With resource shortages and declining ore grades among the
chief challenges facing the industrial minerals industry today,
more advanced processing technologies are required to maximise
recovery rates and facilitate higher throughput.
This was the broad consensus at the annual SME meeting in
Denver this week, one of the world's largest exhibitions
dedicated to mineral processing.
Speakers from corporations, universities and consulting firms
focused on the topic of innovation in processing and the need
for constant improvements in technical services to meet
increasing pressures in the sector.
Global leaders in the industry such as Outotec and FL Smidth
said that processors had shifted from looking at existing
technology and working out improvements, to asking themselves
what problems needed to be addressed from a users point
of view, and developing their technology accordingly.
Dr Patrick Taylor, director of the Kroll Institute for
Extractive Metallurgy expert from the US' Colorado School of
Mines, said that most advances in the field of resource
recovery could be attributed to the need for reduced operating
costs through improved productivity.
The need to treat more complex feed materials, plus the
requirement to comply with environmental standards were also
driving processors to develop their technology, and this was
being helped by a better understanding of the fundamental
physical chemistry of many elements, Taylor said.
Sorting and separation
Wolfgang Baum, ore characterisation lab director at global
technology firm FL Smidth, told delegates that lower grade,
finer grained and harder ores along with mushrooming costs for
power and construction materials had transformed the view and
use of mineralogy during the last 20 years.
"Mineralology has become equally as critical as analytical
chemistry and metallurgical testing," Baum said.
In addition to robotic particle separation, automated mineral
analysers and increasing use of x-ray and infrared technology,
laser spectroscopy and nuclear magnetic resonance were
initiating more innovative transformations in ore
characterisation and plant control, Baum added.
According to Professor Stephen Grano, director of the
Institute of Mineral and Energy Resources at the University of
Adelaide, Australia, improvements in characterisation
technology over the last 30 years have enhanced understanding
of what factors contribute to inefficiency in separation and
He said that an appreciation of inefficiency had led
designers of mineral processing plants to target minimisation
of wastefulness, and that this design concept was being applied
in tandem with better technologies to improve results for
separation and flotation on a global scale.
Independent processing consultant Bo Arvidson said that mineral
processing functions such as ore sorting, magnetic separation,
filtration and flotation are no longer niche application
technologies but broad-based solutions for a wide variety of
Entrepreneurial innovation in the second half of the 20th
century coupled with commercial muscle power from established
engineering and equipment firms meant that ore sorting and
separation had become highly sophisticated, multi-billion
dollar industries, he said.
He added that mineral processing had overcome misconceptions
associated with high costs and the restriction of technology to
selected, high value applications to become an entrepreneurial,
The willingness to take risks, and the acceptance that
sheer ignorance can play a role in new developments have helped
take mineral processing through a generational shift in the
last two decades, Arvidson said.
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