Friday, 28 May 2021

The Cornish Mining Sundowner springs back to life, with news of mining activities in Cornwall

People!  At last, a meeting with a whole group of people. With last week's further easing of Coronavirus restrictions, allowing gatherings of up to 30 people to meet outdoors, the Cornish Mining Sundowner was back last evening, after a 9 month gap. It's been a dismal May, one of the wettest on record, but we were lucky to find a dry window for a few hours last night, for what turned out to be technically an illegal gathering, of over 35 people, on a chilly Gyllyngvase beach in Falmouth.
It was great to see the regulars again, and quite a few new faces, and to talk about our lockdown experiences since our last get together in August of last year. 
And there was much recent mining news relevant to Cornwall to talk about.
Earlier in the month a new book exposing the ticking time-bomb that lies beneath our new green technological order and the critical supply of rare metals was reviewed (MEI blog 13 May 2021), and on the same day that the International Energy Agency published its report on the looming shortage of critical metals it was reported that officials at the Department for Business were discussing options to protect the United Kingdom’s access to vital materials including lithium and cobalt. The option of the creation of a national stockpile of rare earth metals was being considered amid rising fears that the country’s efforts to adopt electric cars are at risk from a Chinese stranglehold on supplies.
It was reported that Britain could build a national stockpile to avoid shortages, support attempts to create domestic sources such as potential lithium mines in Cornwall, or use its diplomatic network to secure supplies from abroad in partnership with private businesses.
Lithium is at the heart of the batteries which supply electricity to the motors for electric vehicles, but despite its role as a critical raw material, the controversial nature of the sustainability of lithium operations is receiving much attention and companies positioned along the battery supply chain continue to invest in research and technology to reduce the environmental impact of lithium extraction, Government pressure and a rise in Environment Social and Governance (ESG), motivating companies to seek innovative new methods of extraction.
Australia is the largest producer of lithium, mined from hard rock ores, but this is coming under increased scrutiny as the concentrates are processed in China using fossil fuels. Most of the remaining lithium supply is currently extracted from brines in Chile and Argentina, which involves evaporating the brine in vast evaporation ponds, with potential threats to the water supply (MEI Blog 23 November 2020).
As a part of the "European Green Deal", the European Commission proposed in December 2020 that, beginning July 2024, only rechargeable electric vehicles and industrial batteries with declared carbon footprints will be permitted into the EU, so operations inside the EU have already started to invest in more sustainable extraction techniques, such as direct lithium extraction (DLE) techniques, adopted by Cornish Lithium Ltd (MEI Blog 18 September 2020). DLE technology is likely to dominate the future lithium mining sector within geothermal brines in Europe and Cornwall. Geothermal lithium extraction has a much lower carbon footprint than both hard rock and brine extraction methods, as well as reduced water usage.
On the subject of lithium, there was interesting news from USA this month of an innovative technology that uses magnetic nanoparticles to capture valuable materials from brines, developed by the U.S. Department of Energy’s Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, and its licensee, Moselle Technologies. According to these organisations, the core nanoparticle in the development consists of magnetite, which is used to anchor an adsorbent shell that selectively binds the compounds of interest. 
The nanoparticles can be introduced into brines from geothermal plants, mining effluents and seawater, where they latch onto free-floating target compounds. When exposed to a magnet, the nanoparticle’s iron core migrates toward the magnet, along with the critical material to which it is bound, and can be filtered from the brine. As it awaits its patent approval, the technology is being adapted for the capture of lithium.
Hordes of international delegates should have been descending on Falmouth next month for Biomining '21 and Sustainable Minerals '21, which are now online of course. A Camborne School of Mines (CSM) lecturer tweeted "Underpinning a sustainable and green future is effective resource management and 'materials solutions'. This is mining". In reply CSM, University of Exeter tweeted "Couldn't have put it better ourselves". I wonder if they realise the supreme irony of this, as the University recently made the decision to abandon the undergraduate mining degree (MEI Blog 13 September 2020)?
But there was good news from CSM, which despite the imminent demise of the mining degree, is still upholding its reputation as a centre of excellence. 
A team of international researchers, including Dr Rich Crane from CSM, has developed a new method to extract metals, such as copper, from their parent ore body by electrokinetic in-situ leaching.
Although in-situ leaching is already being applied to uranium mining, the research team has provided a proof of concept for the application of an electric field to control the movement of an acid within a low permeability copper-bearing ore deposit to selectively dissolve and recover the metal in situ.  Experts from the University of Western Australia, CSIRO, the Technical University of Denmark and CSM, have demonstrated that a targeted electric field can be used to dissolve and then recover copper in situ from the ore, by drilling electrodes directly into an ore body. An electric current is then applied which can result in the transport of electrically charged metal ions, such as copper, through the rock via a process called electromigration.
The researchers believe the new technique has the potential to transform the mining industry, because it has the capability to dissolve metals from a wide range of ore deposits, including copper, gold and nickel, that were previously considered inaccessible. Furthermore, due to the non-invasive nature of the extraction, the research team is hopeful that the study will help usher in a more sustainable future for the industry.  
The study was recently published in Science Advances and Dr. Crane, a co-author of the article, who was unable to attend the sundowner, was quoted as saying: “This new approach, analogous to “key-hole surgery”, has the potential to provide a more sustainable future for the mining industry, by enabling the recovery of metals, such as copper, which are urgently needed for our global transition to a new Green Economy, whilst avoiding unwanted environmental disturbance and energy consumption.” 
It was good to see the Deep Digital Cornwall Team at the sundowner. Deep Digital Cornwall is a new ERDF funded project connected to the underground. Launched in early 2021, Deep Digital Cornwall is a £4.2 million project that provides SMEs based in Cornwall and Isles of Scilly access to research skills, knowledge, innovation expertise, new datasets and state-of-the-art immersive technology facilities for 3D and 4D data visualisation.
The Deep Digital Cornwall team
The project team is led by CSM and the Institute for Data Science and Artificial Intelligence with delivery partners Cornish Lithium, Cornwall Resources and the South West Centre of Excellence in Satellite Applications
Through collaborations with the project team, SMEs will be supported to tackle digital research and innovation challenges that will unlock business opportunities and support the economic growth of their organisations and the region. Through research, innovation, consultancy and access to the project’s £775k grant fund, SMEs will develop new products, processes and services in sectors that connect with the underground environment, creating jobs and forging long-term collaborative partnerships. To learn more about this, join the free webinar on June 2nd.
It was great to see everyone last night, and hopefully we will do this again next month. If you would like to be alerted to Cornish Mining Sundowners, please let me know via and I will add you to the data base.

