Detective work solves zink smelter puzzle

THOROUGH detective work by CSIRO researchers has helped identify the cause of unusual brick degradation in a Tasmanian zinc smelter.

THOROUGH detective work by CSIRO researchers has helped identify the cause of unusual brick degradation in a Tasmanian zinc smelter.

Although the plant has been operating since the 1960s, the brick degradation was a relatively recent phenomenon.

“We used physical modelling, computational fluid dynamics, numerical modelling and our expertise in thermodynamics to investigate the case,” says Dr Seng Lim of CSIRO Minerals.

“Working closely with the company and using a range of approaches meant we were able to gain a clear understanding of what was happening in the roaster bed and within the roaster dome area.”

Dr Lim took this understanding – and a solution that had been tested and proven at CSIRO’s Clayton facilities – and presented it to current smelter owners Nyrstar. It was, he says, “a bit like Hercule Poirot unveiling his evidence.”

According to Nyrstar senior metallurgist Kevin Halbe, CSIRO’s work added a theoretical understanding to the company’s problem-solving process, making it much easier to find and implement the best solution.

Changing the way feed was added to the roaster bed resolved the problem and allowed plant production to return to previous levels.

The full story can be found in the February issue of Process, which will be released on Tuesday 12 February 2008.

A pdf of the magazine is available now at

Other stories in Process include: Step-by-step approach unblocks operation’s heart: Researchers investigating techniques for removing carbon fouling from gas outlet tubes discovered that the water-lancing technique being used ‘was a bit like squirting a garden hose into a tornado’.

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Raking in the benefits: Researchers working through the Parker Centre are looking at how factors such as the size, shape and spacing of rake blades can be modified to improve the performance of gravity thickeners.

Salty waste a potentially sweet deal: Techno-economic studies have shown that the concentrated brine generated by desalination plants could potentially be recovered and turned into valuable mineral salts.

Dr Seng Lim

CSIRO Minerals

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