Thursday, 24 June 2021

Sustainable Minerals '21 Day 4: Waste Processing and Panel Discussion on the Circular Economy

Thursday June 24th

Dr. Anita Parbhakar-Fox is well known at MEI Conferences, having presented work at previous Sustainable Minerals, Biomining and Process Mineralogy events. In 2017 she was featured as a Rising Star, and she has certainly lived up to our expectations, not only as a leading academic but also a hands-on scientist in the field.

Anita with husband Nathan at Sustainable Minerals ’16 in Falmouth,
with (left) Elaine Govender-Opitz of University of Cape Town
Anita with Julie Hunt and Elly van Veen
investigating acid mine drainage at Rio Tinto, Spain

In her keynote lecture this morning, Anita, now a Senior Research Fellow at the University of Queensland’s Sustainable Minerals Institute, showed that there is an international ‘war on waste’ waging whereby industries and consumers are becoming increasingly aware of the environmental impacts our linear ‘take-make-dispose’ economy facilitates. The promotion, and in some cases adoption, of circular economy principles has grown in recent years but how has this impacted on the mining industry and, more specifically, mine waste management? 

Fundamentally, we mine waste, not ore. The large tonnages of waste rock handled at mine sites, particularly open cuts, illustrates this. Continued mining in this manner is expected to meet the metal demands of our growing global community. It is therefore imperative that the produced waste is characterised to determine if it can be further utilised following circular economy principles or if it is truly waste how can it be disposed to minimise environmental risk? 

Anita’s keynote was the first presentation of 11 papers on waste processing, ranging from the recovery of critical minerals and gold from mine wastes to the production of geopolymers from mine wastes as an alternative to classic concrete. It was good to have our first paper from China in our online conferences, on the recovery of lanthanum and cerium from rare earth polishing powder wastes, given by Dr Yan Wang of the Chinese Academy of Science.

These presentations set the scene for the mid-day panel discussion “What are the limits to achieving a circular economy?”, chaired by conference consultant Prof. Markus Reuter, of the SMS-Group, Germany. Joining the keynote speakers, Anita Parbhakar-Fox, Anna Littleboy and Luis Marcelo Tavares as panelists, was Dr. Peter Radziszewski, of Rampart Detection Systems, Canada.

Markus began with a brief history of the Sustainable Minerals series and the continued quest for a circular economy.

There was very wide ranging discussion in this 100 minute session, with very lively interaction from conference delegates. As with all the presentations, the panel discussion is available on demand for all registered delegates until the end of the year.

Due to two very late withdrawals the final session of the conference, on Energy, contained only 2 presentations, from Australia and Canada. However, we are proud to have as one of our Industry Advocates, the Coalition for Eco-Efficient Comminution (CEEC), a highly respected organisation founded 10 years ago thanks to the vision of Gekko’s Elizabeth Lewis-Gray.  CEEC brings industry leaders together to tackle the challenges of comminution, which accounts for around 3% of the world’s electrical energy consumption, and to mark their 10th anniversary we were pleased to share a short video from CEEC.

Some of CEEC’s Driving Force
L-R: Janine Herzig, Greg Lane, Michael Myllynen, Alison Keogh,
Aidan Giblett, Clare Edwards, Tim Napier-Munn and Joe Pease

Closing the conference Jon thanked our sponsors and industry advocates once more, as well as the six exhibitors, and of course our 105 delegates and those who delivered presentations, of a consistently high standard. Despite the time zone problem, presentations were well attended, and the facility for viewing recordings on demand at a more convenient time led to extremely useful online discussions.

It is evident from the presentations over the past four days that to sustain the supply of the many minerals that are involved in clean and renewable technologies, ranging from base metals such as copper and zinc to strategic minerals such as rare earths and cobalt, will require more mining, innovative processing technologies and more emphasis on recycling. The Sustainable Minerals series is thus of vital importance in bringing people together to discuss these important issues, so a decision has been made to make the conferences annual events, the next one, Sustainable Minerals ’22, scheduled for July 11-14 next year. We invite all companies with green credentials to consider early sponsorship of this event.

We now invite all who attended to submit their views and comments, which will be of great help to us in organising future online, and then hopefully hybrid events. The comments received via Twitter can be found at #SustainableMinerals21.

MEI's next online conference is Flotation '21, and if you would like to present at this major event, abstracts should be submitted by the end of August.


  1. Thanks Panellists! I truly enjoyed discussing circularity among others, all topics we are so passionate about. Hope to meet F2F soon. Kind regards, Markus.
    Markus Reuter, SMS-Group, Germany

    1. It was a very insightful discussion! Most happy to have been able to participate in it. Thank you all!
      Peter Radziszewski, Rampart Detection Systems, Canada

    2. Thanks Markus and Peter for your involvement. It was a fascinating discussion

  2. Very much enjoyed the conference and the panel. Will certainly include it in my agenda of conferences in the future. Well done MEI team!
    Luís Marcelo Tavares, Universidade Federal do Rio de Janeiro, Brazil

    1. Many thanks Marcelo. Your input, via the keynote and the panel, contributed enormously to the success of the conference.


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