Wednesday, 26 May 2021

We need mining! At last the popular media is waking up to this

The mining industry has known this for some time- if zero carbon by 2050 is to be attainable, there needs to be a serious ramping up of the supply of raw materials (posting of 21st July 2019). Politicians have promised great things without a passing thought to the fact that attaining their ambitious targets will put enormous demands on what are very finite resources of raw materials.

Now at last the mainstream media seems to be waking up to the fact that switching to a greener economy requires a burst of mining, thanks to reports of a paper published in Nature Reviews Materials, by Prof. Richard Herrington, head of the Natural History Museum's earth sciences department. "The public are not in this space at the moment; I don't think they understand yet the full implications of the green revolution," Prof. Herrington told BBC News.

"The green energy revolution is heavily reliant on raw materials, such as cobalt and lithium, which are currently mainly sourced by mining. We must carefully evaluate acceptable supplies for these metals to ensure that green technologies are beneficial for both people and planet", Prof Herrington said.

Green technology requires non-renewable raw materials sourced from primary geological resources (mines) or secondary supply (reuse or recycling). The ambition is a fully circular economy, in which demand can be satisfied by reuse and recycling; however, we are not yet at that point, and this will be the theme of the panel discussion "What are the limits to achieving a circular economy", at next month's Sustainable Minerals '21

Stocks of secondary supplies and recycling rates are inadequate to meet demand. Even for metals such as aluminium and copper, for which end-of-life recycling is up to 70%, secondary supply still only accounts for 30% of their growing demand; in the case of lithium, recycling currently only accounts for 1% of present demand. Substitution for some of these metals might be possible in alternative technology solutions to reduce reliance on specific commodities, but this is challenging to achieve in such a short timeline. Such alternatives, for example, Li-free multivalent metal-ion batteries to replace Li-ion batteries, are less mature in their development and will take time to industrialise. As a result of these sourcing challenges, mining remains necessary to deliver validated technical solutions needed for the rapid decarbonisation demanded in the Paris Agreement pledge.

In highlighting the need for minerals the paper describes how internal combustion engine vehicles (ICEVs) are the greatest contributors to carbon emissions in the UK. For transport to hit ‘net zero’, the internal combustion engine needs to be eliminated from cars, as recognised by the Committee on Climate Change. To switch the UK’s fleet of 31.5 million ICEVs to battery-electric vehicles (BEVs), it would take an estimated 207,900 tonnes cobalt, 264,600 tonnes lithium carbonate, 7,200 tonnes neodymium and dysprosium and 2,362,500 tonnes copper.  This amount is twice the current annual world production of cobalt, an entire year’s world production of neodymium and three quarters of the world production of lithium. Replacing the estimated 1.4 billion ICEVs worldwide would need forty times these amounts. In addition, the energy revolution towards renewables, that is, wind, solar, wave, tidal, hydro, geothermal and nuclear, together with the newly built infrastructure for delivery, are highly reliant on mineral-based technologies.

The paper goes on to say that the ambition remains to recycle and reuse as much as we can; however, new-mined resources will be required in the short term to enable green technologies and infrastructure. There are sufficient geological resources to deliver the required metals, but we must carefully balance the need to mine with the requirement to tackle environmental and social governance issues and to deliver sustainable development goals, ensuring outcomes are beneficial for both people and planet. We must carefully, creatively and systematically secure a diverse range of acceptable sources for the metals we demand. New frontiers for supply should include neglected mined waste and seeking more regulated mining areas in our own backyard rather than relying on sources with less controllable, fragile and problematic supply chains. The debate about mining our deep ocean, as alternative to terrestrial sources, needs to be resolved. Based on such a broad analysis, we can then make balanced societal choices about metal and mineral supply to deliver the ‘Great Reset’ with a good deal for people and planet.

