The SME Annual Meeting in February was held this year for the first time in Seattle. This is an event I have attended regularly since the late 80s, as it is one of the great meeting places. Together with its huge exhibition, it also has a multitude of technical sessions on all aspects of the minerals industry, in a bewildering array of parallel sessions, as well as various receptions, symposia, awards ceremonies, workshops etc.
|At the exhibition with David Wiseman|
|Peter Amelunxen and Dave Meadows with|
Courtney Young (centre)
There was a record turnout at MEI’s Comminution ’12 in Cape Town in April. This was the 8th in the series, and was attended by 253 delegates from 30 countries.
|Early morning at the Vineyard Hotel Conference Centre|
I spoke of the quiet revolution which has been taking place since the end of the last century. Autogenous and semi-autogenous milling have become more prominent, and high-pressure grinding rolls are now playing an ever increasing role, as are stirred mills, the latter allowing the exploitation of ultra-fine grained ores which had hitherto been impossible to economically treat. This revolution continues, so that comminution circuits today are very much different to those of the mid-20th century with their parallel lines of small ball mill-cyclones. People are still very much aware of the energy consumed in comminution, but are now prepared to really do something about it. The papers presented at the conference, including the two keynotes, were of very high quality and we had a very full programme. However there was also time to relax in the evenings, which included a very entertaining and informal dinner at the Gold Restaurant in the centre of Cape Town.
|Dinner at the Gold Restaurant|
|Relaxing at Fish River Lodge, southern Namibia|
It was another record attendance for this, the 6th MEI conference on biohydrometallurgy.
|Biohydromet '12 delegates at Swanpool Beach, Falmouth|
|With Chinese delegates at Biohydromet '12|
|In the Eden Project Mediterranean biome|
A few days after Biohydromet ’12 Barbara and I took the car ferry from Plymouth to Santander in northern Spain, and then the short drive to the Picos de Europa, one of Europe’s last mountain wilderness areas. It is a highly recommended walking area, many of the trails between the jagged peaks, in the deep canyons, and around the glacial lakes providing complete solitude and spectacular scenery.
Forty years ago I worked on the Nchanga copper mine in Zambia. In August, Barbara and I returned to Chingola for a nostalgic week visiting the town and the mine. And how things have changed; the once magnificent infrastructure of the Copperbelt has almost vanished, and what was once a pleasant drive from Lusaka to Chingola was now a gruelling 7 hours, mainly due to the awful state of the Copperbelt roads. Nevertheless it was a very enjoyable week, mainly due to the very friendly people that we met, not the least the very impressive Zambian metallurgists who spent a day with me on the concentrator and tailings leach plant.
|Sulphide flotation and concentrate dewatering, West Mill|
|With Tailings Leach Plant metallurgists|
|With Tim Napier-Munn|
|With Jon and Amanda in New Delhi|
The event was very well organised and it was evident that the IMPC had encouraged as many students as possible to attend the meeting. This is highly commendable, and it was really good to meet these young people at the MEI booth.
We were back in Cape Town in November for three MEI conferences. In introducing the first one, Process Mineralogy ’12, I had the pleasure of presenting the inaugural MEI Young Person’s Award to Peter Amelunxen, of Aminpro, Chile.
Process Mineralogy ’12 was the second conference in this series, and despite the recent problems on the South African mines, attracted a record attendance of 123 delegates from 21 countries, and nine sponsors. How things have changed since my time in Zambia forty years ago, where we did not even have a microscope on the concentrator, despite the suite of economic copper minerals in the ore.
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!). Over the intensive three days of the conference, we had 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.
|Enjoying the sunshine at Process Mineralogy '12.....|
|...and the conference dinner in Cape Town|
|Jon on the lower slopes of Lion's Head|
|On the summit of Lion's Head|
Precious Metals ’12 was attended by 51 delegates representing 11 countries. Numbers were slightly down on previous years, mainly due to the violent wildcat strikes in the South African platinum mines, which led to killings and destruction of infrastructure, and only three delegates from the platinum sector were at the conference.
Two excellent keynote lectures highlighted the squeeze on the gold and PGM industries, and the conference brought together highly motivated delegates who discussed innovative technology which will bring economic benefits. There has been an 11% increase in gold production since 2004, but although the gold price has risen markedly there has been a 155% increase in production costs since 2005, so the profit margins are not as high as many people might think. The same applies to PGM ores, where profit margins are extremely low despite high platinum prices. This year has been particularly drastic, and many South African mines are now non-profitable, some running at high losses due to factors such as very high electricity costs, and frequent power cuts, as well as very high mining costs due to deep mining.
Precious Metals ’12 was followed by Nickel Processing ’12, the 3rd in the series of what are MEI’s smallest conferences, but which always attract high quality delegates and papers. This year, 35 delegates representing 8 countries attended, and the first day concentrated on laterite processing and the innovative technologies that are being developed to attempt to address the current processing issues, including some that are in their early stages of development.
|Nickel Processing '12 delegates|
|Relaxing in Camp's Bay......|
|...then back to the flooded south-west England landscape|
It has been another interesting year with MEI, and we now look forward to 2013. On behalf of all the ‘MEI family’ I wish you all a very happy New Year and we look forward to catching up with as many of you as possible during our travels around the world.