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2006 Parker Centre Hydrometallurgy Conference - Modelling of Hydrometallurgical Processes: From Fundamentals to Applications
WA, Australia
May 7-9, 2006

Attended by 55 invited delegates, the 2006 Parker Centre Hydrometallurgy Conference explored the present state and future possibilities of computer modelling of hydrometallurgical processes.

"The big message out of the conference was the models need to be based on rigorous science and knowledge so that they can be predictive, which means you truly understand what’s going on in the modelled process," says Dr Jim Avraamides, Chair of the Organising Committee.

The conference, the fourth in the series which started in 1999, was held on 7-9 May at the usual venue, the Novotel Vines Resort in the Swan Valley, WA. There were six technical sessions with each session comprising two or three presentations and then a panel-led discussion.

These sessions covered modelling from the fundamental to the applied. “People liked the way the sessions developed from the very fundamental to the very applied towards the end," says Dr Avraamides. “And that was deliberate, we put the academic modellers up the front and then gradually built towards developing flowsheets for whole processes that incorporate both technical and economic modelling."

However the discussions during the conference highlighted the need for modellers to be involved as part of a project development team from the outset of an industry project for developing a new deposit or improving an existing processing plant. Modelling could then be used in planning the necessary experimental test work and in design. And then modellers need to remain involved so they can incorporate knowledge gained in commissioning and operation into their models.

A seventh and final session saw the Panel Chairs from the technical sessions report back to the meeting. “Each Chair summarised the issues that arose from the presentations and discussion in their session and looked at where the technology gaps were and where the future might take us," Dr Avraamides says.

The first session focused on chemical modelling of concentrated electrolyte solutions involved in hydrometallurgical processes and prediction of solution properties for hydrometallurgical solutions. Mr Mark Woffenden, the Parker Centre's CEO, says this session emphasised that thermodynamic models are most useful if they are predictive and good reliable data and measuring techniques are needed to achieve this.

The presenters in Session 2 talked about population balance modelling of particle-based processes in hydrometallurgy such as crystallisation and flocculation. These models predict the number and size of particles as they form, grow, aggregate and rupture, which influences product properties.

"The challenges identified in this session included developing the crucial capability to link population balance modelling with other different scales of modelling to fully model industrial processes," says Mr Woffenden. “This would involve modelling from nanometres through to metres, in other words from the atomic scale through to the flowsheet scale."

An important conclusion from the session on using computational fluid dynamics modelling and molecular scale modelling to further understand hydrometallurgical processes was that this modelling must be validated by actual experiments.

Sessions 4 and 5 covered modelling of unit operations: metal recovery systems (ion-exchange and solvent extraction) in the former session and leaching systems (atmospheric leaching and copper heap leaching) in the latter.

Mr Woffenden says key points arising from discussion of heap leaching modelling were the need to demonstrate predictive capability, not just “data fit”, and the need to allow models to mature through the life cycle of a project.

The final technical session featured three talks on applying process modelling in the minerals industry. The applications included using integrated process and economic models in the development of a nickel laterite project in Brazil and using a model of the autoclave at the Macreas gold mine in New Zealand to optimise the mine’s pressure oxidation process for treating refractory gold ores.

A common thread running through two of these presentations was that while experimental data are needed to built the models, the models in turn are useful in guiding subsequent experimental work and technical assessments.

The conference concluded with the Conference Dinner at which guest speaker Dr Bruce Hobbs, until recently the Chief Scientist of Western Australia, spoke about modelling in mineral exploration and developing models to predict the location of new mineral deposits. “Interestingly, he pointed out that for their work on a regional geological scale, a scale measured in hundreds of kilometres, one crucial contribution now is the work at the atomic scale to understand what’s going on at the larger scale," says Mr Woffenden.

Dr Avraamides says that feedback indicates that the general feeling was that the conference provided good value and plenty of opportunities for networking. The Parker Centre conferences are specifically designed so that discussion and sharing of experiences are crucial components of the conferences. "Since everyone was interested in what everyone else was doing, this made for good discussion sessions and resulted in a lot of discussion outside of the formal conference sessions," comments Dr Avraamides. Overall the conference was rated 4/5 by delegates.

The conference attendees represented 22 mining and engineering companies, consultants and technology suppliers and 11 government research organisations and universities. They came from six different countries: mostly from Australia but also from South Africa, Canada, the US, Brazil and France.

Dr Avraamides says it was a smaller group than at past conferences, probably due to the narrower focus of this conference and that with the global resources boom, some invited people from the minerals industry were not available to come.

Following the conference, some of the delegates participated in technical tours to mineral processing operations. The first tour (10 May) was the Kwinana Tour which took in Tiwest’s Kwinana Pigment Plant and the BHP Billiton Kwinana Nickel Refinery. The Kalgoorlie Goldfields Tour on 11 May visited the KCGM Fimiston Gold Operation/Super Pit and the Kalgoorlie Nickel Smelter (BHP Billiton).

The next Parker Centre Hydrometallurgy Conference is planned for 2008. Suggestions for its theme have included re-visiting leaching science and technology which was the theme of the first conference seven years ago.




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