There is nothing really new in the paper, but it does draw everything together in a clear way, and it is not written by miners, which is probably why it has been taken up by the media, so the hope is that maybe people are listening at last and we can cease banging our heads against the wall?  It also highlights that MEI's Sustainable Minerals '21 next month will be a crucial conference, not only for the minerals industry, but for society in general.


Sunday, 23 May 2021

Sustainable Minerals '21: Provisional programme now available

Sustainable Minerals '21, MEI's 6th International Symposium on Sustainable Minerals, is organised in consultation with Prof. Markus Reuter, of SMS Group GmbH, Germany and is sponsored by FLSmidth. The media sponsor is International Mining, and the Coalition for Eco-Efficient Comminution (CEEC), the Cornwall Mining Alliance and the Critical Minerals Association are Industry Associates.

Originally scheduled for 3 days next month, the unprecedented number of abstracts received has allowed us to extend the conference to 4 days, from June 21-24, and the provisional programme is now published.

The conference comes at a critical time for the minerals industry and the outlook for sustainability, as earlier in the month the International Energy Agency reported that the world won’t be able to tackle the climate crisis unless there is a sharp increase in the supply of metals required to produce clean energy technologies, the demand soaring for copper, lithium, nickel, cobalt and rare earth elements. But they are all vulnerable to price volatility and shortages, the agency warned, because the quality of available deposits is declining and mining companies face stricter environmental and social standards (posting of 13 May). Already the demand for copper, needed for every aspect of the green revolution, has soared, such that the price is now at a record high.

LME Copper prices US$/tonne over 2 years

With a world population of over 7.8 billion, sustaining our way of life is becoming a major issue, but it is not widely acknowledged that a sustainable society is very much dependent on a sustainable mining industry. Mining never gets easier, the tonnages mined steadily increase while the available ores become ever leaner and complex, so in order for the industry to be sustainable it must continually adapt to these changes and innovate.

Ores are finite resources, so there will be an increasing strain on primary sources, and a concomitant increase in energy and water requirements. Critical to a sustainable future, however, is the need to move from a linear to a circular economy, by retreating old tailings dumps and crucially by recycling materials at the end of their effective lives.

Recycling is viewed by many as the panacea of sustainability. Once an article has reached the end of its useful life, you take it to a municipal waste centre, and it is recycled for further use. This is fine for products made from a single material such as glass, which can be melted down and reused, or for certain metals which are used in their native form, such as copper and lead. However when metals are alloyed with other metals or non-metals, recycling becomes much more challenging and if the metals and other elements are in tiny amounts in a device, then the problem becomes even more complex. Perhaps the greatest recycling challenge is that of recovering metals from waste electrical and electronic equipment (WEEE) and other complex high-tech products. 

Elements in a smart phone. Source
The 60 presentations in the programme will cover all these aspects, and will include three important keynote lectures. "A Life Cycle-Based, Sustainability-Driven Innovation Approach in the Minerals Industry" will be presented by Prof. Luis Marcelo Tavares, of the University of Rio de Janeiro, "Why mine closure should not be considered just an environmental issue" will be presented by Prof. Anna Littleboy, of the Cooperative Research Centre for Transformations in Mining Economies, Australia and "The war on waste’ How could the mining industry respond?" will be presented by Dr. Anita Parbhakar-Fox, of the Sustainable Minerals Institute at the University of Queensland, Australia.

There are great challenges ahead and mineral processing will be at the forefront of the future quest for a circular economy. Highlighting this, Prof. Markus Reuter will chair a panel discussion "What are the limits to achieving a circular economy?".

Registration is now open for what will be a crucial conference, not only for the minerals industry, but for society in general.


Thursday, 20 May 2021

Agricola's De Re Metallica

I am grateful to Dr. Franklin White for the following review. Franklin is the author of the recently published biography of his father, Frank White, Miner with a Heart of Gold (posting of 21st September 2020) and of the historical review of De la Pirotechnia (posting of 17th November, 2020).

De Re Metallica: the treatise of Georgius Agricola
Foundations of Mineralogy and Industrial Hygiene

"To the… mighty Dukes of Saxony, Landgraves of Thuringia, Margraves of Meissen, Imperial Over- lords of Saxony, Burgraves of Altenberg and Magdeburg, Counts of Brena, Lords of Pleissnerland, To Maurice Grand Marshall and Elector of the Holy Roman Empire and to his brother Augustus... Most illustrious Princes, often have I considered the metallic arts as a whole… just as if I had been considering the whole of the human body; and… I became afraid that I might die before I should understand its full extent, much less before I could immortalize it in writing."

Georgius Agricola 1494-1555

Thus opens De Re Metallica, the most acclaimed treatise on technological chemistry, mining, geology and engineering of early modem times, as translated (1912) from the first Latin edition of 1556 by Herbert Clark Hoover, a mining engineer and 31st President of the United States (1929-33) and his wife Lou Henry Hoover. The Hoovers state:  

"that Agricola occupied a very considerable place in the great awakening of learning will be disputed by none except by those who place the development of science in rank far below religion, politics, literature and art.”  (1)

At a time when scholastic dogma reigned, he thought that:

"Those things which we see with our eyes and understand by means of our senses are more clearly to be demonstrated than if learned by means of reasoning."

