and Resource Engineering in his honour. John also received the Sir Willis Connolly Memorial Lecture Award 2009.
I first met John in 1986 at the SME Fall Meeting in St. Louis, USA and have been in regular contact with him and his wife Ann ever since. He was a keynote lecturer at last year's Flotation '19 in Cape Town. 
Presentation of MEI Award to Zhiyong Gao, with his supporters
Profs. Cyril O'Connor and John Ralston, at Flotation '19
With John and Ann Ralston in Cornwall in 2018
Many congratulations Tim and John. Looking forward to catching up post-Coronavirus.

Monday, 11 May 2020

Major honours to Sue Harrison and Frank Roberto

Election to the National Academy of Engineering is among the highest professional distinctions accorded to an engineer.  Academy membership honours those who have made outstanding contributions to engineering research, practice, or education, so we were delighted to hear that two of MEI's major contributors to our Biomining conferences have received this ultimate accolade.
Prof. Sue Harrison, of the University of Cape Town, is one of MEI's consultants to the Biomining series, and has attended every conference in the series since Biotech '96 in Falmouth (MEI Blog 26 March 2016). She also presented a keynote lecture at Biohydromet '18 in Namibia, and is very much involved with MEI's Sustainable Minerals conferences. She was one of 18 non-American members elected to the Academy for her leadership in biochemical engineering and its application to mining and environmental remediation.
Sue with MEI's Jon Wills and Prof. Tjama Tjivikua,
Vice-Chancellor of the Namibia University of Technology, at Biohydromet '18
Sue with UCT colleagues at Biohydromet '16
Dr. Frank Roberto, of Newmont Mining Corporation, USA, a sponsor of Biomining '21, was elected to the Academy for advancing biotechnical applications for environmentally responsible mine production. Frank has been a regular contributor to the Biomining series, and presented a keynote lecture at Biohydromet '16 (MEI Blog 21 December 2015).
Frank with Jon Wills at Biohydromet 16
 Frank relaxing at Falmouth's Chain Locker after his keynote lecture
Many congratulations Sue and Frank. We look forward to seeing you both in Falmouth next year at Biomining '21 and Sustainable Minerals '21.

Friday, 8 May 2020

Cape Town IMPC postponed to April 2021

Due to the Coronavirus pandemic, the organising committee of the XXX International Mineral Processing Congress (IMPC), scheduled to be held in Cape Town from 18-22 October, today made the decision to postpone the event to April of next year.
The IMPC will now take place at the Cape Town Convention Centre from April 18-22 2021.
This may seem an unfortunate choice of dates, as on 12th March (MEI Blog) it was announced that MEI's Comminution '20 conference was postponed until April 19-22, the venue also being Cape Town, at the Vineyard Hotel.
However, MEI and IMPC have agreed to work together towards what could be an attractive option for comminution specialists- the chance to take part in two major conferences in a single week, with the added benefits of reduced travel and accommodation costs.
MEI's comminution consultant is Prof. Aubrey Mainza, of the University of Cape Town, who is also on the local organising committee for the IMPC, and MEI is a media partner for IMPC. Our plan is to arrange the timetables for the two events such that IMPC delegates with an interest in comminution can attend sessions at Comminution '21, and vice-versa. The two venues are only 12 km apart and taxis are cheap and plentiful, Uber also operating in the city.
We already have many papers in the Comminution '21 programme, transferred from Comminution '20, and these will be supplemented with further presentations from our call for abstracts. The deadline for short abstracts is the end of October.  The associated exhibition is almost sold out, but two booths are currently available for rental.
We at MEI are greatly looking forward to working with the organising committee of the IMPC to put together what will probably be a unique combination of conferences in what we hope will be unique times.
Updates on Comminution '21 are at #Comminution21

