Monday, 19 February 2018

Recycling: minerals engineering's greatest challenge

Whether it be plastics or metals, recycling is very much in the news these days. And so it should be, as it is a crucial area of the move towards a circular economy, where nothing is wasted (although thermodynamics teaches us that this is impossible), and at the end of the life of a commodity, the constituent components are recycled back into the closed loop.
Minerals engineering will play a leading role in attempting to make the throw away society, the linear economy, obsolete and our Sustainable Minerals '18 conference in Namibia in June will focus on the efforts that mineral processors and extractive metallurgists are making to reduce wastes, reprocess existing wastes, and the greatest challenge of them all, recycling.
Recycling is viewed by many as the panacea of sustainability. Once an article has reached the end of its useful life, you take it to a municipal waste centre, and it is recycled for further use. This is fine for products made from a single material such as glass, which can be melted down and reused, or for certain metals which are used in their native form, such as copper. Although the demand for copper is such that over 20 million tonnes of the metal is produced each year from primary orebodies, around 50% of the copper that is used in Europe is recycled and the energy required to recycle copper is roughly 85% less than from primary production.
However when metals are alloyed with other metals or non-metals, recycling becomes much more challenging due to complex functional material linkages.   A United  Nations Environment Program (UNEP) report on metal recycling includes a great analogy: imagine making your morning coffee. With the right tools, it’s easy to combine the water, coffee, milk and sugar to create your drink (similar to a linear economy). But if you had to separate it again into the original four ingredients (as required by a circular economy), that would be rather challenging.
If the metals and other elements are in tiny amounts in a device, then the problem becomes even more complex, and perhaps the greatest recycling challenge is that of recovering metals from waste electrical and electronic equipment (WEEE), (electric) vehicles and other complex high-tech products. Each year the world generates some 50 million tons of electronic waste, ranging from batteries to mobile phones, computers etc, and although such devices may have been discarded, they are not without value—the United Nations recently estimated the total worth of all that e-waste at $55 billion, thanks largely to the trace amounts of gold, silver, and other metals they contain.
Some of these metals, such as germanium and gallium, are dependent on their primary production on base metal mining, from which they are by-products. Indium, now critical to our modern lifestyle, is the most important ingredient, as an indium-tin oxide,  in the production of ubiquitous touch screens. Indium is produced in small amounts from the mining of Zn ores, and the sheer number of smart phones, tablets etc. produced each year requires around 700 tonnes per year of indium. Recent estimates however, suggest that total reserves are around 16,000 tonnes, so it is a very finite resource, and great efforts are being made to recycle it and other "Hi-Tech Metals", as will be discussed by Prof. Jens Gutzmer at Hi-Tech Metals '18 in Cape Town in November.
It is unfortunate that the working philosophy of most mobile phone manufacturers is planned obsolescence,  the average smartphone life cycle in Britain now being under two years and the number of mobile phone users in the world is expected to pass the five billion mark by 2019. A smart phone contains around half the elements of the periodic table, so global efforts are needed to improve the design of components in electrical and electronic equipment to facilitate reuse and recycling and the better recovery of precious metals.
One mobile phone manufacturer which is taking a lead on this is the Dutch company Fairphone, who is taking steps to increase the life of its Fairphone 2, and has enlisted the help of two world experts on recycling, simulation and life-cycle assessment to assess the best way of recycling the phone to recover the maximum amount of contained metals. Dr. Antoinette van Schaik, of MARAS BV, The Netherlands, and Prof. Markus Reuter, the Director of the Helmholtz Institute for Resource Technology, Germany, have worked together for many years on the simulation of recycling systems, including life-cycle assessment and the circular economy (linking product design with physical and metallurgical processing). Markus is MEI's consultant for the Sustainable Minerals conferences, and he was recently awarded the degree of Doctor of Engineering (DEng), honoris causa, by his alma  mater, The University of Stellenbosch, for his outstanding contributions to the science and technology of the production and recycling of metals, as well as to the integration of academic research and practice. His work on recycling, design for recycling, and resource efficiency has contributed towards the creation of processes and tools to develop a sustainable society.
van Schaik and Reuter
Antoinette and Markus used simulation software designed by Sustainable Minerals '18 sponsor Outotec to create models of how all the different elements, alloys, plastics and materials associations in the Fairphone 2 behave in the best recycling technologies available today and which existing techniques could offer the highest recovery rates. Markus will present and discuss their findings at Sustainable Minerals '18. The basis of this work has been published in Minerals Engineering over the years and has now found its path into Outotec’s HSC Sim, considering uniquely the full “mineral” properties of products and scrap to understand how these pass through physical separation and metallurgical processing systems of the Circular Economy.
Recycling and innovative new business models are without doubt society's greatest challenges, and mineral processing and extractive metallurgy will be at the forefront of meeting these challenges, so please do join us in Namibia in June for Sustainable Minerals '18, which runs back to back with Biohydrometallurgy '18, also very much involved with the move towards the circular economy. Then in Cape Town in November, Hi-Tech Metals '18 will present the latest developments in the primary and secondary processing of the metals which are now essential elements of our modern society.
Events not to be missed by progressive modern minerals engineers!
Twitter @barrywills