Beyond his importance to mineralogy, on his role in scientific medicine, the Hoovers also state: 

"The wider interest of the members of the medical profession in the development of their science than that of geologists in theirs, has led to the aggrandizement of Paracelsus, a contemporary of Agricola, as the first in deductive science. Yet no comparative study of the unparalleled ravings of this half-genius, half-alchemist, with the sober logic and real research and observation of Agricola, can leave a moment’s doubt as to the incomparably greater position which should be attributed to the latter as the pioneer in building the foundation of science by deduction from observed phenomena."

A different perspective is offered by George Rosen in his introduction to the 1964 reprint of Wright’s 1940 translation of Bernadino Ramazzini’s famous De Morbis Artificum (Diseases of Workers) of 1713: 

"The first account of occupational ill-health among miners appeared in 1556 in the compendious treatise on mining by George Agricola (1494-1555). However, Agricola’s account is only incidental to his longer description of mining. Eleven years later, in 1567, the first monograph devoted exclusively to the occupational diseases of mine and smelter workers appeared at Dilingen, in Germany. The author was Theophrastus von Hohenheim (1493-1541), usually known as Paracelsus; the work was entitled "Von der Bergsucht oder Bergkrankheiten" (On the Miners’ Sickness and other Diseases of Miners). Paracelsus discussed etiology, pathogenesis, prevention, diagnosis, and therapy, and his work exerted a definite stimulating influence on occupational medicine… Agricola and Paracelsus placed the study of the occupational health problems of miners on a firm footing." (2)

Donald Hunter, author of "The Diseases of Occupations," a 20th century classic, helps to place the contributions of these two men in context: "It is striking...that (Paracelsus) refers to no" protective apparatus such as the veils to be worn by miners mentioned by Agricola. Nor does Paracelsus pay give ‘attention to dust as a causative factor in the diseases of miners... Although he makes correct clinical observations, he… turns to… alchemical theories to explain them..." (3)

Thus, Agricola seems unique in his era for recognizing the basic “importance of industrial hygiene, and the primacy of prevention in reducing the impact of miners’ diseases. Perhaps the most relevant acknowledgement comes from Ramazzini, "founder of occupational medicine," who credits Agricola as a primary source for his chapter on "Diseases to which Miners of Metals are Exposed." He makes no reference to Paracelsus. (2)

Agricola studied medicine, natural science and philosophy in Bologna and Padua, completing clinical studies in Venice. At the Aldine Press in Venice, he prepared an edition of the classical works of Galen (129 AD – c. 200/216) on medicine (published 1525). In 1526, he returned to Saxony, and from 1527 to 1530, he was town physician in Joachimsthal, in the 'richest metal mining district of Europe. He spent his spare time visiting mines and smelting plants, talking with the better-educated miners and reading books on mining. (Note: Biringuccio’s De la Pirotechnia published in 1540, is considered the first printed book on ore reduction processes and the applied metal arts, predating De Re Metallica by 16 years).  From 1530 onwards, he was appointed town physician at Chemnitz in Saxony, a position comparable to today’s medical officer of health. (4)

De Re Metallica consists of 12 “books”. The first addresses the philosophical content of mining and metallurgical arts. The second describes the miner. The third deals with veins and seams in rocks. The fourth depicts the functions of mining officials. The fifth describes the digging of ore and the surveyor’s art. The sixth describes tools and machines. The seventh describes assaying the ore. The eighth contains rules for roasting, crushing and washing the ore. The ninth explains smelting. The 10th instructs on the separation of silver from gold, and lead from gold and silver. The 11th shows ways of separating silver from copper. The 12th gives rules for manufacturing salt, soda, alum, vitriol, sulphur, bitumen, and glass. The work is illustrated by 289 beautiful woodcuts, faithfully reproduced in the Hoovers’ translation. (1)

Early stamp mills

In the first book, Agricola states: 

"There are many arts and sciences of which a miner should not be ignorant..." and then addresses philosophy, medicine, astronomy, surveying, arithmetical science, architecture, drawing and law.

On the relevance of medicine, he explains: 

"… to look after.. diggers and other workmen, that they do not meet with those diseases to which they are more liable than workmen in other occupations, or if they do meet with them, that he himself may be able to heal them or may see that the doctors do so.”

In reference to the use of protective timbers, he notes:

"The lagging on the sides of the shaft confine the vein, so as to prevent fragments of it which have become loosened by water from dropping into the shaft and terrifying, or injuring, or knocking off the miners and other workmen who are going up or down the ladders from one part of the mine to another." 

On alleviating the miners' exposure to dust and gas, he explains:

"If a shaft is very deep and no tunnel reaches to it, or no drift from another shaft connects with it, or when a tunnel is of great length and no shaft reaches to it, then the air does not replenish itself… it weighs heavily on the miners, causing them to breathe with difficulty, and sometimes they are even suffocated, and burning lamps are also extinguished. There is, therefore, a necessity for machines...which enable the miners to breathe easily and carry on their work.” 

