Trends and challenges for technology in mineral processing

The mining industry is facing the need for unprecedented change in addressing the complexity of social, environmental, and technological demands.

The mining industry is facing the need for unprecedented change in addressing the complexity of social, environmental, and technological demands.

“For mining, it is anything but business as usual. The major commodities of copper, iron ore, and coal, and newer commodities such as lithium are in high demand.

“But as the ore grade declines, far more ore has to be mined and processed, increasing energy and water consumption, and potential environmental and social impacts. This has been especially evident in the production of copper, but will become much more the norm across all commodities over time,” says University of Newcastle, Laureate Professor, Kevin Galvin.

Trends and new technologies in mineral processing

The mining industry is experiencing strong demand for faster, cheaper, and more efficient separators, and new knowledge associated with how best to process more complex mineralogy.

High value – low grade ores, such as copper and gold, require very large mining operations, followed by energy intensive grinding of hard rock to release the valuable components so they can be recovered and concentrated. To tackle this, the industry has seen increased interest in technologies that can sort the rock to achieve early gangue rejection, both at the point of mining, through to the delivery of the ore at the front end of the mineral processing plant.

There is also strong interest in selective recovery and pre-concentration through gravity separation and flotation of coarse particles ahead of the grinding mill. Innovation in this area will see the proportion of the hard rock ground to ultrafine sizes greatly reduced, leading to reductions in energy and water consumption, and making the disposal of mine waste easier.

Challenges for new technologies

Advances in technology for mineral processing requires highly effective collaborations, involving the manufacturer who can develop and supply the technology, the engineering company who can make it happen and the end-user who has the need.

When looking at collaborations with various organisations, dysfunction over IP can be counterproductive. In the mining sector in particular, an organisation’s business objectives are cemented in the fact that they are best served by being first to market, as opposed to seeking outright ownership of the IP.

“For example, the first end-user to adopt the technology is the first to deploy the technology across its whole business, and therefore the major cumulative beneficiary, regardless of the IP ownership.

“While, the first engineering company to install the new technology attracts the lion’s share of the future business, they reduce the risk associated with adopting the new technology.

Whereas, manufacturers who invest in the development of the technology, need access to IP protection through licensing,” says Professor Galvin.

The custodians of the IP should ideally make the technology available globally through a manufacturer, and protect the technology from so-called shelving, a practice designed to maintain the status quo around existing competitive advantage associated with existing investments and know-how.

University of Newcastle, Laureate Professor, Kevin Galvin will be presenting on challenges in minerals processing and opportunities for the industry at this year’s AIMEX as part of the free to attend conference program, The Future of Mining. For more information and to register for AIMEX 2017, please visit www.aimex.com.au. 

University of Newcastle, Laureate Professor, Kevin Galvin

Kevin Galvin

Professor Galvin joined the University of Newcastle in 1993. Previously he spent 10 years with BHP Research and three years at Imperial College on a Commonwealth Scholarship. His primary research interests are in the phenomena of bubbles, drops and particles in the context of process systems. He invented a new separator termed the Reflux Classifier, developing the technology through an R&D Agreement with Ludowici Australia. Following a research breakthrough in 2008 the technology was re-designed in 2009 to promote the effects of a laminar shear mechanism, leading to rapid acceptance and up-take by industry. The technology attracted a number of national awards and led to exports and over 100 installations in more than ten countries. 

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