Sunday, 18 February 2018

Minneapolis 2018 is only a week away

The 2018 SME Annual Conference and Expo begins next week in Minneapolis, and I look forward to being there and reporting on mineral processing people, news and innovation.
This is one of the industry's great meeting places and I never have a particular agenda, spending most of my time strolling around the many exhibits and basically seeing what happens.
So if you are in Minneapolis next week and have any involvement with mineral processing and extractive metallurgy, please let me know and we can arrange a time to meet and hopefully highlight your news in my report, which will be published on the blog no later than Monday 5th March.
Updates on the meeting can be found on Twitter at #SME2018ACE.
Twitter @barrywills

Friday, 16 February 2018

Memories of Comminution '98

The 11th in the series of international comminution conferences, Comminution '18, begins in Cape Town in 2 months' time. The first in the series was held 29 years ago at the School of Mines in Camborne, and the only available photo is that below. Can anyone supply any names?
Barry Wills (centre) and Phil Newall (2nd right) of CSM, with Trelleborg delegates at Comminution '89
The 2nd in the series commenced 20 years ago today in Brisbane, Australia. Organised by CSM Associates, Camborne School of Mines, Minerals Engineering journal, Mining Journal Ltd, the JKMRC, and the Comminution Center, University of Utah, it was sponsored by Eriez Magnetics, Australia and Warman International. Below are a few photos taken at the event.
Peter King, BW and Tim Napier-Munn

John Mosher and friend, Jannie van Deventer, BW and J-P Franzidis

With Barbara Wills, Joan Oliver of CSM Associates, and
Linda Shimmield, secretary of CSM Association
 Twitter @barrywills

Thursday, 15 February 2018

The Journey from Mineralogy through Validation to Control and Optimisation

With on-site automated mineralogy, increased computing speed and ruggedised sensors the dream of monitoring and controlling mineral processing plants using mineralogy rather than chemistry is fast becoming a reality.
Current mineralogical analysis allows users to determine the mineralogical composition of mineral samples, indicate mineral associations and mineral particle sizes. This data enables an initial evaluation of the sample, giving indicative liberation sizes and possible mineral recoveries and grades. This data is augmented with targeted laboratory trials to validate predictive models and linking metallurgy to mineralogy. In conjunction with advanced sensors and control software this then enables monitoring, controlling and optimising the process in real time.
The combination of initial analysis, through validation to model development and final implementation via a “Big Data” platform brings the opportunity for plants to maximise their financial gains by maintaining operations at near optimal conditions. This will be the basis of a free seminar, immediately prior to Comminution '18, on 15th April at the Vineyard Hotel, Cape Town, hosted by conference sponsor Grinding Solutions Ltd, showing the journey that Grinding Solutions and their partners Zeiss, iMin Solutions and IntelliSense.io believe is the future.
This is an open event catering for both MEI Comminution ‘18 conference attendees and any other industry professionals and follows on from a very successful mineral processing seminar hosted in Portugal in September 2017.
The Grinding Solutions seminar in Portugal in September 2017
Further information on the presentations will be available nearer to the time following sign-up and will also be available on the Grinding Solutions Website.
Twitter @barrywills