On the breaking of ores, he records:

"... legs of the workmen...are protected with coverings resembling leggings, and their hands are protected with long gloves, to prevent them from being injured by the chips which fly away from the fragments." 

Thus, the fundamentals of mining, metallurgy, occupational health and safety, were documented by Agricola almost 500 years ago.

Concluding Comments:

Although it is said that Agricola was born of obscure parentage (3), the Hoovers conclude that:

"Agricola’s education was the most thorough that his times afforded in the classics, philosophy, medicine and sciences generally."

That he wrote in Latin (sine qua non of scholarship in his time, and a reflection of social status), and revealed an exhaustive knowledge of classical literature, and of obscure manuscripts buried in European public libraries, all reveals that his learning was of a high order. This is reflected in correspondence among other scholars of his era: Erasmus, Melanchthon, Meurer, and Fabricius.

It seems likely therefore, that he came from a family that not only valued scholarship but, judging from his Preface addressing the “most illustrious Princes”, was well attuned to the social order of the times, and likely enjoyed the favour of persons in those seats of political power. 

The text of De Re Metallica was completed in 1550, but publication delayed by preparation of the woodcuts of Agricola’s illustrations. In 1553, the completed book was sent to Froben Press; but it was March 1556 before it appeared in print. Meanwhile, Agricola had died on November 21, 1555. (4)

1. Agricola G. De Re Metallica (1556). In: Hoover HC, Hoover LH, trans. London: The Mining Magazine, 1912. Republished by Dover Publications, Inc. New York, 1950.
2. Ramazzini, Bernadino. De Morbis Artificum (1713). Wright WC, trans. (1940). The New York Academy of Medicine. Hafner, New York 1964.
3. Hunter D. The diseases of occupations. The English Universities Press, London 1955.
4. White F.  De Re Metallica: treatise of Georgius Agricola Revisited. Annals of the Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons of Canada 1994, 27: 163-6.

Monday, 17 May 2021

St. Mawes to St. Just in Roseland

Hopefully we will be well back to face to face conferences next year, and if you are coming over to Falmouth for the June conferences in 2022, do stay on for a few days as there is plenty to do in and around Falmouth (posting of 11th March 2015).

If you enjoy walking there is perhaps nothing better than the 6 mile circular walk from the beautiful town of St. Mawes to the lovely church at St. Just in Roseland.

Image: iWalk Cornwall

St. Mawes lies across the River Fal estuary from Falmouth and the 3 mile ferry journey from the Prince of Wales pier in Falmouth centre crosses the estuary, known as the Carrick Roads. This large waterway, created at the end of the last Ice Age, when sea levels rose dramatically and created a huge natural harbour, the world's 3rd largest, is a classic drowned river valley and the entry is guarded on either side by the Tudor castles Pendennis, in Falmouth, and St. Mawes, both built in the early 16th century in the time of Henry VIII to defend against expected invasions from Spain and France (see also posting of 4th April 2012).

Approaching St. Mawes harbour, with the castle on the left

It is worth spending some time in St. Mawes, maybe for lunch overlooking the water, before setting out on the walk, for which I recommend that you be guided by the excellent iWalk Cornwall App.

Leaving St. Mawes

The walk soon follows a footpath up the Percuil River, a tributary of the Fal, and then crosses fields towards St. Just in Roseland.

The Percuil River

The church at St. Just in Roseland is one of Cornwall's gems, its gardens described by the poet John Betjeman as ‘to many people the most beautiful churchyard on earth’. 

The church is on the site of a 6th century Celtic chapel, and for 400 years after its foundation it was served by clergy from the adjacent cell of Lanzeague, until Roseland was taken over by the Saxon Bishops of Crediton and Exeter. 

The 13th century church is set in beautiful gardens beside a peaceful tidal creek and a local legend tells of Joseph of Arimathea bringing his boy nephew, Jesus, to Cornwall, and that he landed at St Just in Roseland.

From the churchyard it is a short distance to the Fal, and an easy walk back to St. Mawes with wonderful views across Carrick Roads of Mylor and Falmouth Harbours.

Back in St. Mawes

More Cornish Walks
More on Cornwall


Thursday, 13 May 2021

The Rare Metals War

The resources race is on. Powering our digital lives and green technologies are some of the Earth’s most precious metals - but they are running out. And what will happen when they do?

The green revolution will reduce our dependency on nuclear power, coal, and oil, heralding a new era free of pollution, fossil-fuel shortages, and cross-border tensions. But there is a hidden dark side to this naive and seemingly Utopian vision.

In the international bestseller The Rare Metals War, Guillaume Pitron reveals that by breaking free of fossil fuels we are in fact setting ourselves up for a new dependence - on rare metals which are essential to electric vehicles, wind turbines, and solar panels, as well as our smartphones, computers, tablets, and other technologies. But the majority of consumers know very little about how rare metals are mined and traded, or their environmental, economic, and geopolitical costs.

Much of what Pitron says is not new, and has been highlighted on the blog over the years, but the book brings together in a single volume an exposé of the ticking time-bomb that lies beneath our new technological order. 

