Draslovka Holding made its presence felt in the mining chemicals space about a year ago when it announced plans to acquire Chemours Company’s Mining Solutions business, a deal that has since seen it become one of the largest North American producers of solid sodium cyanide.
This acquisition, completed in December for $521 million, also laid the groundwork for a separate transaction that could see the Czech Republic-based company diversify into the in-demand battery metals arena.
Australia-based Mining & Process Solutions (MPS) had been on the Mining Solutions business radar for at least two years prior to the Draslovka transaction, according to James Stockbridge, Director of Draslovka Mining Solutions. Stockbridge, formerly of Chemours and DuPont, said that his team at Draslovka realised MPS had something on its books that could solve many of the challenges the industry was experiencing and transform mining solutions by using an amino acid called glycine.
“For more than a decade now, the industry has recognised that orebodies are becoming lower grade, processing them is becoming more complex and the environmental regulations associated with leaching are becoming stricter,” Stockbridge told IM.
“It is the challenge of our time, and we think MPS has something quite unique to offer here.”
With roots in the gold technology group at the renowned Curtin University in Western Australia, MPS’ glycine leaching technology has the potential to change both the gold and base metal leaching space.
In gold, MPS’ GlyCat™ process was invented to reduce cyanide consumption while maintaining gold recovery for gold ores from deposits containing nuisance copper. GlyCat has been designed to enhance the dissolution of gold and copper in gold/copper ores where glycine is used as a catalyst with cyanide in a cyanide-starved leaching environment. It doesn’t replace cyanide, but, in fact, enhances its leaching capabilities by dealing with the high-cyanide consuming copper within these gold-copper orebodies.
In copper, nickel, cobalt and zinc leaching, GlyLeach™ is able to leach the targeted metals with enhanced selectivity compared with conventional methods. It will solubilise copper, nickel, cobalt and zinc, while gangue minerals such as iron, manganese, silicates and carbonates remain in the leach residue, MPS says.
Both technologies are environmentally safe, work effectively at alkaline pHs and ambient temperatures (with no heating cost or pressure vessels) and come with low operating costs due to their low consumption and recovery/recycling traits, according to the company.
While it is the gold side of glycine leaching testing that has, so far, taken the headlines thanks to several trials with mining companies in Australia (including Evolution Mining) and the technology’s potential ability to partially replace cyanide in the leaching process, Stockbridge and his colleague Jackson Briggs (Corporate Development Manager for Draslovka) said Draslovka was most excited about what the technology could offer the base metal space.
Briggs said: “It gives us the opportunity to expand our leadership position in gold leaching agents into base metals. At the same time, it also allows us to incorporate our expertise in that chemistry and chemical manufacturing side of things.”
Stockbridge – not wanting to give away too much – hinted at how this latter opportunity could play out.
“The leaching technology will also influence the way you, for instance, operate, monitor and control the plant,” he said. “This process will be different, and we will be bringing in new technologies to cater to this.”
Considering Draslovka can produce glycine from its existing hydrogen cyanide production footprint, there is potential for a very smooth integration on the supply chain side of things.
Asked to quantify some of the benefits of the technology, Stockbridge was happy to point out GlyLeach’s potential to “simplify the flowsheet” for, say, nickel production, removing the smelting aspect and resultant ore transportation – providing capital and carbon footprint benefits.
Briggs added: “It can change a lot from ore-to-ore with GlyLeach, but, in a really strong business case, you are looking at a 25% reduction in processing costs.”
This is on top of a 10-35% improvement on the recovery side, compared with conventional leaching, Stockbridge said, citing “proof of concept” studies.
As for GlyCat, the sweet spot – as already hinted at – is in gold-copper orebodies where copper is a large cyanide consumer, with the technology allowing cyanide to work more efficiently and effectively.
Both technologies recently featured in OZ Minerals Ingenious Extraction Innovator challenge outcomes publication, while GlyCat has also been the subject of a one-off study looking at combining it with Sixth Wave Innovations’ IXOS® molecular imprinted polymer for gold extraction.
Australia’s Future Battery Industry Cooperative Research Centre, which is sponsored by the likes of Sandfire Resources, Barrick Gold, Coda Minerals (previously Gindalbie Metals) and Poseidon Nickel, is also coordinating some of the work towards commercialising GlyLeach.
There is a strong business case for both technologies first being deployed at scale on tailings deposits that have been deemed to have no associated value – a point both Stockbridge and Briggs acknowledged.
Briggs said: “In terms of accelerating the development of the technologies, there are tailings deposits and waste piles situated all over the globe with high amounts of precious and base metals that have not been extracted due to the limitations and economies associated with current processing technology. We could provide an economic way of extracting those.
“It would also provide us a project with much reduced start-up times compared with, say, a greenfield project.”
Stockbridge added: “We have carried out some work on this type of application before and believe there is the potential to extract 50% of the nickel that they couldn’t access with existing technology by using GlyLeach.”
From the mining company perspective, deploying a new technology on material already written off comes with a lot less risk too.
That is before appreciating that the material won’t have to be smelted on site, that the process produces no free cyanide and that gangue materials do not come out in solution.
It is no wonder the Draslovka duo are excited about the technology’s potential; GlyLeach in particular.
“The ability to help nickel and copper miners produce more metal to rescue some of these deposits that have been forgotten or under-developed because of technology limitations and be able to do so in a way that is more environmentally friendly is exciting.
“Potentially, this technology could help localise more electric vehicle supply chains by removing the need for smelting and providing a cost-effective and environmentally friendly means of extracting metals.
“We cannot wait to get started.”