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:: Parker Centre III’s Research could Transform the Minerals Industry
The third incarnation of the Parker Centre, the Parker CRC for Integrated Hydrometallurgy Solutions, will begin extending its predecessors’ successful work for the minerals industry from July this year.
A new focus on developing breakthrough technologies to overcome current roadblocks identified by the industry could lead, for example, to innovative technologies for extracting alumina from bauxite ores containing high levels of silica. This breakthrough would potentially convert vast untapped bauxite deposits into valuable assets.
Another target, says CEO Mr Mark Woffenden, is a viable heap bioleaching process for treating low-grade chalcopyrite ores, a major copper resource, using microorganisms. A successful process would have a significant impact on the copper industry.
The new Centre’s research will also address industry’s need for advances in the understanding of the fundamental science controlling existing hydrometallurgical processes. "Incremental improvements in current production technologies can result in considerable financial benefits," says Mr Woffenden.
Technology transfer activities will be directed at effective adoption of research outputs by industry. The strong existing emphasis on increasing the skills base available to the minerals industry through education and training of university students and industry professionals will be broadened (in conjunction with TAFE Central) to include training for plant operators and supervisors. The new Parker Centre has been funded by the Australian Government’s CRC Programme to the tune of A$20 million over seven years.
Mr Woffenden says the funding will enable the Centre to contribute to maximising the returns from Australia’s mineral wealth whilst reducing the environmental impacts by developing the hydrometallurgy knowledge required to achieve these goals.
Ten minerals-related companies will join five research providers (CSIRO Minerals, Curtin University, Murdoch University, the University of Queensland and the WA Department of Industry and Resources) as core participants in the new Centre. The Centre will also include 11 supporting participants. The Centre will serve Australia’s three major hydrometallurgy market sectors: alumina, gold and base metals (particularly cobalt, copper, nickel and zinc). Hydrometallurgy plays an essential role in the production of these commodities, which together are worth A$15 billion per annum in exports. "The companies participating in the new Centre produce around three-quarters of these exports," says Mr Woffenden.
The core industry participants are Alcan International, Alcoa World Alumina, AngloGold Ashanti Australia, Aughinish Alumina, BHP Billiton, Billiton Aluminium Australia, Hatch Associates, Queensland Alumina, Rio Tinto and WMC Resources. In addition, Barrick Gold Australia, Central TAFE, Ciba Speciality Chemicals, Hydro Aluminium, Minara Resources, Minerals Council of Australia, Nalco Company, Outokumpu Technology, Straits Resources, Worley and Zinifex are joining as the supporting participants. "Industry has shown its support for the new Centre by making a substantial financial investment," Mr Woffenden says. "The core and supporting industry participants have committed to invest A$15 million over seven years." Since its establishment in 1992, the Parker Centre has grown to become the world’s leading hydrometallurgical research organisation. In that time, it has developed an outstanding reputation for its highquality and relevant research on behalf of the minerals industry.
This reputation has attracted many of the world’s principal mining houses, both Australian and overseas companies, to the new Centre as participants. "It has also facilitated cooperative linkages with specialist research groups from around the world which widens the Centre’s capabilities," says Mr Woffenden. Independent assessment of the Parker Centre’s track record has confirmed that the Centre’s reputation is well-deserved. In 2004, benefits analysis by independent consultancy STEM Partnership estimated that the risk-adjusted value of the research outputs of the current Parker Centre totals A$540 million (net present value) to industry clients. In addition, a panel of independent experts who reviewed the Centre’s activities in May 2004 stated that: "...the Parker Centre is the world’s foremost deliverer of hydrometallurgical research and technology".
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