Ben Adair

Ben Adair

Chief Executive Officer

How the Cooperative Research Centre for Optimising Resource Extraction is improving the productivity, energy and water signatures of mining operations...

Dr Ben Adair is CEO of the Cooperative Research Centre for Optimising Resource Extraction (CRC ORE) is part of the Australian Government’s Cooperative Research Centre (CRC) Program. He notes: “To meet our Commonwealth funding requirements, we had to raise some A$114 million over our six-year term. With 18 months left and we will have raised in excess of A$160 million – a consequence of the traction and support we’ve gained, from our mining company sponsors in particular.”

“We are seen as independent, trusted advisors by the Mining companies, to the point that we are now often used to manage their site-based gangue rejection strategies on their behalf.”

Dr Adair explains that CRC ORE’s commitment to optimising resource extraction (ORE) is underpinned by two suites of technologies: Grade Engineering® and the Integrated Extraction Simulator (IES). The former focuses on extracting metal more efficiently by separating ore from waste before it enters comminution. The latter is a cloud-based simulation and optimisation platform across the mine to mill value chain. Grade Engineering therefore involves the implementation of practical gangue rejection technologies at production scale on sites. IES provides the opportunity to optimise downstream processing performance from this newly engineered feedstock.

Dr Adair urges that, to reduce the mining industry’s energy and water footprints, it’s important to take a “helicopter view” of where the sector is today. 

“We get delusional about the current status quo,” he says. “The fact is that for base and precious metal operations, we still mine huge volumes of rock and send it into a process plant where 99% or more of this material has no value whatsoever. Further, the comminution process used on this material is in itself less than 10% energy efficient in breaking rocks and collectively consumes 3% of the worlds’ electricity – enough to keep the lights on in Germany each year!”

Dr Adair adds: “We also over-grind the material to extract the target minerals, way beyond what is necessary to efficiently separate and recover the metal. Consequently, we generate enormous volumes of ultra-fine waste. Current process plants are also water intensive and these waste streams are too fine to self-drain. As a result, we store waste in wet tailings dams and struggle to recycle the water efficiently. This brings another set of challenges – poor levels of water recycling and wet tailings dams that are a safety hazard across the Industry”.

Dr Adair’s conclusion, and where he believes CRC ORE can have an impact with its research and solutions, is that effective pre-concentration in the mine is required to dramatically reduce the volume of treated material that has no value. “We then need to apply the principles of gangue rejection into the design and operation of new energy and water efficient process equipment and circuits. This will require the realisation of co-creation partnerships between selected miners and suppliers to implement these solutions quickly. Nothing less than a complete step change in energy reduction and close to full recycling of water will suffice”. Ironically, he also states that this will actually increase metal production at sites, with cheaper capital and operating expenditures proclaiming that “sustainability really isn’t a cost!”

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