Thursday, 7 May 2020

2019 MEI Young Person's Award to Nikhil Dhawan

The recipient of the MEI Young Person's Award is normally announced after the presentation of the award at an MEI Conference.
These are not normal times, however, and the 2019 award was to be presented at Hi-Tech Metals '20 in Cape Town, which is now cancelled due to Coronavirus.
So I am pleased to announce that the recipient, who will be presented with the award somewhere and sometime in the unforeseeable future, is Dr. Nikhil Dhawan, an Assistant Professor in the Department of Metallurgical & Materials Engineering at the Indian Institute of Technology, IIT-Roorkee, India.
Nikhil was nominated by three eminent mineral processors, Prof. Jan Miller, of the University of Utah, USA, Prof. B.K. Mishra, Director of IIT Goa, and Dr. Pradip, Chief Scientist at Tata Research Development and Design Centre, India.
Nikhil Dhawan obtained a Bachelor of Engineering (Metallurgical Engineering) with First Class Honours from Punjab Engineering College, in 2008. His Ph.D on the Modelling of Crushed Ore Agglomeration for Heap Leach Operations, was conferred by the University of Utah in 2013.
He has four sponsored research projects funded by various government organizations, and has authored 47 refereed journal articles, 20 international conference papers, and 2 book chapters. He is among very few young researchers working in the high priority areas of electronic waste recycling for recovery of base metals and rare earth elements, processing of low-grade iron ores, and silicate rocks for potassium values.
His research work is focused on the extraction of rare earth values from electronic waste, lithium and cobalt from lithium-ion batteries, copper and gold values (printed circuit boards), potassium values from silicate rocks and enrichment of low grade banded iron ores.
Dr. Dhawan was recently elected as a member of the Indian National Young Academy of Sciences and has received the AC Datta MESA Award (Institution of Engineers, 2016) and Khare award (2016) from the Indian Institute of Mineral Engineers.  Based on his research, Nikhil was selected as a consultant by Bharat Petroleum Corporation Limited for technical due diligence work on the recycling of lithium-ion batteries for Attero Recycling Pvt. Ltd.
Nikhil is passionate about training the next generation of mineral engineers to meet the challenges of the future, and as part of the 2016 IMPC in Quebec, he was invited to participate in the IMPC Emerging Leaders Working Group.
He is active in promoting the role of extractive metallurgy through invited lectures and contributory lectures at different platforms (workshops and conferences) within India and abroad. In his short career, Nikhil has made a significant mark on our profession, produced research results of acknowledged benefits to the industry, and built an international network of collaborators. Undoubtedly Nikhil has the attributes necessary to play a significant role in our industry’s future as a researcher, teacher, practitioner, and international collaborator. His excellence, commitment, and dedication make him a worthy recipient of the MEI Young Person’s Award.

Tuesday, 5 May 2020

Prof. Doug Rawlings, 1952-2020

I have just received this sad news from Dr. Anna Kaksonen, of CSIRO, Australia:
It is with great sadness that I’m writing to let you know that a long-standing and deeply respected member of our Biohydrometallurgy Community, Prof. Doug Rawlings, has passed away.
Doug finished his PhD in Microbiology in Rhodes University in 1975 and received DSc in microbiology, plasmid biology from University of Stellenbosch in 2014. Doug specialised in the biology of biomining microorganisms. Some of the first genes to be cloned and the first two genes to be sequenced in South Africa came from the work of his laboratory. Doug received several awards, including PanLabs Awards (Society for Industrial Microbiology, USA), the Havenga Prize (SA Academy for Science and Arts) and the Stellenbosch University Rector’s Award for Excellence in Research.
 Doug served as a Professor of Microbiology at the University of Cape Town 1982-1998 and as a Professor and Chair of Microbiology at the University of Stellenbosch 1998-2020. Most recently he also served at the University of Stellenbosch as the Deputy and Acting Dean in the Faculty of Science. Doug also carried a substantial load of committee work. He served for 17 years on the Council of the Royal Society of South Africa, 7 years as its secretary and 2004-2006 as the president. He also served several terms on the Council of the South African Society for Microbiology and was the Academic Coordinator of the Claude Leon Foundation post-doctoral bursary scheme. He was elected a Founder Member of the Academy of Science of South Africa and was a finalist for the Lifetime Achievement Award of the National Science and Technology Forum (NSTF) (2006). He was appointed as an Honorary Professor at the University of Cape Town (1998-2003) and a Guest Professor of Central South University, Changsha, China (2008-2013). Doug was also a long-standing member of the International Scientific Committee of the International Biohydrometallurgy Symposium (IBS) and more recently member of the IBS Honorary Committee.
Doug was a very approachable person and my greatest memory of him is visiting his straw-roofed home, University of Stellenbosch and a vineyard in the region together with some of my CSIRO colleagues in conjunction with one of the mining biotechnology conferences organised in Cape Town.
 Doug will be sadly missed. Our deepest sympathies are extended to his family.

Monday, 4 May 2020

Hi-Tech Metals '20 and Process Mineralogy '20 are cancelled

I am sure that it will come as no big surprise that the two MEI conferences, scheduled for Cape Town in October, have been cancelled due to the Coronavirus pandemic.
The next Hi-Tech Metals and Process Mineralogy conferences are now scheduled for November 2022 in Cape Town.

