Thursday, 25 February 2021

Thank goodness lithium grows on trees

Demand for lithium is set to explode in the years ahead, as car makers move to EV technology, but lithium supply is likely to struggle to keep up with booming electric vehicle demand. Australia is the number one global lithium producer at present, accounted for 54.4% of global lithium production in 2019, more than double the output of the world’s second-largest producer, Chile. The figure below shows how the demand on commodities might change if all cars became electric by 2050 (posting of 21 July 2019).

Source: UBS Estimates

Mining for lithium is set to intensify over the coming years, and Cornish Lithium Ltd recently announced that the company had commenced its second drilling campaign at its Trelavour hard rock lithium project near St Austell in east Cornwall. In December, the company announced that they would be accelerating the development of the Trelavour hard rock lithium project following the successful production of battery-grade lithium hydroxide from lithium mica samples obtained during the first drilling programme earlier in 2020 (posting of 10th December 2020). 

In parallel, Cornish Lithium continues to advance its project to extract lithium contained within geothermal waters, and Australian Company Vulcan Resources is also developing a new zero emissions lithium production facility in Germany to deliver lithium to the booming German EV car making industry. Feasibility studies into the lithium production facility showed that the project would be highly profitable. The proposed facility would have the potential to produce as much as 40,000 tonnes of lithium hydroxide each year, the usable ingredient for battery production. The plant would be looking to tap into an identified deposit of 1.12 million tonnes of lithium carbonate equivalent in the Upper Rhine Valley of Germany, one of Europe’s largest lithium deposits, operating on geothermal energy drawn from the deposit itself, allowing the facility to run entirely on renewable energy. It would position the project as a producer of lithium with zero embedded greenhouse gas emissions, with the project proposal including plans for a 74MW geothermal plant.

400 miles from Cornwall, Northern Lithium is a company that has been launched and has secured rights to explore and extract lithium and other minerals from hot underground water within the Weardale Granite of County Durham. A source of lithium in the North East of England raises the possibility of boosting an emerging centre for electric vehicles and a potential jobs boost for the area, with Northern Lithium planning to set up wells to extract and re-inject brine extracted from the underground rock, with a lithium production plant somewhere in between. Although the company will strive to minimise any environmental impact, the location of the site within the North Pennines Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty could complicate the plans.

However there are some suggested plans which show a lack of understanding of the need to mine raw materials, and hence my titular remark about lithium 'growing on trees'. US President Joe Biden has announced his intention to replace the US government’s federal fleet with “clean electric vehicles” promising million of jobs across the auto supply chain. Details and timelines of his federal EV transition remain unclear but with a government fleet of 645,000 vehicles, according to 2019 data from the Federal Fleet Report, it would represent a significant upsurge in US cell demand, probably around 61,000 tonnes of lithium.

Even more ambitious, the world's richest man, Elon Musk, is planning to produce 20 million electric Tesla cars per year by 2030, with no thought as to where the lithium, and other raw materials will come from. 

Lithium mines produced an estimated global total of 77,000 metric tons of lithium in 2019 and the figure below shows that Tesla would require over 127,000 tonnes per year of lithium, around 165% of annual world supply! Lithium is “just like widely available”, according to Musk and Tesla’s scientists, and one of his followers tweeted "there is a plentiful supply of lithium. It is 3rd in the Periodic Table, only hydrogen and helium being more abundant." Ah well!

But apart from lithium, Tesla would need more than 30% of global mined nickel production in 2019 for its batteries, the entire output of the top 6 producers and more.  But at least he did acknowledge that nickel comes out of the ground as he said "I’d just like to re-emphasise, any mining companies out there, please mine more nickel".

@barrywills

Sunday, 21 February 2021

Comminution '21 provisional programme now live

Comminution '21, MEI's 12th International Comminution Symposium and our first online event, will be held over four days, April 19th-21st.

We are pleased to announce the publication of the provisional timetable, a fine mix of presentations from academia and industry, including three keynote lectures from well-known comminution experts.

Registering for the conference will give access to the seven technical sessions:

  • Energy & Breakage
  • Control & Instrumentation
  • Modelling & Simulation
  • HPGR
  • SAG Mills
  • Stirred Mills
  • Mills & Circuits

as well as a Panel Discussion on "What will comminution circuits look like in 2050?"

There is also a Virtual Exhibition and networking opportunities. The programme is still evolving, so if you would like to make a presentation it is not too late to submit an abstract.

I would like to thank once more our sponsors for supporting us during these difficult times.