Last November in Critical Metals and the UK's "Green Industrial Revolution" the focus was on the many metals and non-metals which are essential in the manufacture of wind turbines and electric vehicles, noting that huge amounts of energy are required just to mine and extract these materials. Some of the most important metals are classed as 'critical' mainly due to geopolitical reasons or shortage of supply and their production in many cases cannot be classed as 'green'.

Around 2.5 tonnes of neodymium are required in a wind turbine, but neodymium and other rare earth elements are not actually rare at all. They occur in the earth's crust in much greater abundance than the so-called common metals such as copper, lead and zinc, but they are very thinly distributed among the crustal rocks, and only occur in economic deposits, mainly of the minerals bastnaesite and monazite, in certain parts of the earth. Unfortunately we are almost completely dependent on China for their supply, accounting for 90% of the world’s rare earths production. China also controls the refining and processing sectors and mining and extraction is highly energy intensive, using mainly fossil fuels, and is by no means environmentally friendly (posting of 11th February 2013), as also vividly described by Pitron.

The book comes at an opportune time, as last week the International Energy Agency (IEA) reported that the world won’t be able to tackle the climate crisis unless there is a sharp increase in the supply of metals required to produce clean energy technologies, the demand soaring for copper, lithium, nickel, cobalt and rare earth elements. But they are all vulnerable to price volatility and shortages, the agency warned, because the quality of available deposits is declining and mining companies face stricter environmental and social standards.

Limited access to known mineral deposits is another risk factor. Three countries together control more than 75% of the global output of lithium, cobalt and rare earth elements. The Democratic Republic of Congo was responsible for 70% of cobalt production in 2019, and China produced 60% of rare earth elements while refining 50% to 70% of lithium and cobalt, and nearly 90% of rare earth elements. Australia is the other power player.

The average electric car requires six times more minerals than a conventional car, according to the IEA. Lithium, nickel, cobalt, manganese and graphite are crucial to batteries. Electricity networks need huge amounts of copper and aluminum, while rare earth elements are used in the magnets needed to make wind turbines work.

Meeting the goals of the Paris climate agreement will require a “significant” increase in clean energy, according to the IEA, which estimates that the annual installation of wind turbines would need to grow threefold by 2040 and electric car sales would need to expand 25 times over the same period. Reaching net zero emissions by 2050 would require even more investment (see also posting of 21 July 2019).

“The data shows a looming mismatch between the world’s strengthened climate ambitions and the availability of critical minerals that are essential to realising those ambitions,” Fatih Birol, executive director of the IEA, said in a statement. “The challenges are not insurmountable, but governments must give clear signals about how they plan to turn their climate pledges into action.”

To address the looming challenges, the IEA advocates setting a clear policy agenda to encourage miners to develop new sources of supply, and boosting recycling of raw materials, an area which will be the subject of sessions at next month's Biomining '21 and Sustainable Minerals '21.


Monday, 10 May 2021

Flotation '21: Call for Abstracts

This conference is now online

We still live in a time of great uncertainty, but whatever happens over the next few months, we have absolute certainty that Flotation '21 will take place in November, either as a hybrid event, or totally online.  If hybrid, authors will have the option of presenting live in Cape Town, between November 8-11, or submitting recorded presentations for viewing online. In any case, all presentations will be available on demand for 6 months after the event, via the conference website.

There is now a call for abstracts, which must be submitted online by the end of August. Authors will be notified of decisions on papers during September.

After the conference authors will be invited to submit their papers for peer-review for possible publication in Minerals Engineering. Papers will be handled exclusively by me, as the journal's Editor-in-Chief, and I will take into account discussion at the conference and effectively fast-track the reviewing process.

If your paper is accepted for publication after refereeing, it will be published immediately in the first available regular issue of Minerals Engineering, and included in the Virtual Special Issue of the conference on ScienceDirect. This is an ideal opportunity to present your work to an international audience and have your paper published in a refereed journal of high repute.

We would like to thank our sponsors, who have supported us throughout these difficult times, and welcome two new sponsors, who will be involved with an MEI flotation series conference for the first time.

Newmont is a sponsor of next month's Biomining '21 and is the world's largest gold mining company, with gold mines in Nevada, Colorado, Ontario, Quebec, Mexico, the Dominican Republic, Australia, Ghana, Argentina, Peru, and Suriname. In addition to gold, Newmont mines copper, silver, zinc and lead.

Cancha was one of the sponsors of last month's Comminution '21. Cancha is an integrated solution for geometallurgical sample selection, result interpretation, prediction modelling and reporting and is used by geologists, miners, metallurgists and geometallurgists to accurately, efficiently and transparently project metallurgical performance for mineral resources. Its unique geostatistical functions are used to ensure that samples are representative. Advanced data science is used to propose domain and regression models for parameters such as recovery, concentrate grade, and tonnage.

Current sponsors

Prof. Jim Finch, Emeritus Professor of McGill University, Canada, has been a long-standing consultant to MEI's flotation series, and we were proud to announce last year that he was the recipient of the IMPC's 2020 Lifetime Achievement Award. Jim will present a keynote lecture at Flotation '21 on the appreciation of the life and work of Prof. Graeme Jameson, of the University of Newcastle, Australia, also a holder of the Lifetime Achievement Award and a regular contributor to the flotation series.

