Mineral Processing and Water Treatment
RFC Ambrian has released the fifth report in a series of reports on new technology and innovation. This report focuses on mineral processing and water treatment. They have included water treatment with mineral processing because the biggest consumer of water on any mine site is the mineral processing plant and the single biggest opportunity for minimising water loss (reducing fresh supply) is the tailings management facility.
Incremental innovation: The major breakthroughs in mineral processing took place many years ago and more recently the major trends have included continued mechanisation, an increase in the scale of the mineral processing plants, and the extensive use of IT for process control. Today’s innovation currently appears largely incremental.
Potential for new step change: Digitalisation, as discussed in our earlier reports, however, offers the potential for a new step change in mineral processing, allowing a plant to be operated with artificial intelligence that continually controls and optimises the operation. Optimisation of the existing assets and process is now key to driving productivity further in this industry. With digital tools, the plants will be able to make most of the assets they already have in place. However, examples of step changes through implementation of digitalisation are so far limited and the primary use for AI in mineral processing plants at present is to detect anomalies.
Twin replica of processing plant: The next major technology step in mineral processing involves the building of a digital twin replica of the processing plant as a fully dynamic model and applying artificial intelligence to control the operation fully autonomously, but this is still at the prototype phase.
Water reduction continues to focus on effective tailings management: Mining companies are now developing methodologies to reduce water usage within the process, design ways to keep process material as dry as possible for as long as possible in the flowsheet and are evaluating methods for tailings storage that can use less water and preserve the water that is already embedded in the process. This is driven not only by regulatory and environmental considerations, but also by water availability and cost factors. The emphasis of current research regarding water treatment continues to be on effective tailings management.
Capturing the technology is not straightforward: We have attempted to capture some of the projects being implemented in the mineral processing industry, however the incremental nature of many developments and the specific application to certain commodities makes it difficult to definitively capture or identify all new mineral processing technology and we recognise that some omissions may have occurred, and therefore welcome any feedback.
RFC Ambrian has a track record of over 30 years of providing independent corporate advisory and investment services to the global mining industry, from both a technical and financial perspective.