Tuesday, 13 February 2018

Mighty Metso continues its support of MEI Conferences

Metso is well known to all in the minerals industry. It is a world-leading industrial company, with operations in 50 countries and 12,000 dedicated professionals, offering equipment and services for the sustainable processing and flow of natural resources in the mining, aggregates, recycling and process industries.
So we welcome the company's confirmation of sponsorship of Comminution '18 and Flotation '19, the 5th time that Metso has sponsored each of these conference series in Cape Town.
Current Comminution '18 sponsors

Current Flotation '19 sponsors

Monday, 12 February 2018

A Rising Star: Martin Rudolph

Dr. Martin Rudolph is a very worthy addition to our Rising Stars series. He has presented noteworthy papers at the past three MEI Flotation Conferences, where he has impressed us with his enthusiasm and professionalism. For over two years he has been a very conscientious reviewer for Minerals Engineering papers, and it was an easy decision to appoint him as one of the six Assistant Editors for the new-look journal (posting of 22 January).
Martin Rudolph (right) receiving a best poster award at Flotation '17,
on behalf of two of his PhD students
Martin is 34 years old, and was born close to the city of Karl-Marx-Stadt (now Chemnitz) in the former German Democratic Republic. He is Head of the Processing Department at the Helmholtz Institute for Resource Technology (HIF) of the Helmholtz-Zentrum Dresden-Rossendorf (HZDR) a federal non-university research organization where he is also a principal investigator. He joined HIF in April 2012 shortly after it was founded as the national centre for resource technology research. He is also a lecturer at the TU Bergakademie Freiberg.
At Elfusa, Brazil, 2006
In 2003 Martin enrolled at the TU Bergakademie Freiberg, the oldest mining academy in the world, in the diploma course in Process Engineering and would later specialise in Particle Technology after one year of mandatory military service with the medical corps.  As part of his studies, in 2006 he spent three months as an intern for mineral processing in Sao Joao da Boa Vista, Brazil with the company Elfusa. He then spent six months at the company Heidelberger Druckmaschinen in Heidelberg, Germany and studied particle adhesion effects, and was awarded by the company in 2007 for his work.
He finished his studies as a Dipl.-Ing. which is equivalent to an M.Sc,  his diploma thesis being with the Fraunhofer Institute of Nondestructive Testing on the dispersion of Detonation-synthesized Nanodiamonds (DNDs) in Aqueous Suspension for the synthesis of highly stable colloidal dispersion, which he achieved with a planetary ball mill. Although he meant to continue with Fraunhofer as a PhD student, in 2008 Prof. Urs Peuker from the University Karlsruhe and TU Clausthal was appointed to the TU Bergakademie Freiberg to lead the famous Institute of Mechanical Process Engineering and Mineral Processing, lead by Prof. Heinrich Schubert. Martin had developed a special interest in nanoparticle systems and interfacial phenomena and Prof. Peuker had a wonderful project which he was then working on. The project, funded by the German Research Foundation, offered Martin a lot freedom to develop his interest in interfaces and colloidal systems, and Urs Peuker became his PhD supervisor. His PhD on “Nanoparticle-Polymer-Composites the solution and spray drying process with an emphasis on colloidal interactions” was defended in December 2012.
Martin with Urs after he defended his thesis with the highest distinction “summa cum laude
Martin being pulled through the streets of Freiberg by his PhD supervisor Urs
Martin published and presented many papers as a PhD student and received the first prize in the International Young Scientist Competition in St. Petersburg, Russia at the Gornyi Institute (Mining Institute) in April 2012, in the section of nanotechnologies.
Originally he and his wife had intended to spend some time in the US as Post-Docs but their son was born in 2011 and he took the offer from his supervisor to become one of the first engineers in the newly founded HIF.
