Process engineering - extraction

This year has seen some of the lowest metal prices in a decade and job cuts across the sector, but could 2015 still be regarded as a good year for process engineering? Let’s look at some of the positives.

  • The old way may not cut it any more, so new and more efficient processes start getting looked at instead of being cast aside as ‘too risky’ just because they are new
  • Technology and cost improvements in the energy storage sector is reinvigorating growth for segments of the minerals industry such as lithium and vanadium
  • Companies focussed on cash flow should be keen to improve recoveries
  • Companies focussed on lower operating costs should provide engineers the chance to make things better

Can anyone share have a positive news story about lowering operating costs or lifting recovery in an operating mine this year?

For new process engineering good news, a quick look through The Simulus Group’s work this year provides some further success stories for new process technology:

  • Altech Chemicals are steaming ahead with the production of high purity alumina (HPA) from kaolin feedstock. HPA is the feedstock for sapphire crystals for unbreakable smart phone screens and is also used in lithium ion batteries.
  • KellTech are waiting for the completion of a pilot run to complete development of Kell process; a way to replace energy hungry and capital intensive smelting in the platinum industry
  • Audalia Resources are close to completing their PFS for titanium and vanadium processing via an integrated hydromet flowsheet at their Medcalf project

The vanadium/ titanium space there’s great work being done on a range of processes, each with its own strengths and weaknesses and some more suited to one project than another. Overall there is a real chance of a couple of these projects getting off the ground and providing vanadium into the battery market and titanium into the pigment market. As mining costs are relatively low and geology simple, process engineering will be the key to their success…. and attracting $700M to $1.5B in capital!

For existing operations, the iron ore producers are leading the way in cost reduction, but to get a true measure of the improvements people should look at local dollar costs to take out the currency impact and also consider the drop in the oil price.

Most savings in gold company operating costs are also currency and oil price related according to some analysts; see http://marketrealist.com/2015/06/possible-gold-miners-cut-costs/.

So it seems the new projects are looking to adopt new process technologies but stories of process engineering improvements for operating plants aren’t as widely available as one might expect in the current environment.

Can anyone share have a positive news story about lowering operating costs or lifting recovery in an operating mine this year?

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