It was only five years ago that Australia’s Institute of Mining and Metallurgy (AusIMM) held the First AusIMM International Geometallurgy Conference (GeoMet), focussed on geometallurgical research and best practice. The “rapidly developing field [and approach] … has become increasingly recognised as an activity that reflects the modern trend towards efficient project evaluation, mine optimisation and risk management”, according to the institute.
“With more complex and often refractory orebodies being evaluated and exploited, efficient risk and uncertainty reduction becomes corporately more critical.”
Dr Simon Dominy, internationally respected expert in the field and Third AusIMM GeoMet chair, says geometallurgical practice and research continues to advance worldwide as operators, and purchasers of mineral deposits, get to grips with lower-grade, increasingly metallurgically complex orebodies and situations where grade and metallurgy variability creates uncertainty that affects asset values and investment decisions.
“Rightly or wrongly,” he says, “throughputs are increasing and profit margins decreasing.
“Financial risk is also increasing [and of course] mining project risk needs to be carefully managed for projects to attract funding.”
Dominy says to make projects viable in uncertain times it’s vital there are no shocks across the life-of-mine. “Geometallurgy aims to define and manage these surprises,” he says.
Dominy this week told Mining Magazine from his office in Surrey, UK, that geometallurgy was playing a bigger part in improving site stakeholder collaboration. It helped create a platform for knowledge sharing and better data acquisition and interrogation, with the end result being the integration of the data into mine planning and scheduling.
“All of these aspects create better business optimisation, better utilisation of staff and better targeted key performance indicators,” he said.
“Classical geometallurgy is the collaboration between geology (mineralogy) and metallurgy, with one discipline supplying the other with information and vice versa for a better understanding of the deposit and ore character. Modern geometallurgy now includes all site stakeholders throughout the entire mining value chain. Understanding the data from grassroots onwards can be integrated into construction (infrastructure), business, financial and human resource forecasting, allowing the optimisation of every stage along the value chain.
“If there is an opportunity to employ a geometallurgist or generate geometallurgical data, you are on the right track to understanding your ore character, the processing efficiency of those ores and the knock-on effects downstream.”
While ‘modern’ geometallurgy includes statistics and modelling, it also helps to highlight patterns within data that in turn produce useful information. Traditionally used more in the development of large multi-million-tonne deposits, it is increasingly being applied to smaller deposits.
The process of ore variability testing for metallurgical response, and the use of quick, inexpensive metallurgical proxies, has progressed in the past decade. Technology also continues to advance, with techniques such as hand-held analytical tools and automated core scanning increasing the speed and lowering costs of in-situ testing.
But adequate funding to generate reliable, statistically representative, quality data for high-confidence processes and business improvement projects is obviously still key.
“Geometallurgy … is not a ‘quick fix’ – [it’s] a long-term commitment to adding value,” Dominy said.
Majors to take centre stage
Rio Tinto principal geologist Mark Paine and Anglo American head of exploration and geosciences John Vann lead a distinguished group of keynote speakers who will address the Third AusIMM International Geometallurgy Conference (GeoMet 2016) in Perth, Western Australia, from June 14-16.
Vann will give his insights into strategic versus tactical geometallurgy. Paine will focus on geomet applications within Rio Tinto Iron Ore.
University of Adelaide professor of mining and engineering, Peter Dowd will pose questions about the adequacy of current industry approaches; the development of hydrometallurgical processes to help metal recovery from deposits with significant geometallurgical variation is the focus of professor Jacques Eksteen’s address (extractive metallurgy chair at the Western Australia School of Mines); and University of Exeter Rio Tinto professor of mining and minerals engineering, professor Hylke Glass will switch attention to industrial minerals geomet applications.
“Professor Eksteen will talk about a potentially new metal recovery method that may be able to accommodate large variations on leachability,” conference chair Simon Dominy said.
“And Dr Gavin Mudd from Monash University will provide a more sustainable mining view, but in particular flag the potentially economic metals tied up in tailings storage facilities (TSF) and the need for these to be properly evaluated via the geometallurgical approach.”
Organiser the AusIMM has lined up 32 other conference presentations and says the accompanying exhibition is a sell-out.
Dominy said topical discussion areas would be TSF-bound resources, effective inclusion of acid rock drainage prediction into geomet models, advanced 3D mineralogical characterisation, automated core scanning, and optimised processing strategies ranging from ore pre-concentration and sorting, to underground processing plants and modular, transportable processing options.
“A highlight is that we have a good number of case study presentations from across the world, including Australia, Chile, Colombia, Peru, Papua New Guinea and Russia,” he said.
“The case studies highlight the significance of a geometallurgical practice and how it helps to improve a business’s bottom line.”