Friday, 1 May 2020

April: the first full month in lockdown

I ended my posting of one month ago with an extract from Boris Johnson's letter to all households in UK:
"It's important for me to level with you - we know things will get worse before they get better."
With amazing and unfortunate prescience, a week later he was in intensive care, a victim of Covid-19, from which he has now recovered, thanks to the front-line NHS doctors and nurses who daily put their own lives at risk. By the Easter weekend, less than two weeks into the month, there were over 11,000 recorded Coronavirus hospital deaths in the UK, many of those who had succumbed being these very frontline workers.
Tom Moore
(The Times, April 17th)
But amidst all the gloom there have been many uplifting examples of the human spirit, including that of Captain Tom Moore, the 99-year old WW2 veteran, who set off to walk 100 lengths of his garden before his 100th birthday, which he celebrated yesterday, with the ambitious aim of raising £1000 for the NHS. At the time of writing the amount raised is over £32 million!
This has been a month in which the word unprecedented has been almost overworked, and words such as furlough, which few people would have heard of before, became common parlance.
April was the first month where worldwide lockdown was imposed and towns and cities became ghost-towns. Walking through a deserted Falmouth on our sanctioned exercise has been an eerie experience, and almost deserted beaches an unprecedented sight.
Falmouth's main street
Social distancing outside the town centre supermarket

Easter Sunday, Falmouth's main beach, Gyllyngvase
Good Friday at Swanpool Beach, Falmouth
These images are truly dystopian and I wonder if we will see a summer scene such as this in the next few months:
Swanpool beach on a sunny day pre-Coronavirus
Cornwall is the most remote area of England, and it is that remoteness that has deterred invasion over the centuries, from Romans, Saxons and Normans. Now the modern invaders are the tourists, who flock to our stunning coastline and wide open spaces and provide a massive input to the local economy. However Coronavirus has changed our day to day lives and the government has called for the nation to stop all non essential travel in a bid to stop the spread of the disease that has so tragically claimed many lives in the UK, so the tourists who are normally welcomed are now being asked to remain at home.

Unfortunately not all have heeded this request, which puts unnecessary strain on the already overworked NHS staff at Cornwall's only one major hospital in Truro, and each Thursday evening residents have been coming outdoors to applaud the NHS and other front-line workers. It has been an emotional response, applause being joined by the horns of boats in Falmouth Bay, and the raucous call of the gulls.
Many people are now working from home where possible and social distancing has forced many mines around the world to temporarily close and declare force majeur on smelter contracts. Metal prices have decreased due to lack of demand, and even the price of "king copper" often used to measure the health of the mining industry, is only slowly recovering after a very sharp dip in early March. Copper is at the heart of green energy, lithium batteries containing over 50% copper, so a huge amount of extra copper will be required for the development of electric cars once production ramps up again sometime in the future.
Recent copper prices (source
There is also a growing awareness of something that has been known for centuries, that copper and its alloys have antibacterial, antiviral and anti-fungal properties, so the red metal is likely to be increasingly used in hospitals to replace stainless steel. It was reported in The New England Journal of Medicine in March that COVID-19 was “detectable in aerosols for up to three hours, up to four hours on copper, up to 24 hours on cardboard and up to two to three days on plastic and stainless steel". The reluctance to use copper may be based on perceived cost, but making and installing copper fittings is no more expensive than using materials such as stainless steel which, ironically, is considered easier to keep clean due to its bright surface.
Most major international conferences scheduled for this year have been either cancelled or postponed, and tomorrow Barbara and I were scheduled to fly back from Cape Town, after Comminution '20, which is now postponed to next April. Ironically 10 years ago Comminution '10 came within a whisker of being cancelled due to the volcanic eruption in Iceland, which led to the closure of most of the European airspace on the 3rd day of the conference and leaving many delegates stranded in Cape Town for several days. Ten years on, with most major airlines grounded during the month, many unfortunates found themselves stranded in various parts of the world, unable to make it back to their home countries for the foreseeable future.
April has been a surreal month, the likes of which we have never seen before, but it is likely to be just the beginning of a very long haul. Currently there have been over 26,000 Coronavirus related deaths in the UK, and last week the government's chief medical advisor, Prof. Chris Whitty, said "it is totally unrealistic to expect that life will suddenly return to normal soon." He said that the UK will have to live with some disruptive social measures for at least the rest of the year.
Boris Johnson returned to office this week to face an unenviable choice which will define his career - how to ease the nation from lockdown to safeguard the economy, balanced against a potential increased loss of lives due to a possible resurgence of the virus. And all this coping with sleepless nights with a new baby! In comparison negotiations on Brexit (remember?) must seem like a stroll in the park.
Let's see what May brings. These are unprecedented times indeed.
"We will get through it in the end but it might take time, but at the end of the day we shall all be okay again... the sun will shine on you again and the clouds will go away." Captain Tom Moore