Saturday, 4 July 2015


Barbara and I arrived in Livingstone, Zambia a couple of hours ago. MEI is a media partner for the Copper Cobalt Africa conference, organised by the SAIMM, which starts tomorrow evening.

The conference is being held in the Mosi-oa-Tunya (The Smoke that Thunders) National Park, and the venue is only a few minutes walk from the Zambezi River and the awesome Victoria Falls. We are looking forward to catching up with old friends and making new ones over the course of next week.

The Zambezi before its plunge......

.....300 feet into the first gorge

Thursday, 2 July 2015

The life of a Cornish miner in perspective

Around this time last year my good friend and Elsevier publisher Dean Eastbury and I walked the 9 miles between Tintagel and Port Isaac, said to be one of the most demanding stretches of the whole 630 mile South West Way (posting of 30 July 2014). We both agreed that it was one of the hardest hikes we have ever done, and there is no way that I could have contemplated walking it again the next day. In all we had made a vertical ascent of 2285 feet in 4 hours, and all we wanted to do on arrival at Port Isaac was visit the local pub and down a couple of cool beers in double quick time.

Dean and I are regular hikers, fit and healthy, and were walking in the clear Cornish air. So let's try to put my posting of 25th May into perspective where I talked about the 'hellish conditions' in the deep mines of Cornwall in the 1890s, recorded by photographer extraordinaire J.C. Burrow.

An American geologist on LinkedIn commented on the posting and Burrow's photographs "primitive by today's standards, but "Hellish"? What in these photographs invokes the term "Hellish"?

Well, let me explain. First of all there were no cages to haul miners up and down the shaft in the early days, although some of the deeper mines installed man engines, as shown in the posting. The main method of accessing the mine workings was by a series of ladders, sometimes stretching down to depths of 2000 feet or more. Not surprisingly falls were commonplace, particularly at the end of a long shift, where the ascent up the ladders "to grass" would be the equivalent of the walk that Dean and I did in the sunshine.

But these were not fit and healthy hikers - the miners were prone to many different diseases as a result of working daily in hot, damp and dusty conditions underground. Bronchitis, silicosis, TB and rheumatism were all common complaints, making life expectancy short, and few miners in the early days were fit to work beyond the age of 40. Even in the late 20th century many tin miners died from silicosis caused by rock drilling, but in the 19th century there was no dust suppression by water. Particles of mica dust punctured the miners' lungs - it was a terrible, wasting illness.

Conditions at the rock face were almost unbearable, temperatures reaching 45C due to the very steep geothermal gradient in Cornish granite. The cramped, hot tunnel ends were occasionally fouled by the stench of human excrement. In such damp, moist conditions, a disease known as ancylostomiasis thrived, the symptoms of which were red skin blotches and anaemia, caused by contact with a parasitic hookworm that lived in human faeces. The air in the mine was polluted by dust and fumes from detonated explosives and could barely sustain a candle, some miners choosing to snub their candles out and work in complete darkness in order to conserve air.

All miners, including the women and children on the surface would work a ten hour day, six days a week in the 19th century, and although many miners and their families lived in cottages rented from the mining company, many would still have to walk several miles to and from work, in clothes wet with sweat from hours of underground toil.

Life for a miner was a far cry from the romantic view portrayed in so many of today's tourist brochures and the success of Cornwall's tin mining industry often overshadows the human cost. And there is me whingeing about the gruelling walk that Dean and I did. It really puts into perspective how lucky we are today.

Sunday, 28 June 2015

Join us for a great week at Flotation '15 in Cape Town

Flotation '15 is set to be MEI's biggest conference to date, with a record number of sponsors, exhibitors and papers.
Current Flotation '15 sponsors
During the 4 days of the conference, around 150 papers will be presented in oral and poster sessions, including keynote lectures by Jan Cilliers, Janusz Laskowski, D.R. Nagaraj and Peter Amelunxen. The provisional programme for the conference has now been published.

Coffee and lunch breaks will take place in the exhibition/poster area, to provide as much exposure as possible for exhibitors and poster presentations. Twenty-two out of the 24 exhibit booths available have currently been reserved, so please book your booth without delay to give your organisation maximum exposure at the event.

In the exhibit area at Flotation '13
As always the conference is being held at Cape Town's Vineyard Hotel, and we will be making use of their magnificent gardens, overlooked by Table Mountain, for evening wine functions and happy hours.

Table Mountain viewed from the Vineyard conference centre
Happy hour in the Vineyard gardens
Networking is an important feature of all MEI Conferences, and the conference dinner will be an informal occasion in the nearby Kirstenbosch Botanical Gardens.

A very informal evening at Kirstenbosch
Immediately prior to the welcoming wine function on the Sunday afternoon Elsevier will host an Author Workshop. There are two modules: How to Get Published in a Research Journal (~90 minutes) and Author’s Rights and Responsibilities (~45 minutes). The target audience is PhD and post-doctorate students as well as young faculty members who have little experience of the publication process but expect to be submitting papers to academic journals in the future. Registration is free of charge to all Flotation '15 delegates as well as to UCT students and faculty. Please note the workshop is not appropriate for undergraduates. The speakers will be:

Dean Eastbury, Executive Publisher for Chemical Engineering, Elsevier, UK
Kathryn Hadler, Grinding Solutions, UK and Associate Editor of International Journal of Mineral Processing
Pablo Brito-Parada, Imperial College, UK and Associate Editor of Minerals Engineering.

