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Southern African Pyrometallurgy 2006
Johannesburg, South Africa,
March 5-8, 2006

The `Southern African Pyrometallurgy 2006ī international conference was set up to showcase southern African pyrometallurgical operations, and to provide a forum for the exchange of ideas between people working at various types of smelters. The wonderfully diverse rich mineral deposits in this area of the world have provided some unique opportunities for industrial processes to be established, and recent years have seen many exciting developments in pyrometallurgical technology.

The conference took place from 5-8 March 2006 at Glenburn Lodge, in the Cradle of Humankind world heritage area, and was attended by about 180 pyrometallurgists from twelve countries (Australia, Botswana, Canada, Denmark, Finland, Germany, Luxembourg, Norway, South Africa, USA, Zambia, and Zimbabwe). The conference venue, about 40 km from Johannesburg, was within easy reach of the city (and of many pyrometallurgical plants) yet far enough out into the countryside to allow people to focus on the conference.

There is a particular significance to the choice of location, in that the Swartkrans area close to the Sterkfontein Caves is the site of the earliest evidence of the deliberate controlled use of fire by human beings (about 1.3 million years ago), and this is obviously a necessary precursor to pyrometallurgy.

Papers were obtained from a wide variety of pyrometallurgical plants in southern Africa. These descriptions of plant operations (as well as some history, and highlights of current work) will provide useful reference information for some time to come. Contributions were also included from universities, research organizations, and engineering companies, so that the full spectrum of pyrometallurgical activities was covered. The plant descriptions will be published on a website, where they can be updated as and when required, with the eventual goal of having a description of every smelter in the region - to be published in book form when this goal is realised.

The conference comprised 35 presentations, and the refereed papers have been published as the proceedings of the conference in book form with an enclosed CD. The proceedings (ISBN 1-919783-84-9) are available from the South African Institute of Mining and Metallurgy.

The largest session, covering the smelting of platinum group metals, included detailed descriptions of Anglo Platinumīs Waterval, Mortimer, and Polokwane smelters, including information about the high-intensity six-in-line furnace, ACP continuous converting, slow cooling of matte, and a slag-cleaning furnace. Impala Platinum explained their common-sense approach to PGM smelting using traditional established technologies. The presentation by Zimplats outlined their position as the only PGM smelter in Zimbabwe, and their links to Impala Platinum. In support of the PGM plant operations, there were also presentations covering the processes and technologies of sulphuric acid manufacture and the treatment of low SO2 strength gases, the problems associated with spinel removal from PGM smelting furnaces, and a promising new technique for monitoring the performance of copper coolers in furnaces.

Ilmenite smelting was well represented at the conference by the presence of all three of the South African titania slag producers - Richards Bay Minerals, Namakwa Sands, and Ticor SA. This was the first time that some of these processes have been presented in the public literature.

The presentations on base metal smelting in the wider southern African region focused principally on nickel and copper. Recent improvements at the BCL smelter in Botswana were discussed - where flash smelting is used for the production of nickel and copper. Bindura Nickel Corporation from Zimbabwe explained how they are dealing with some of the challenges they are facing with the decline in quantity and composition of their feed materials. Changes in the copper industry that were highlighted included the transformation of the Palabora copper smelter (South Africa) from treating its own ores to becoming a toll / custom smelter, and the phasing out of reverberatory furnace operations at KCM Nkana in Zambia. A further presentation pointed out the considerable advantages of drying copper concentrates before they are fed to a furnace.

The field of ferro-alloys was reasonably covered by overviews of the operations of Samancor Chrome and Xstrata Alloys in South Africa, the two largest players in their industry. There was also a very interesting presentation from Zimbabwe Alloys, the first ferrochrome plant in Africa. This was supported by a report on laboratory investigations into the electrical resistivity of coke and the smelting charge in ferrochrome furnaces.

An overview of the Zincor process was presented, in which the interplay between pyrometallurgy (fluidized bed roasting of sulphide concentrates, and gas atomization of some of the zinc metal product) and hydrometallurgy was detailed. The manufacture of calcium carbide is one the highest-temperature processes, as was explained very clearly in the presentation by SA Calcium Carbide.

Ironmaking and steelmaking at Mittal Steelīs Newcastle works was described in general, and particular mention was made of blast furnace hearth design. Recent work on the Mintek Thermal Magnesium Process was also presented, including the refining of the crude magnesium product from the process.

Well-established furnace manufacturers such as Hatch and SMS Demag provided details on their histories and the wide range of furnaces they have installed. Material flows in and out of furnaces were covered by presentations on pneumatic injection by Clyde Bergemann Africa, and safe copper launder design by Pyromet Technologies.

The education and research aspects of pyrometallurgy were covered by papers from the three universities most active in this field - Universities of Pretoria, Stellenbosch, and the Witwatersrand. The presentation by Mintek outlined its position as the longest-standing pyrometallurgical research organization in the country, and highlighted some of the successful commercial implementations of its technology over the past couple of decades.

The conference concluded with a couple of thought-provoking more general presentations, including a virtual tour of some major smelters around the world (using the satellite imagery of Google Earth), and opportunities for using carbon credits for funding of projects aimed at saving energy.

Social activities included an early morning hot-air balloon ride, and evening visits to the world-renowned Sterkfontein Caves and the Wonder Cave. The conference dinner was held at the newly opened Maropeng Centre. There were numerous opportunities for discussions and networking during the conference. A number of equipment vendors and service providers had exhibition stands to supplement the technical presentations.

Post-conference industrial plant tours focused on local PGM smelters, and included visits to Anglo Platinumīs Waterval Smelter, Impala Platinum, and Lonmin Platinum.

Further information on the conference is available on the conference website at www.pyrometallurgy.co.za/Pyro2006/

Rodney T. Jones, Pyromet Division, Mintek, Private Bag X3015, Randburg, 2125, South Africa. rtjones@global.co.za

Report courtesy of the Journal of the SAIMM




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