Graeme and Jim at Flotation '15

Few can claim a process or equipment that carries their name. The Jameson Cell is a rare example: an industrial endorsement of Professor Jameson’s already secured academic reputation that sets him apart. Taking the Cell as the unifying theme, Jim's talk will assess Graeme’s contributions to the technology of flotation, from fundamental models and innovative experiments to his continuing quest for the universal flotation machine.


Sunday, 9 May 2021

Prof. D.V. Subba Rao, 1954-2021

Sad news from India of the death of Prof. D.V. Subba Rao, just one of over 215,000 people in India who have succumbed to Covid in the pandemic.
Prof. Subba Rao was a former Head of Department and Associate Professor at SDS Autonomous College (affiliated to Andhra University, Visakhapatnam), Garividi, India. An eminent academic he taught at the institute for more than three decades, his students admiring him for his unique teaching skill and simple explanations for different mineral and coal processing topics. 
Prof. Subba Rao published five textbooks on mineral and coal processing (Mineral Beneficiation, Minerals and Coal Process Calculations, The Belt Conveyor, Coal Processing and Utilization, Textbook of Mineral Processing) under different leading international publishers. 
He also trained many practicing engineers from different industries, including Vedanta Ltd, Essar Steel Ltd (Now ArcelorMittal/Nippon Steel), Tega Industries Ltd.  He also served as the Executive Council Member at the Indian Institute of Mineral Engineering and as President of the Indian Institute of Mineral Engineering Student Chapter, Garividi. 
Prof. Subba Rao is survived by his wife and two daughters.

Thursday, 6 May 2021

Gwennap to Carn Marth

Gwennap, a small village just 7 miles from Falmouth, gives its name to the surrounding area known as the Gwennap Parish, which in the 18th and early 19th centuries was the world's richest copper mining district, having the soubriquet 'the richest square mile on earth'.

It is estimated that there were around 3000 mine shafts in this area, relatively few being associated with the iconic Cornish Engine Houses which housed the massive pumping engines, and hoists to bring ore to the surface. The majority of these shaft were just small holes in the ground, wide enough to accommodate ladders down which the miners would descend a couple of thousand feet or more to their place of work.

It is hard to imagine what it must have been like to spend hours each day descending and ascending these ladders, but the 19th century author W. Wilkie vividly described what it was like and in 1787 the novelist William Beckford visited the Gwennap Parish and wrote "at every step one stumbles upon ladders that lead into utter darkness.... the miners who crawl out of the dark fissures are woeful creatures in tattered garments with pickaxes on their shoulders, while the mine officials regale upon beef, pudding and brandy'.

There is little evidence of this intensive mining now. Most of the mine shafts are either capped or fenced off and on a 6.75 mile walk towards Redruth, once the UK's richest town, former Elsevier journal manager Dean Eastbury and I passed only one lonely engine house, that of Pennance Consols, and the remains of granite quarrying at Carn Marth.

What was once a polluted area of smoking chimneys is now a quiet country landscape, a pleasant afternoon walk to the granite hilltop of Carn Marth, looking down on the village of Lanner, with a sweeping panorama from St. Agnes on the north coast, to Falmouth on the south. 

Our circular walk, directed by the excellent iWalk Cornwall app, began at the Gwennap Parish church, which dates back mainly to the 15th century, and took us north to Carn Marth.

Gwennap Parish church

Of historical significance on the walk is Gwennap Pit, an ampitheatre which probably originated from a mine collapse or an open-cast working. It is famous for being used by John Wesley, the founder of the Methodist movement, to preach on 17 occasions between 1776 and 1789. 

Gwennap Pit

Cornwall took to Methodism like no other county in England. For a community of miners, facing danger at work every day, and for farmers and fishermen, Wesley's simple doctrine of justification through faith and instant salvation offered comfort, security and hope. There are few towns and villages in Cornwall which do not have a Methodist Chapel.

The lone engine house which we passed was the pumping house of the Pennance mine, built in 1866. Pennance Consols, previously known as Wheal Amelia, was a small mine which produced copper, and later tin, and closed in 1874.

In 1877 there were four granite quarries on the top of the 235m high granite hill known as Carn Marth, and two of these merged to form a small lake at the top of the hill.

From the top of the hill, which looks down on Lanner and Redruth, the hills of Bodmin Moor can be seen and the hill was used as a beacon for centuries, and in Tudor times was an early warning system, where a chain of hilltop fire beacons, including the plainly visible beacon at St. Agnes, were used to warn of invasion.

Returning to Gwennap we walked through open countryside with the south coast and Falmouth visible in the distance.

More Cornish Walks
More on Cornwall
More on Cornish Mining


Monday, 3 May 2021

Biomining '21: Provisional programme now available

Biomining '21, MEI's 10th International Symposium on biomining, will be held online in June. Due to the interest shown in the conference, the number of abstracts received has allowed us to extend the event to 4 days, from June 7th-10th, and the call for abstracts remains open. 