#Comminution21

Thursday, 18 February 2021

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Monday, 15 February 2021

Keys to Best Practice Comminution

This will be the title of a keynote presentation at Comminution '21, to be presented by John Starkey of conference sponsor Starkey & Associates Inc, Canada. John has worked for 15 years in operating mineral processing plants, 15 years in engineering companies designing concentrators, and 30 years as a Consulting Engineer. He invented the SPI, and SAGDesign tests, and the lab mills required to do these tests.  

John Starkey (right) and his wife Donna, at Comminution '18
with Erik Spiller of Colorado School of Mines

John says that there are three reasons for his keynote. For operators to manage good operations; for designers to produce workable designs; and for educators to provide useful education for mineral process engineers.

In all cases, he considers that an understanding of the transfer size (T80) to the ball mill is critical to achieve best economics in a SAG mill grinding plant. T80 is important to operators because when SAG energy and Bond Ball Mill Work Index on SAG ground ore are measured, accurate prediction of future throughput in any SAG circuit is possible. Without the plant T80, it can take many months to figure out how to correct what is really a SAG mill grinding problem, because that problem is hidden if the T80 is not measured.

Best practice comminution means running a SAG mill at its best conditions, and avoiding overloading, overspeeding and using excessive steel additions, during the design and operating stages of plant setup. When normal limits for these parameters are exceeded in the design stage, production shortfalls result and operating costs are high. Extra SAG mill capacity is a bonus while lack of capacity is a disaster.

John will show how to design workable grinding circuits on the same ore, using either single stage SAG milling, SAB grinding, SABC grinding, or HPGR pre-crushing followed by ball milling. There are many ways to set up a SAG plant and future expansion should always be considered at the design stage. This opportunity is often overlooked because the designer did not understand the options available.

The provisional programme for Comminution '21 will be announced very shortly.

#Comminution21

Thursday, 11 February 2021

A new editor for Minerals Engineering: Ahmet Deniz Bas

As Editor-in-Chief of Minerals Engineering it gives me great pleasure to announce that Dr. Ahmet Deniz Bas has been promoted to Editor of the journal, after serving as an assistant editor since 2017. He joins the other two editors, Dr. Pablo Brito-Parada, of Imperial College, UK, and Dr. Kristian Waters, of McGill University, Canada.

Ahmet Deniz Bas has been an Assistant Professor in the Department of Mining Engineering, Division of Mineral Processing at the Muğla Sıtkı Koçman University (MSKU), Turkey since February 2020 and has recently been appointed as co-head of the department of mining engineering.  Before joining MSKU, he worked as a Researcher at COREM, Québec City, Canada for two years where he led research and technical projects in extractive metallurgy and flotation, including pilot plant scale trials.

Deniz received his B.Sc. in mining engineering (2009) and M.Sc. in the field of hydrometallurgy (2012) from Karadeniz Technical University, Turkey and his Ph.D from from Université Laval, Canada (2017). On completing his Ph.D., he was a Postdoctoral Fellow in Chemical Engineering at the same university. 

Deniz has more than ten years of hands-on experience in (bio)hydrometallurgy and mineral electrochemistry and has co-authored 1 book chapter, 15 SCI journal papers as well as 15 conference papers.

He is the recipient of the “2016 Gordon M. Ritcey Ph.D. Award”, and has been awarded the “2017 MetSoc Emerging Professional”. In 2016 he was recognised by MEI as a Rising Star.

Since 2018 he has served as a member of the technical committee of the Hydrometallurgy section of MetSoc of CIM. He has been a member of the organizing committees of several international conferences including COM 2016-XXVIII IMPC, Extraction 2018, COM-Copper 2019, and IMCET 2022. He was also co-organizer for the electrometallurgy short course at COM 2019, Vancouver. In 2019, he and colleagues started the Metallurgical Processing News Bulletin initiative. He is a member of the Chamber of Mining Engineers of Turkey, CIM, SME andTMS. 

I look forward to continuing to work with Deniz in his new role on the journal.

@barrywills

Monday, 8 February 2021

Memories of the 2008 IMPC in Beijing

Last month I looked back at a memorable IMPC held in Istanbul in 2006. Two years later an even more lavish affair was held in Beijing, China. The XXIV IMPC of 24-28 September 2008 was attended by 850 delegates representing 45 countries. Of these almost 400 were from China. 

A record 690 papers were presented, 282 in innumerable parallel sessions, and 308 in poster sessions, and these were published in a massive 4-volume proceedings, weighing in at nearly 12 kg- a total of around 10 tonnes of paper, most of which probably ended up in hotel bins, as the organisers also provided a much more convenient CD!

