This morning I welcomed the 123 delegates from 21 countries to Process Mineralogy '12. This is the second conference in this series, and despite the recent problems on the South African mines, has attracted a record attendance and nine sponsors. This is not surprising, as process mineralogy should be of major interest to every modern mineral processor.
Three months ago I spent a day on the Nchanga mine in Zambia, my first visit since I left there nearly 40 years ago. While discussing the operations with the metallurgical staff I was interested to hear that the main copper losses from the mine were due to chalcocite. Why this was particularly interesting was that 40 years ago, despite the broad suite of minerals in the ore, there would have been no mention of a mineral, all losses being reported by chemical assay as acid soluble or acid insoluble copper. Process mineralogy was something which apparently did not exist- we did not even have a microscope on the concentrator.
Now that ores have become more complex and refractory, knowledge of process mineralogy is essential on every mine, and the tools with which we analyse the behaviour of mineral assemblages have by need become increasingly sophisticated (and expensive!). So we have a lot to look forward to over the next three days, with case studies from various operations, the emergence of new technologies, such as tomography, and the continued development of geometallurgy, the science of integrating geology and mineralogy with mineral processing and extraction.
|With Megan Becker|
This morning's keynote lecture, presented by Dr. Wolfgang Baum, of FLSmidth, USA, set the scene perfectly for the day's papers on process case studies. Entitled "Ore characterization, process mineralogy and lab automation - a roadmap for future mining" he looked at the upstream requirements of process mineralogy in the future. Some mineralogical and chemical laboratories are making the step change toward automation, but the use of automated mineral analysis and high-throughput mineralogical ore profiling in production requires a faster pace. Cross belt neutron analyzers, over-the-belt NIR and, eventually, on-line XRD systems will become important for competitive ore processing. The mines of the future may be outfitted with down-hole probes and on-site automated mineralogy modules. Robust and rigorous use of automated laboratories and cross-belt technology will be the new frontier for process mineralogy.
|With Byron Bezuidenhout (South Africa), Musarrat Safi (South Africa), |
Friederike Minz (Sweden) and Tobias Salge (Germany) who were presenting
papers for the first time at an international conference
Thursday November 8th
The rapid development in sophisticated mineralogical techniques was highlighted in today's papers, led by an excellent keynote lecture by Prof. Jan Miller, of the University of Utah, who set the scene by showing how X-ray tomography has progressed from the late 20th century to the present day. He stressed that appropriate education and training of young scientists in this area is necessary to develop the advanced skills for future development and applications. What is encouraging in this respect is the high proportion of young people attending the conference, which bodes well for the future.
|The FEI booth|
Major changes in recent years include developments in the technical capabilities of automated mineralogy and associated techniques, and the growth in the number of instrument manufacturers.
This is the first time that the Czech company TESCAN has attended an MEI Conference, and their sponsorship of this one highlights how they are building a reputation in designing, manufacturing and selling scanning electron microscopes and system solutions for different applications, currently having over 1300 SEM installations in more than 60 countries.
|At the TESCAN booth|
Oxford Instruments is another company sponsoring an MEI Conference for the first time. Building on more than 20 years of experience in Scanning Electron Microscope-based Mineral Liberation Analysis, the company is exhibiting INCAMineral, an Automated Mineral Liberation Analysis solution
for multipurpose SEMs. This combines the functionality expected from a dedicated automated mineralogy system with the flexibility of a SEM.
|Demonstration of MineraLogic|
Friday 9th November
Geometallurgy was the theme of the 10 papers presented in this morning's session, which included two presentations on rare earths beneficiation from South Africa's Mintek and conference sponsor SGS.
|The SGS booth|
|At the PANalytical booth|
|The Bruker AXS booth|
and final farewells.
All 57 papers presented at the conference are available on CD from MEI.