Monday, 1 September 2014

International Mineralogical Association General Meeting, Day 1

MEI is represented at two major conferences this week, both of which started today. While Jon reports on Mill Ops '14 from Queensland, MEI's Process Mineralogy '14 consultant Dr. Megan Becker, of the University of Cape Town,  will be sending daily updates from Johannesburg, where the International Mineralogical Association General Meeting (IMA '14) is currently being held.

Megan reports on today's events:

One can consider this conference the “mineralogists” version of the IMPC: a large (800+ delegates), international conference (49 countries), with numerous scientific sessions (up to 10 parallel sessions), and of course something to interest everyone. This conference, the 1st of the IMA meetings to be held on the African continent, is organised by the Mineralogical Association of South Africa, in partnership with the Geological Society of South Africa: Dr Sabine Verryn (XRD Analytical and Consulting), Dr Craig Smith (GSSA), and Dr Desh Chetty (Mintek) being the key people who have worked long and hard over the past 4 years to make the conference a reality. 

Catching up at the welcome function: Prof Dee Bradshaw (University of Queensland), Dr Desh Chetty (Mintek),
Hanna Horsch (Hazen Research, USA), Dr Megan Becker (University of Cape Town)
and Dr Sabine Verryn (XRF Analytical and Consulting)
The theme of the conference “Delving Deeper: Minerals as Mines of Information” encapsulates the rich heritage of mineral resources within South Africa, but also talks to the very active community of mineralogists (many of whom practise process mineralogy) within South Africa. The Honourable Minister of Science and Technology in South Africa, Dr Naledi Pandor spoke at the opening ceremony on Sunday and reiterated the need for those of us associated with the mining industry to think about the impact of the sector on ALL aspects of the population and actively engage with the communities surrounding the mining industry: in other words practise sustainable mining. She spoke of the South African history in terms of the many migrant labourers who have been displaced from their families over decades of mining. These same migrant labourers developed the art of “gumboot” dancing as a means of expression – and of course we were lucky enough to be treated to some real gumboot dancing by a group of teenage boys one of the local high schools!  

Gumboot dancing demonstration at the opening ceremony: Part of South Africa’s cultural heritage
The scientific programme for the conference itself started off this Monday morning. I devoted my day to sitting in the session on process mineralogy and geometallurgy which started with a keynote by Dr Rob Schouwstra from Anglo American Technical Solutions. He spoke of their geometallurgy programme at Mogalakwena (their largest PGM operation in South Africa) emphasizing that its “not a quick fix”, and that the successful implementation of such a programme requires: a thorough understanding of the ore, determining what is currently measured, investigating whether suitable proxies be found to predict metallurgical response within existing measurement databases, minimising the use of jargon between disciplines, the importance of collaboration, growing the team, appropriate support from management, and of course plain perseverance. This does not happen overnight, and typically takes years to implement. Carlo Philander from Tronox also spoke of their geometallurgy programme at Namakwa Sands (a heavy minerals operation in South Africa) during the afternoon session, and again iterated that building a geometallurgical model is complex, but when tested, refined and implemented the gains can be very significant.

The day finished off with the plenary by MEI's Flotation '15 consultant Professor Dee Bradshaw from the University of Queensland on the “Valuable role of process mineralogy in the future of the mining industry”. This really was a fantastic and well received plenary - but given that she is going to present something similar at the IMPC next month in Chile, I’m not going to steal her thunder and write about it here.

All in all, a very exciting 1st day of the conference in what promises to be a great week.

AusIMM Mill Operators 2014 Day 1

Day 1 of the AusIMM's Mill Operators Conference in Townsville is now over, and Jon has sent this brief update of the day's events:

The 12th Mill Operators conference was opened this morning by Conference Chairman David Hunter of the AusIMM who welcomed approximately 375 delegates representing 19 countries to Townsville. There will be 50 speakers throughout the 3 days and there are also 38 exhibitors.

Tim Napier-Munn with fellow CEEC Directors Joe Pease
and Elizabeth Lewis-Gray
Geoff Sharrock, the President of the AusIMM then spoke about the organisation, which began 121 years ago and is still growing to this day. The theme of the latest conference in this series, which began in 1978, is “Achieving More with Less” and the opening keynote was given by Prof. Tim Napier-Munn, Director of CEEC, and was titled “Cunning Solutions to Process Improvement”. Tim joked in opening that it was good to see a conference with so few academics and that he was lucky to be allowed in, the balance though being a difficult one to get right, as we know from experience with MEI Conferences.

The coffee and lunch breaks are held in the pavilion housing the exhibition and here I was able to catch up with some previous MEI Conference exhibitors including Peter Wulff from Eirich who was with his Australian agents Ian and Claire Laws from Joest.