The organising committee, led by the chairman Prof. Wang Dianzuo must be congratulated on the organisation of the huge timetable, and three associated workshops, and particularly the spectacular social events, which included a magnificent ‘Beijing Night’ Dinner show at the Imperial Ancestral Temple, and the final night banquet in the Golden Hall of the Beijing Hotel, the highlight of which was the presentation of the Lifetime Achievement Award to Prof. Janusz Laskowski

The photos below might stir a few memories:

@barrywills

Saturday, 6 February 2021

It's not too late to submit an abstract to Comminution '21

Although the "official" deadline for abstracts is now passed, it is not too late to submit an abstract to Comminution '21, MEI's first online conference.

We invite you to submit your abstracts by February 12th, and authors of all presentations will be invited to submit their papers to a virtual conference issue of Minerals Engineering.

Thursday, 4 February 2021

Would I lie to you? My most embarrassing experience

These are gloomy times, made more gloomy by the BBC's evening news bulletins, detailing daily Covid deaths, interviews with bereaved families etc. But a 30 minute ray of sunshine is the BBC's panel game Would I Lie to You? where two teams of celebrities reveal embarrassing stories about themselves, some of which are true, and the opposing team have to determine what is true and what is made up.

We have all had embarrassing experiences, so I thought, as a little light relief from the serious stuff, that we might indulge ourselves by revealing our own embarrassing stories.

My most embarrassing experience was on a bus in Helsinki, but I won't describe that as it is probably not suitable for persons with a sensitive disposition.

So I will opt for a story involving the genteel game of cricket. The photo below is of the Camborne School of Mines cricket team in its debut season in the West Cornwall Cricket League in 1980. You may recognise a few people: first on the back row is student Nick Wilshaw, now Managing Director of Grinding Solutions Ltd, a sponsor of Comminution '21. Third left is the late Del Codd, a well known Cornish mineral processor and 4th left is student Pete Ledingham, now Managing Director and Founding Member of Geoscience Ltd. I am front row centre, and 5th left on the back row is CSM Registrar, the late Howard Hoy, who shared the embarrassing experience.

Anyway, now to my story, which in the game show the panelists would have to decide Truth or Lie:

At the end of our first season in the league, Howard and I, as team secretary and captain respectively, were invited to the Holman's Sports Club in Camborne for the Annual General Meeting. En route we stopped off at a very nice pub for a couple of pints, and arrived at the AGM a few minutes late.

Being new to cricket in Cornwall, we were surprised by its popularity, as the huge room was packed with representatives from East and West Cornwall, many of whom we knew well. As we entered, the Chairman was just bringing the meeting to order by asking if there were any more names, so Howard and I rushed to the front to register our attendance. Noting that no seats were now available, we stood by the side of the stage facing the huge audience.

The meeting then commenced with the chairman announcing "I have three names". 

"I think we may have volunteered for something Howard!" I whispered anxiously.

He continued "John Briggs from Redruth, and Barry Wills and Howard Hoy from Camborne School of Mines."

"Brace yourself Howard, brace yourself."

Facing the audience, many of whom were giving us strange glances, others knowing smirks, the chairman then concluded "Could we please stand for one minute's silence for these members who have passed away during the year?"

All very true I'm afraid, but if you have any embarrassing stories that you wouldn't mind sharing, I'm sure we would all love to hear them. They will brighten up our days.

@barrywills

Monday, 1 February 2021

January: Fortress Britain

A grim start to the new year with the new variants of Covid-19 threatening to spread across the country and savage the beleaguered NHS.  On the 4th of the month Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced a complete lockdown of the UK. The previous evening he had said that primary schools in much of the UK would remain open, as schools were "perfectly safe", so the following day children returned to school after the Christmas break, to be told in the evening that schools were no longer safe and would have to close until at least mid February.

Parents, including MEI's Jon and Amanda, are having to balance work and home teaching duties and this is true not only in UK but around the world, so I must apologise to those who have submitted manuscripts to Minerals Engineering and are awaiting news of the outcome of assessment of their papers. The stresses of the pandemic are such that many potential reviewers are overworked and there has been an inevitable slowing down of the whole peer-review process.

Couple all that with an egregious storming of the White House by pro-Trump supporters contesting the result of the Presidential election, and leading to five fatalities, then the first week of January wasn't the best way to start a New Year.

From the middle of the month travel into and out of the UK became virtually impossible as most of the travel corridors with the UK were suspended and, coupled with Brexit, Britain became, for the first time in its history, an effectively isolated nation, with a tragic milestone of 100,000 deaths from Covid reached last week, 30,000 more than the number of British civilians killed by bombing raids in the whole of WW2.

