Saving mining’s millions

WHILE futuristic advances in telecommunications, vehicle technology and medical research are publicly heralded on a regular basis, a group of researchers is quietly saving the mining industry millions of dollars each year.

The AJ Parker Cooperative Research Centre for Hydro-metallurgy is estimated to be achieving benefits of between $10 million and $20 million a year by revisiting techniques to extract metals and metallic compounds from minerals, and investigating the fundamental scientific pro-cesses involved.

Chief executive officer Mark Woffenden said the centre offered fine-tuning to existing industry practices, improved plant operating efficiencies and provided the latest knowledge on leaching, thickening and crystallisation processes.

“We’re very much industry focused,” Mr Woffenden said.

Two outstanding examples of the centre’s application of increased understanding of scientific processes to the development of innovative industry technology have benefited the gold and alumina industries in particular.

Parker Centre researchers have looked at some crucial steps in the production of alumina, the slow crystallisation of alumina hydrate, the separation of solids and liquids in thickeners and the removal of impurities.

By studying the fundamentals of these processes, the scientists have been able to develop improved techniques and more efficient equipment. In particular, the centre has improved the efficiency of thickeners to increase the density of separated solids and better enable the recovery of water for recycling.

The gold industry also has benefited from the Parker Centre’s research into the role of cyanide in leaching gold. The centre has produced a cyanide analyser that can accurately measure the amount of cyanide available for leaching, improving control over the leaching process and maximising the amount of gold that can be recovered.

Centre researchers also are developing refractory sulphide ore treatments that may eradicate the use of cyanide in the extraction of gold. Other research may enable the recovery of significant amounts of gold from tailings dumps throughout Australia.

Mr Woffenden views these developments as typical of the Parker Centre’s unique function. “We not only look at where industry is now and its needs, but where it needs to be,” he said.

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