Peter Wulff (right) with Ian and Claire Laws

Shengyu Mao from Chemco was next to Eirich and I hope to see both companies at Comminution ’16.

One of the sponsors of Flotation ’15 is SNF Flomin and Kevin Botha is here with his team. Kevin will also be exhibiting at next years Flotation conference in Cape Town.

Kevin Botha with Michael Stoychevski and David Ho Wing
Vega Industries regularly attend MEI's Comminution conferences, and pictured here are Christian Delcour, Craig Norbury and Jeffrey Titus.

Lunch was a chance to relax and I think the spot with the best view was found by these four delegates:

After the final session, drinks and canapes were served in the exhibition area and I caught up with Sam Ayoub from Continental Engineering, a regular exhibitor at our Flotation series who has his booth booked for 2015 in Cape Town.

In the gardens I chatted with Tim Napier-Munn, Elizabeth Lewis-Gray and John Russell, a sponsor and exhibitor at Comminution ’14 who I hope to see again in 2016.


Sunday, 31 August 2014

Tall Ships in Falmouth

Tall Ships Falmouth 2014

Falmouth’s association with the sea and ships has been a part of Cornwall’s heritage for centuries, so it is not surprising that the town always gives an enthusiastic welcome to the sailing ships of bygone times. Fortunately  many of these vessels have been restored and looked after and they still ply the oceans, albeit in a different capacity, that of sail training.

Four days ago 46 Sail Training vessels from around the world, including 11 of the magnificent square-sail Tall Ships, arrived in Falmouth for four days of festivities culminating in the start of the race to London Greenwich this afternoon.

It has been a wonderful few days. Falmouth has been heaving with people who have contributed to a great festive atmosphere.

Crowds flock into Falmouth

Refreshments at the Chain Locker overlooking the inner harbour

Pre-race fireworks

Parade of Sail


A Postcard from Townsville

An email in from Jon, who left Falmouth on Thursday, and arrived in Townsville yesterday after a 40 hour journey:

This is the third AusIMM Mill Operators conference I have been to. After previously visiting Fremantle and Adelaide I am now in Townsville in North Queensland for this the 12th in the series. The venue is the Jupiters Hotel and as can be seen from this picture of me this morning on Castle Hill the surrounding area is incredibly beautiful.

The conference starts tomorrow but this evening there was a quick early registration drink reception before the GD Delprat distinguished lecture which was being given by John Ralston. This gave me a quick chance to catch up with some regular MEI delegates including Sergio Vianna and Chris Greet.

Alan Hitchiner (Evonik Industries), Peter Munro (Mineralurgy Pty) and Chris Greet (Magotteaux)

Diana Drinkwater (JKTech) and Sergio Vianna (FLSmidth)
If you are attending then be sure to come and see me, I’ll be outside the main hall by the AusIMM table with plenty of information on upcoming MEI Conferences.


Wednesday, 27 August 2014

The Inspirational Brierleys

Corale and Jim Brierley in Cornwall, June 2014
We were priviledged to have two of the world's most eminent biohydrometallurgists at Biohydromet '14 in Falmouth. Husband and wife team Corale and Jim Brierley took very active parts in the conference, Corale delivering a keynote presentation, and Jim was one of the panel members in the final discussion on the future of biohydrometallurgy.

Corale also took the time to speak to the Cornwall Women in Mining Group about her life and career, from growing up on a cattle ranch in Montana to the present day running Brierley Consultancy LLC with her husband Jim. Amanda reported that Corale's tales of fluctuating successes and failures were a true inspiration.

Seattle, 2012
I first met Corale in Seattle in 2012 where she presented a fascinating Milton E. Wadsworth Award Lecture on the present and future of bioleaching applications at SME '12. I found the history fascinating, and had not realised that bioleaching had been around for the past 55 years. It was that lecture that inspired me to invite Corale and Jim to Falmouth for Biohydromet '14, which also led to Corale's appointment as biohydrometallurgy representative on the Editorial Board of Minerals Engineering.

Corale and Jim have prepared a joint biography for the Mining Foundation of the Southwest (USA) for their joint induction in December 2014 into the American Mining Hall of Fame (Medal of Merit award for transformative contributions to the mining industry) and have given us permission to share it via the blog. It's a fascinating story and indeed inspirational:

Jim was born and raised in Denver – the only child of an immigrant single mother. He developed an interest in science as he grew. This resulted in his choosing a major in Bacteriology at Colorado State University, graduating in 1961 with a Bachelor’s Degree.  Although Jim never considered himself an exceptional student, his CSU advisor encouraged and supported his application for graduate study at Montana State University.  Here, Jim had a unique opportunity to continue his studies and conduct research in Yellowstone National Park on microbial life in thermal springs for both his MS and PhD degrees.  The irony of this was that during his first trip at the age of 9 to Yellowstone Park on a family vacation he stepped in a thermal spring, badly burning his leg on the first day of the vacation. This unfortunate accident may have led in some odd way to his fascination with thermal springs.