However the beginning of the month was also tempered with optimism, as on the same day as the lockdown announcement the first Briton was injected with the vaccine developed by the University of Oxford and the pharmaceutical company AstraZeneca, a silver lining in the cloud of gloom, offering an escape from the mounting horrors of this pandemic. 

Source: Rebecca Hendin/The Guardian
The future is in safe hands

I had my first armful of the Pfizer vaccine two days ago, but aside from Coronavirus, which is the main topic of conversation on everyone's lips, there was news that the 2021 G7 Summit will be held in Cornwall in June, so perhaps fortuitous that MEI's conferences planned for the same week were postponed to the following year and Falmouth's popular Sea Shanty week, also in mid-June, is going virtual. We felt that the 'new norm' wouldn't be with us by then and it will be interesting to see if the G7 goes ahead as planned.

There was also some good news on the ever increasing importance of Cornwall to the mining industry. Geothermal Engineering Ltd continues to push forward with the United Downs Deep Geothermal Power project. The production well is 5.275km deep and the temperature is 188 degrees C. GEL has signed a power purchase agreement with Ecotricity whereby a minimum of 3 MW of electricity, enough to power 6,000 homes, will be distributed to Ecotricity’s customers via the National Grid. It is the first time that geothermal electricity will be produced and sold in the UK.

GEL also hopes to supply heat energy to a new local rum distillery which will use zero carbon heat from the plant. The Cornish Geothermal Distillery Company has submitted plans for the UK’s first geothermally heated biome which will be used to mature and then distill sustainable rum.

GEL is hoping to secure planning for future sites around Cornwall over the next two years. Each new site will aim to produce a minimum of 5 MW of renewable baseload electricity and up to 20 MW of renewable heat which will be available 24/7. 

A massive bonus has been the discovery that the geothermal water has a high lithium content and GEL is working closely with Cornish Lithium Ltd to develop zero-carbon lithium extraction from these hot lithium brines, and the Crown Estate, manager of the seabed and much of the foreshore around England, Wales and Northern Ireland, recently announced the outcome of its Minerals Licensing Round, granting Cornish Lithium rights to explore for lithium within geothermal waters in areas off both the north and south coasts of Cornwall.

The world’s ever-increasing demand for car-battery lithium is now focusing on Cornwall where lithium was first identified in 1864. Europe presently has no secure supply of lithium, and nearly all lithium comes from the Central Andes – the desert salars of Chile, Argentina and soon from Bolivia – or from Australia (posting of 23 November 2020). Cornish Lithium aims to maximise product recovery from the geothermal waters in a small footprint, energy efficient extraction plant, which will be powered by an on-site geothermal power plant. Lithium will be extracted from the water from the geothermal power plant's 5.2km deep borehole and the water will then be re injected into the rock.

And finally I must mention a short video, in which Cornish Lithium's Senior Geologist (Business Development), Lucy Crane, is interviewed by 10 year old school girl Sophia on the importance of mining to society and what it is like to work in the industry. Lucy has a keen interest in furthering the interests of young mining professionals and in promoting the mining industry to students, and sits on the committee of both the Young Mining Professionals and Women in Mining (UK). I would urge all readers of this blog to make teachers of children of every age aware of this inspirational video.

Lucy and Sophia

It might inspire youngsters to train as mining engineers but Camborne School of Mines (CSM) is the only university department in UK offering a degree in mining engineering. In September I reported that the University of Exeter had announced a plan to ‘pause’ recruitment to the BEng Mining Engineering programme at CSM for the 2021-22 academic year, but stressed that it hadn’t been scrapped, instead recruitment was paused while it looked to reshape the opportunities to study mining and related topics. 

Following 5 months of deliberations, the University decided in January to continue the ‘pause’ in offering the Mining Engineering undergraduate degree programme. It is not likely that recruitment will resume in 2022 so there will be no mining graduates after 2024 when the current cohort has completed their BEng degree.

Camborne School of Mines Association has tried to influence the decision by submitting letters of support from its members, many of whom wrote to the Vice Chancellor Prof. Lisa Roberts in September and October 2020.   Unfortunately, these letters were dismissed as  “sentiment”.

So this effectively brings an end to CSM's proud record of training graduate mining engineers, which has its origins back to 1888. And all at a time when there is a resurgence in mining activity in Cornwall and Boris Johnson, in bringing the G7 to Cornwall, has talked enthusiastically of Cornwall's proud mining heritage.

@barrywills