Thermochemical Energy Storage Plant

A team of scientists, engineers and regulators are working to increase the sustainability of copper production from Australia’s iron oxide-copper-gold (IOCG) resources.

Work is underway at the ARC Research Hub for Australian Copper-Uranium to investigate new process technologies that are cost-effective and reliable for separating non-target metals from the copper ore.

“Cost-effective ways to remove non-target metals from copper concentrates will increase the industry’s economic and environmental sustainability” said Professor Stephen Grano, Director of the Research Hub.

Lead removal looking promising

Lead is one of the non-target metals being investigated. Working with OZ Minerals, members of the Research Hub undertook a field trip to Prominent Hill to investigate if it was possible to increase the lead removal by regrinding ore in the first cleaning stage. Due to the finer size of the reground lead sulphide, more was expected to be transported in liquid and so removed during this stage.

Initial results showed noticeable improvements in the amount of lead removed and the appearance of the froth in the first stage of cleaning.

What’s next?

Further investigations will look at whether the extra grinding has changed the floatability of the lead. This will involve Inductively Coupled Plasma Mass Spectrometry, a technique used for the detection of trace metals, and further technical analysis to see if the lead itself has changed.

About the Hub

This work is part of the research being conducted by the Research Hub, which aims to build a better understanding of non-target metals in the rocks, and translate this into developing new processes and technologies to separate them from copper-uranium ore.

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The ARC Research Hub for Australian Copper-Uranium can now undertake state of the art minerals processing research, thanks to its partnership with the University of Queensland.

Mineral Processing Laboratory at the University of Queensland

Crushing sample preparation area in the Minerals Processing Laboratory at the University of Queensland

The newly-established extensive and well-equipped minerals processing laboratory means researchers can replicate the majority of operations used in processing plants, with the aim of investigating cost-effective and reliable ways of separating non-target metals from the copper ore.

Processing of minerals is key focus

“Our work in the lab is concerned with the processing of minerals” said Dr Chris Plackowski, researcher at University of Queensland.

Mined ore is first reduced in size from large rocks down to very fine particles using crushing and then grinding processes. The aim is for each particle to be almost entirely one type of mineral so that different mineral types can be separated from each other.

Froth flotation is then used to separate copper minerals from other types. The results are carefully analysed to build our understanding of where the different mineral types go, with the focus on separating out non-target metals, since these are not wanted in the copper mineral product.

The researchers are also working with other parts of the Research Hub to build a detailed understanding of the ores so they can better understand how to process them.

Flotation area in the Minerals Processing Laboratory at the University of Queensland

Flotation area in the Minerals Processing Laboratory at the University of Queensland

Investigating new processing approaches

The next step is to identify and test different processing approaches and technologies to enable more effective mineral separation.

Along with the physical processing of minerals, the new facilities mean that chemical (hydrometallurgical) and high temperature processing can also be investigated.

About the Hub

This work is part of the research being conducted by the Research Hub. The Hub brings together a team of research and industry scientists, engineers and regulators focussed on increasing the sustainability of copper production from Australia’s iron oxide-copper-gold-uranium resources. The research aims to build a better understanding of large scale copper deposits and develop new, economically sustainable processes and technologies to locate, quantify and separate non-target metals from copper-uranium ore.

 

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Mr Mick Stuckings, Technical Analyst

Mr Mick Stuckings, Technical Analyst

Thanks to the support of BHP Billiton and OZ Minerals, there is now increased capacity for analysis at the ARC Research Hub for Australian Copper-Uranium.

The Research Hub brings together a team of scientists, engineers and regulators to find new ways of making Australian copper production more economically and environmentally sustainable.

The industry support has now extended to the purchase of new state of the art equipment, and the appointment of Technical Analyst Mr Mick Stuckings.

“The focus of my role is to understand the needs of industry and the researchers, and the materials and processes they are working with. I can then suggest analyses to get the best results as efficiently as possible” Mr Stuckings said.

His role also involves managing and analysing many Olympic Dam and Prominent Hill samples between multiple laboratories across locations at the University of Adelaide, University of Queensland, Monash University and Flinders University.

The new industry support means that Research Hub scientists can analyse samples more efficiently and work with smaller samples. This is thanks to BHP Billiton which has bought two pieces of state of the art gamma spectrometry detection equipment, and upgraded the alpha spectrometry laboratory. This has made sample analysis more efficient, more prompt, and in the long run, better for industry.

The new detector with a sample vial in place in the top.

The new detector with a sample vial in place in the top.

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