Corale was born in Shelby, Montana – a small town located on the Canadian border. Her parents were sheep ranchers. When she was five years of age, the family, which included one older brother, relocated to a cattle ranch about 50 miles north of Yellowstone National Park in the southwestern part of Montana. Corale attended a one-room country schoolhouse in McLeod, Montana for grades 1 through 8, occasionally riding her horse, Betty, to school. She attended high school in Big Timber, Montana, graduating in 1963 with her class of 50 students. During the summers following her junior and senior years in high school, she worked in the Department of Microbiology at Montana State University in Bozeman under a fellowship from the Montana Cancer Society. There she met Jim, who was working on his graduate degrees. Corale started college at MSU in 1963, majoring in microbiology, and took a job as a student lab technician working for Jim’s major professor, Dr. Kenneth Temple, who earlier had discovered the microorganism, Thiobacillus (now Acidithiobacillus) ferrooxidans, which was long considered the workhorse of biomining.

Jim, Corale and Dr. Temple made frequent trips to remote hot spring areas in Yellowstone Park as part of Jim’s PhD research work. These were occasionally overnight trips in the winter, requiring snowshoeing, with one memorable summer-time trip to the grizzly-bear infested Hayden Valley/Mary Mountain area of the Park. Jim’s research on the contributions of bacteria to the chemistry of acid hot springs led to the discovery of the first high temperature (thermophilic), acid-loving microorganism that later became known as Acidianus brierleyi - named by German scientists in honour of Jim. This microorganism and its other closely-related ‘Archaea’ cousins are now central to the leaching of primary copper sulfide ores, principally chalcopyrite and enargite.

Working and experiencing Yellowstone Park adventures together, it was inevitable Jim and Corale would marry, which they did in December 1965, just months before Jim would start his first employment as an Assistant Professor of Biology at New Mexico Institute of Mining and Technology in Socorro. They moved to Socorro the summer of 1966 with Corale enrolling as a student at NMT majoring in biology. The irony of this was, because of the small size of the Biology Department, Corale had to take classes from Jim – and she didn’t always get the best grades in the class! Corale graduated in 1968 with a BS in Biology.
At NMT, Jim met Dr. Roshan Bhappu (American Mining Hall of Fame Medal of Merit Recipient, 2006) who introduced him to the mining community providing an opportunity to research microbial processes in bioleaching of copper in sub-marginal grade dumps.  Jim progressed through the academic ranks to become Professor and Chairman of the Department of Biology at New Mexico Tech.  This period was a time for enhancing his interest in applications of microbial processes for metals transformations, both leaching and sequestration.

Corale and Jim c1972
Corale enrolled in a Master’s program in Chemistry at NMT in 1970; her research was a study of the high-temperature microbe that Jim has discovered in Yellowstone Park. This research culminated with a MS degree in 1971 and the first “Brierley and Brierley” technical publication in 1973. In 1972 Corale began working at the New Mexico Bureau of Mines and Mineral Resources, a division of NMT, continuing bioleaching research, largely funded by the U.S. Bureau of Mines and supplemented with funding from other federal agencies.

Jim and Corale collaborated on bioleaching research over the subsequent decade, co-authoring a number of publications jointly and with other colleagues. Jim took a 6-month sabbatical leave in 1976 to work with colleagues at the University of Warwick and the Warren Spring Laboratory in England; simultaneously Corale took a leave of absence from the New Mexico Bureau of Mines and worked at the Royal School of Mines in London. This experience piqued Corale’s interest in getting a PhD degree, which she received in Environmental Science from the University of Texas at Dallas in 1981, after a sabbatical leave from the New Mexico Bureau of Mines.

Following her return from Dallas, Corale was approached by the venture capital community to form a company to develop biotechnology for mining. This company, Advanced Minerals Technology, was founded in 1982 and Jim was hired as the research director. The company was relocated from Socorro to Golden, Colorado in 1985 and employed some 23 scientists and engineers, who developed and patented technologies for bioleaching and metal removal from waste streams. The 1987 stock crash was devastating to the company; with little revenue and even less availability of investment capital, the company let go its employees, including the research director, and sold assets. Newmont Mining Corporation acquired most of the company’s hard assets, hired Jim as Chief Research Scientist and moved the lab and Jim to the company’s research facility in Salt Lake City, Utah in 1988. Jim’s mandate was to develop a biological process for processing low-grade gold ore in which the gold was locked in a sulfide mineral; the objective was to biooxidize the sulfide, exposing the micron-sized gold particles for subsequent extraction with dilute cyanide solution.