I asked Martin what had inspired him to take up a career in mineral processing and he said that at first he was interested in the process of flotation because of his experience in interfacial phenomena and using modern interface analytical tools such as atomic force microscopy or inverse gas chromatography, this being the main focus of the processing department of the newly founded HIF, which he built up with the help of a few students. He discovered how important Freiberg had been in mineral processing, and especially in flotation, with Prof. Heinrich Schubert at TU Bergakademie Freiberg and Dr. Hans Joachim Schulze at the Freiberg Mineral Research Institut, the Forschungs-Institut Aufbereitungstechnik (FIA) of the East German Academy of Sciences, later with the Max Planck Foundation. He found that the processing issues for the beneficiation of fine particles and especially the complex mineral systems was so much more fascinating than the “clean” synthetic nanoparticle systems he had been dealing with before. He was also pleased to stumble into a truly interdisciplinary team of geologists, mathematicians, metallurgists, biologists, physicists and chemists at HIF and the HZDR, opening many opportunities to develop innovative ideas and to thoroughly study the micro-processes in mineral processing. Even more, he realised how important and critical their work is when he began to appreciate the societal need for understanding metalliferous resources, especially with our complex high tech products these days. With that understanding he has a strong motivation to produce a  positive impact on the world through improving technology and at the same time dealing with unresolved questions of science, such as hydrophobic interactions.
In his early days as a mineral processing scientist he initiated a fruitful dialogue at the IMPC 2012 in New Delhi between Prof. Jan Miller, of the University of Utah, and Prof. Roe-Hoan Yoon, of Virginia Tech, when Jan was presenting molecular dynamic results and a gap between a hydrophobic surface and condensed water, which ended with several people in the audience openly philosophising about the nature of hydrophobic interactions, so crucial in flotation and so poorly understood. Later he continued such discussion with Roe-Hoan, who was visiting Freiberg in 2013. The next highlight was his very first MEI flotation conference, Flotation '13 in Cape Town, where "I fell in love with a wonderful mineral processing community which I more and more got into in the following years".
In April 2016 the HIF finally moved to the newly renovated building on the ground of the former FIA with "perfect laboratories and wonderful infrastructure". Martin's group has grown to two technical assistants and ten PhD students and they are currently seeking a PostDoc and another technical assistant to run the MLA and QEMSCAN analyses in mineral processing.
With Particle Technology students, 2008
Last year the group started a bioflotation project together with AMTC in Santiago Chile (Willy Kracht’s group) that created much public interest. Furthermore they have just completed their EU Horizon 2020 project OptimOre coordinated by UPC in Spain together with colleagues from Spain, the UK, Sweden and Freiberg where they have had the chance to study interesting tungsten and tantalum ores and also perform industrial tests with a mine and concentrator in Austria. In November a fundamental project started on the development of a new cell concept for the multi parameter fractionation (size, shape and wettability) of ultrafine synthetic and natural particles (below 10 ┬Ám) combining intensified turbulent flotation and foam fractionation.
The highlight of last year was a two month visiting scholarship with his family in Perth, Australia, where his wife Julia Walther (PhD in biomedical engineering) stayed at the University of Western Australia and Martin was at the Chemical Engineering Department of Curtin University, where he was able to study and model fundamental effects of the dynamic adsorption of special frother molecules and the influence of kosmotropic and chaotropic salts. He  also took the opportunity to visit Western Australia’s mining school in Kalgoorlie and the fascinating Superpit mine there.
With his family in Perth, 2017
I asked him what were his plans for the near future and his aspirations for the long term, and his near future plan is to write his second dissertation to be able to become a professor and to further develop the expertise of his group and the HIF.
Outside his work, Martin is very much a family man, spending his time outside work with his wife Julia and their six year old son and three year old daughter. He says "my family means a lot to me and having kids is by far the most important “project” of my life. In the summertime we keep a garden (community garden) with a nice cottage in the city forest of Dresden. For my personal pleasure I go running and participate in running events typically on the 10K or half marathon distance but in 2009 I successfully finished a full marathon (time: 03:18:30). Further interests of mine are photography, travelling the world (most memorably was three weeks through Iceland with my wife) and music, with a broad taste from singer/songwriter stuff to punk, hardcore and metal, regularly attending shows in small venues, singing along, dancing heavily and sweating at the end!"
Completing a half marathon in Dresden, 2017
Martin Rudolph is obviously a highly motivated scientist, who has his life-style priorities sorted out, and who I am sure we will hear much more of in the future. He is a true "Rising Star".
#Twitter @barrywills