If you would like to join the workshop, please contact Dean Eastbury at

Also prior to the conference Dr. Stephen Gay will be running a 3-day Simulation Course covering all aspects from basic data accumulation and analysis to advanced software development. Stephen will show how simulation can be used for plant optimisation, plant trouble shooting, feasibility studies and plant design. Importantly the course will give plant managers an approach by which they can obtain guidance on how to improve plant performance via reduced energy costs, and better recovery. Full details can be found here.

And for the adventurous, on the Friday afternoon after the conference Jon, Amanda and I will be leading our usual hike to the top of Table Mountain. Not to be missed if you are a fit regular hiker.

Table Mountain with Flotation '13 delegates
So the scene is set for a great week in Cape Town, and we look forward to seeing you there.  If you have never attended an MEI Conference in Cape Town, then this 7-minute video, taken at Process Mineralogy '14 will give you some idea of what to expect.

Registration forms are now available on the conference website.

Thursday, 25 June 2015

The UK's first metal mine in 40 years all set to go

The first ore enters the plant

Charlie Northfield, Process Plant Manager at Drakelands tungsten-tin mine in Devon, reports that ore commissioning began on Tuesday. Charlie gave a paper at Physical Separation '15 a couple of weeks ago, describing the interesting flowsheet incorporating DMS, spirals, tables, low and high intensity magnetic separation, and flotation.

Pre-celebrations for the start-up commenced at the Devon mining sundowner on 12th June, with over 30 Wolf employees, contractors and visitors at the Miners’ Arms, Hemerdon. Visitors from afar included John and Sylvia Williams, Maintenance Manager and Maintenance Planner respectively and former colleagues of Jeff Harrison (Wolf Operations Manager) at Queensland Magnesia in Australia. Shown below are Jeff, John, Sylvia and Yvonne Harrison.

Wolf maintenance personnel have been working hard assisting the contractors with the installation and pre-commissioning of process equipment. Shown below relaxing after a tough week are Matt le Gassick, Adam Bromley, Amy Hatswell, Luke Farnell and Ryan McGlinchey.

The on-site SGS laboratory has been successfully commissioned and laboratory personnel enjoyed a celebratory drink. Shown below are Tom Wassell, Dave Mann, John Avery and Stephanie Merry.

We wish Charlie and his team well and look forward to hearing more on progress on this important new mine.

Monday, 22 June 2015

CEEC Medal Award reflects the growing importance of ore sorting

The most attractive way to reduce energy use in comminution is to do as little of it as possible. So said Dr. Rob Morrison, of Australia's JKMRC in his keynote lecture at Physical Separation '15. Rob went on to discuss how both energy and water have begun to become more expensive in real terms and access to minerals, and especially to water where there is competition from growing populations, are becoming limiting factors. In contrast to this bleak picture, we now have access to an expanding range of sensors. Some of these can detect minerals of interest through meters of rock and ever more powerful computers are well suited to rapid identification of particles of interest.

Rob's keynote was followed by three more important papers on ore sorting, including two from the leading manufacturers of electronic sorting equipment, TOMRA and Steinert Elektromagnetbau GmbH.

The emphasis on ore sorting at virtually all major mineral processing conferences is now very evident, so it was good to see that two of the five papers nominated for the 2015 Medal of the Coalition for Eco-Efficient Comminution (CEEC) dealt with pre-concentration of ores prior to comminution (MEI Online).

The CEEC Medal is an annual award for the most outstanding published paper, article or case study profiling beneficial strategies for eco-efficient comminution. One of the nominated papers was "Development of ore sorting and its impact on mineral processing economics" by Joe Lessard et al, published in Minerals Engineering (posting of 8th September 2014). Joe was also one of the presenters at Physical Separation '15, and we look forward to seeing his paper on the economic impact of ore sorting in the special issue of Minerals Engineering in a few months time.

But congratulations go to the winners of the 2015 Medal, Nigel J. Grigg and Georges J. Delemontex for their paper titled; “The Pre-Concentration of Precious and Base Metal Deposits Using the InLine Pressure Jig (IPJ); Higher Feed Grades and More Metal,” presented at the International Mineral Processing Conference 2014, Santiago, Chile.
Nigel Grigg (centre) of Gekko Systems at the 2014 AusIMM Mill Ops conference
This paper was selected for the 2015 CEEC medal because of the potential impact of pre-concentration in reducing the energy used in comminution, and the paper’s several quantified examples. The paper detailed the installation of IPJs in gold and polymetallic full-scale applications in the 1-15mm size range. It reported significant upgrade by the removal of low-grade ores, mainly silicates. The strategy of pre-concentration, either by the removal of gangue material before size reduction, or by separation of material for processing by alternate routes, significantly reduces the energy required for comminution, and decreases operating and capital costs. In addition, it effectively increases the size of the ore deposit.

CEEC and its Board, and MEI, congratulate Grigg and Delemontex on their win, and the other short-listed authors for their important contributions to the cause of reducing comminution energy consumption.

Sunday, 21 June 2015

New book: Chemical Technology of Ore Processing

MEI has received an announcement of this new book, by Vladco Panayotov, Fathi Habashi, and Marinela Panayotova, printed by Publishing House “St. Ivan Rilski” University of Mining and Geology “St. Ivan Rilski” – Sofia, Bulgaria, 2014 (ISBN 978-954-353-259-9).

This is a combined effort of authors from different countries with different backgrounds. The book has 8 chapters:

1. Introduction
2. Energy Basis of Flotation
3. Pyrometallurgy
4. Basics of Minerals Dissolution and Leaching
5. Hydrometallurgy
6. Electrometallurgy
7. Application of Methods of Extractive Metallurgy to Different Ores
8. Environment Pollution Problems in the Mineral Processing Industry.

I would be interested in comments/reviews from anyone who has seen a copy of this book.