Corale followed Jim to Salt Lake City, taking a year off to manage the wind-down of Advanced Mineral Technologies, form a new company, VistaTech Partnership Ltd., to house the patents and co-edit a book, Microbial Mineral Recovery, with a colleague. In 1990 Newmont Mining Corporation hired Corale as Chief of Environmental Process Development. The job involved work at several legacy mine sites to manage acid rock drainage and contaminated waste rock and soils. Just 18 month after being hired the position was abolished when Newmont was forced to lay-off a number of employees during the “Sir Jimmy Goldsmith era of corporate raiding”.

In late 1991 Corale found herself looking for a new job. She was offered positions at several Department of Energy labs; however, her desire was to remain affiliated with the mining sector. Contacts with mining companies always led to the same response: “we aren’t interested in hiring you full time, but we have a strong interest in bioleaching and need some consulting advice”. Mining company and DOE contacts resulted in a steady stream of consulting work – so much work in fact there wasn’t time to look for a real job. Thus began a consulting career and the founding of Brierley Consultancy, which continues today. However, consulting presented a new problem. Jim and Corale had always collaborated on R&D and were long accustomed to bouncing technical ideas off each other. Now Jim was working on proprietary technology for Newmont and Corale was consulting on bioleaching technology, often under confidentiality agreements, for what could be considered Newmont’s competitors. Suddenly, communication between Jim and Corale on technical matters ceased.

In 1996 Newmont moved their research laboratory to the new Malezemoff Technical Facility in Englewood, Colorado where Jim continued with development of the company’s bioheap pretreatment for refractory sulfidic gold ores. This research led to a number of patents and publications and the commercial application of the technology at the Gold Quarry Mine in Nevada.

With the relocation from Salt Lake City to Highlands Ranch, Colorado, Corale continued her consulting work. In the mid-1990s there was strong interest in heap bioleaching crushed, secondary copper ores in northern Chile and Australia and biooxidation of sulfidic gold ores and concentrates, which led to a constant stream of consulting work throughout the world. Teaching short courses in conjunction with mining organizations provided the perfect venue to secure consulting clients among mining companies and financial institutions. Corale was inducted in 1999 as a member of the U.S. National Academy of Engineering for "innovations applying biotechnology to mine production and remediation". Academy membership is among the highest professional distinctions accorded an engineer and honors those who have demonstrated unusual accomplishment in the pioneering of new and developing fields of technology.

Jim retired from Newmont as Chief Research Scientist for Biohydrometallurgy in 2001, joined Corale’s consulting company and was inducted in 2002 as member of the U.S. National Academy of Engineering for “recognizing the potential of high-temperature biomining, and for innovative industrial biomining practices”. Once again Jim and Corale were able to seek each other’s advice on technical matters.

Many of the technical papers Jim and Corale published individually and together over the decades became the basis for the bioleaching technologies applied commercially today for copper and gold recovery. About 18-20% of the world’s copper is now produced using heap bioleaching of secondary copper ores and about 3% of the global gold production stems from the bacterial pretreatment of sulfidic-gold concentrates followed by cyanidation of the biooxidized residues.

Jim and Corale have received many professional awards over their long careers and both remain professionally active, providing consulting services to the mining and financial sectors, presenting papers and short courses, reviewing submissions for technical journals, and chairing and serving on committees and boards for the National Research Council and the U.S. National Academy of Engineering (NAE). After serving 5 years on the NAE council, Corale was elected in 2014 as NAE Vice-President to embark on yet another professional chapter.

Jim (2nd left) and Corale with Pieter Van Aswegen and Jan Van Niekerk at Biohydromet '14


Monday, 25 August 2014

Where are SAG mills going?

In our recent conversation, Prof. Alban Lynch was very sceptical about where semi-autogenous grinding (SAG) mills have gone, and thinks they have taken us along the wrong track. He feels that they may be attractive in terms of high productivity, but says that "their energy efficiency is poor, and I feel that these immense machines are going to turn into very large ball mills".  Developments in fine crushing machines may turn out to be viable alternatives to SAG mills.

Interesting, as in a recent article in Mining Magazine (July/August 2014, pp. 27), Kurt O'Bryan of Weir Minerals says that, although SAG mills have been around for over 40 years, the demand to process more ore in less time is a key factor in where comminution trends are heading.  He says that "SAG mills have to be bigger to meet these demands. Some are up to 12.1-12.8 m in diameter in order to handle the higher tonnages, and the size of these mills makes them harder to install and operate efficiently".

He says that Weir is seeing a rise in demand for larger cone crushers that are matched with large high pressure grinding rolls (HPGRs) 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. O'Bryan also explains that "the interparticle comminution inherent in the HPGR process is uniquely efficient relative to other forms of comminution in crushing or milling".

So what do the operators think? Do you have problems with SAG mills, and how do you view their future? Is finer crushing a viable alternative? And no doubt the manufacturers will have something to say?