Biomining '21 has been organised with the advice of Prof. Sue Harrison, of the University of Cape Town and Dr Chris Bryan of BRGM, France, and is sponsored by AFX Mixing & Pumping Technologies and Newmont. Media sponsors are International Mining and Industry Associates are the Cornwall Mining Alliance, the Critical Minerals Association and Ocean Mining Intel.

The provisional programme is now published, and the schedule contains sessions on:

  • Bioleaching of ores and concentrates
  • Biooxidation
  • Microorganisms
  • Secondary processing
  • Recycling
  • Environmental

with 3 keynote lectures:

How green was my biomining?; a personal critique of the limitations and untapped potential of applying bioprocessing techniques for metal extraction and recovery, by Prof. Barrie Johnson, of Bangor University, UK

Bridging gaps in biomining research and application, by Dr. Chris Bryan, of BRGM, France

Environmental applications of biotechnology in mining, by Dr. Anna Kaksonen, of CSIRO, Australia

Supplementing these presentations will be a panel discussion on the future of biomining.

There is also a virtual exhibition, which will be open throughout the conference and is a great way to showcase your company. 

Registration is now open and registered delegates will be able to view recordings of all presentations and the panel discussion on demand until December 31st.

We look forward to meeting you virtually in June.


Saturday, 1 May 2021

April update: Coronavirus; tin, the 'forgotten' critical metal; the increasing importance of the mining industry

Covid took a back seat in the news early in the month with the news of the death of the Queen's consort, Prince Philip, the Duke of Edinburgh, at the age of 99. I met him very briefly in 1980 during the Royal Visit to Camborne School of Mines, where we discussed froth flotation, which must have made him feel that his visit had not been in vain. The lasting impression at CSM was of a man with a keen sense of humour, who was very ready to put you at ease.

Globally there is little good news on the pandemic, India in particular suffering dreadfully, but here in UK there was a slow return to normality on the 12th of the month, with the reopening of shops and gyms, and pubs and restaurants allowing outdoor eating and drinking, perhaps not an appealing prospect in Falmouth, where the mid-day temperature was 8C.

First pint of the year

Very many businesses have had to adapt or die during the pandemic, and MEI has made an enormous evolutionary leap which we could not have envisaged just over a year ago.  After a void of 17 months, our first online conference, Comminution '21, was successfully held two weeks ago, and the necessary move to virtual events was made possible by the efforts of Amanda and Jon, the next generation. For the first time Jon opened a comminution conference, his recorded address being filmed and edited by Amanda's eldest son, William. I took a back seat and attended the conference as a delegate.

Jon and his nephew William record the opening address

Cornwall is gearing up for the G7 summit at Carbis Bay next month, and in March world leaders made pledges to tackle climate change, the US committing to halving its emissions within a decade and the UK enshrining in law a target of 78% cuts from 1990 levels by 2035.

Many environmental groups want these targets to be achieved earlier but the sad irony is that it is many of these who also demonstrate against mining, the very industry on which these targets are reliant on (Is Zero Carbon by 2050 Attainable?).

Copper in the past has not been regarded as a critical metal, but it should be now. It is the metal needed in increasingly large amounts to produce renewables and electric vehicles. But even now supply is barely keeping up with demand. Many large mines have a head grade of only around 0.5% copper, lower than the tailings of most mines not so long ago. Although ample copper supplies next year and in 2023 will keep the market balanced, mines need to start investing in new capacity soon to meet future demand.

Lithium supply is also critical and new sources must be found to satisfy the demand for battery production. Cornwall will help when the hard rock and brine developments at Cornish Lithium and British Lithium come on stream, but what of tin, which is ready to undergo a resurgence down here in the south west? Very little focus has been given to tin, which is one of the metals critical to achieving the projected green economy, but which has had little exposure compared with lithium, cobalt, nickel, copper and rare-earth elements.

Commonly thought of as having a major use as tin-plating in 'tin cans', plating now accounts for only 12-13% of total consumption, behind 15-18% for chemical use. The major use for tin today is in solder to create electrical connections, currently accounting for close to 50% of demand. It is this use in typically small-scale electronic components that makes the metal critical to the energy transition. Every component of the low-carbon economy requires tin, as without it electrons will not flow. While other metals can theoretically be used for this purpose, given the abundance and effectiveness of tin there really is no economic substitute.

What makes the developments in Cornwall so important is that while there is no shortage of existing and potential tin supply, that supply currently comes with environmental, social and governance (ESG) risk, as most tin production comes from countries that have high ESG risk. China, and Indonesia together account for over 50% of mine supply, while Myanmar is currently the third-largest supplier, and production in the DRC is rising quickly.

Tin might become important for another reason. Stanley Wittingham, jointly awarded the Nobel Prize for Chemistry in 2019 as one of the founding fathers of lithium-ion batteries, has recently reviewed potential for tin in lithium-ion batteries. In his paper published in October 2020 with colleague Fengxia Xin, Wittingham explains how “tin-based materials are strong candidates as the anode for the next generation of lithium-ion batteries”.

It is apparent that the mining industry is going to be vital in the coming decades and that there will be enormous challenges in supplying the critical raw materials, something which much of the world's media and environmental activists seem blissfully unaware of.