Tag Archives: Glencore

BluVein XL open-pit mining dynamic charging solution gains momentum

Much of the buzz around BluVein to this point has focused on its dynamic charging infrastructure for underground mining and quarries, but the company has also been gaining momentum around a surface mining project – as the most recent Charge On™ Innovation Challenge announcement indicates.

The company and its BluVein XL solution were today named among eight winning ideas selected to progress to the next stage of the competition, which is seeking to solve one of the biggest challenges in decarbonising mining operations: the electrification of haul trucks.

Within this context, BluVeinXL, the company’s new product line, will be capable of dynamically feeding power to heavy-duty mining fleets with up to 250-t payloads.

The technology leverages much of what was developed for BluVein1: a patented slotted (electric) rail system using an enclosed electrified e-rail system mounted above or beside the mining vehicle together with the BluVein hammer that connects the electric vehicle to the rail. This system provides power for driving the vehicle, typically a mine truck, and charging the truck’s batteries while the truck is hauling load up the ramp and out of an underground mine.

To this point, funding support for the BluVein1 project – being developed for vehicles up to 60-t payload and powered by Rethink Mining (Powered by CMIC) – is being provided by Vale, Glencore, Oz Minerals, Northern Star, South32, BHP, Agnico Eagle, AngloGold Ashanti and Newcrest Mining.

BluVeinXL, meanwhile, has seen the company engage with more than 10 “global mining company leaders” in progressing to a pilot demonstration of the technology. While the company plans to announce the names of these supporting mining companies shortly, it says they all see the need for an industry-standardised, OEM-agnostic, safe dynamic power feed infrastructure to suit mixed OEM open-pit fleets.

The key benefits of the dynamic power feeding solution BluVein is pushing are smaller on-board battery packs, faster vehicle haulage speeds up ramp, grid load balancing and maximum fleet availability.

“Our mining company supporters have provided feedback to us on the benefits they see with BluVeinXL over traditional overhead exposed wire catenary systems offered by other OEMs,” the company said. These are:

  • Near to the ground installation enabled by our patented Ingress Protected safe slotted rail technology;
  • Safer and faster installation;
  • Easy relocation as required to suit open-pit ramp movements over time;
  • Requires no heavy civil foundation requirements;
  • Alleviates the requirements on haul road conditions;
  • Offers purchasing flexibility on electric vehicles through the adoption of an industry-standard dynamic power feed infrastructure; and
  • Safer mine sites with no high voltage exposed overhead wires.

The company concluded: “Together with our mining company supporters, BluVein looks forward to working with all OEMs as we progress towards our planned pilot demonstration at a yet to be announced location.”

Schlam delivers 1,500th Hercules dump body in Australia

Schlam has now reached the milestone of manufacturing its 1,500th Hercules dump body in Australia, with the dump body in question delivered to Glencore’s Mt Owen complex in the Hunter Valley of New South Wales.

Now in its 14th incarnation, the Schlam Hercules has become the dump body of choice for many of the most significant Tier 1 operators, OEM truck builders and mining contractors in Australia, Schlam says.

Schlam Chief Executive Officer, Matt Thomas, said it was a team effort to reach this milestone.

“Our manufacturing division – Schlam Payload Solutions – is filled with some of the most dedicated and hardworking individuals I’ve ever met. And, when they work together, anything is possible.

“The pandemic and supply chain concerns have pressured our team, however, they have managed these challenges superbly while maintaining our commitment to quality and customer service.”

The first Hercules was manufactured in Australia in 2003, and it took 17 years to reach the 1,000th milestone. It took the company just 22 months to then reach the 1,500th mark.

Thomas says that long-term national supply contracts with BHP, Fortescue, Glencore, Northern Star Resources, Newmont and other significant miners mean that the Hercules is set to continue along this upward growth path.

“We are creating efficiencies in our manufacturing processes through robotics, automation and ‘LEAN thinking’ to support this growth while maintaining quality,” he said.

“We’re also growing our sales and aftersales teams, ensuring that customer service is exceptional at every step of their experience with Schlam. We pride ourselves on following our products into the field and believe this has been a critical element in our growth.

“I thank the whole team – no matter where they work in the company – for helping us reach this milestone, and I look forward to many more to come.”

South32 becomes latest miner to join BluVein mine electrification project

BluVein has announced its ninth and newest funding partner to join the BluVein mine electrification project powered by Rethink Mining (Powered by CMIC), with South32 being the latest miner to join the cause.

BluVein is a joint venture between Australia-based mining innovator Olitek and Sweden-based electric highways developer Evias. The company has devised a patented slotted (electric) rail system, which uses an enclosed electrified e-rail system mounted above or beside the mining vehicle together with the BluVein hammer that connects the electric vehicle to the rail. The system provides power for driving the vehicle, typically a mine truck, and charging the truck’s batteries while the truck is hauling load up the ramp and out of an underground mine.

South32 joins Vale, Northern Star Resources Limited, Glencore, Newcrest Mining, AngloGold Ashanti, BHP, OZ Minerals and Agnico Eagle Mines Limited as BluVein funding partners.

Earlier this month, BluVein and Epiroc formed an MoU with BluVein aimed at fast-tracking development of the BluVein dynamic charging solution towards an industrialised and robust solution which is ready for deployment across the global mining industry. The MoU is focused on the BluVein Underground solution (BluVein1), but BluVein is also developing a solution for open-pit mining.

Cobham confirms seven-year FIFO extension for Murrin Murrin mine site

Cobham Regional Services has been awarded a new seven-year contract with Minara Resources (wholly owned by Glencore), to provide fly-in, fly-out (FIFO) services to its Murrin Murrin site in the eastern Goldfields region of Western Australia.

Minara Resources is Australia’s largest cobalt producer and a major producer of nickel, and a foundation FIFO client of Cobham.

Cobham Regional Services Managing Director, Claude Alviani, said that Cobham had been providing FIFO services to Murrin Murrin since the mine commenced operations in 1996.

“We are absolutely delighted to continue the relationship we have with Minara as their aviation partner of choice,” Alviani said. “The operators of Murrin Murrin were pioneers of FIFO in Western Australia, using an airbridge to connect workers to site well before it became common practice.

“Over the past six months, Minara has transitioned to our modern, lower carbon emission aircraft with the E190 and Q400 now servicing the site.”

Brett Fowler, General Manager, Minara Resources, said: “We are pleased to continue our relationship with Cobham, a long-term partner of the Murrin Murrin operations. We welcome the addition of the lower carbon emission aircraft to Murrin Murrin as we continue to produce the nickel and cobalt that are critical commodities for the transition to a low-carbon economy.”

The new contract comes at a pivotal time for the industry in Western Australia as the State prepares to open its borders.

Cobham’s Business Development Director, Tim Pirga, said that Cobham was well positioned for transitioning to the next phase of living with COVID.

“We have a private terminal which allows us to offer bespoke solutions for COVID screening, health checks and passenger separation,” he said. “Minara will take advantage of our facility and of our experiences operating in other states where borders have been open for some time.”

Bis devises bespoke on-road haulage solution for Hunter Valley Operations

Bis says it has signed a multi-year on-road haulage contract with Hunter Valley Operations (HVO) at its New South Wales-based processing facility.

The load and haul solution features a bespoke high payload on-road haulage rig ideally suited for the Glencore- and Yancoal-owned joint venture, which is located 115 km northwest of Newcastle, New South Wales, Australia.

Comprising A-Double and B-Double trailer configurations, loading and road maintenance equipment, the dedicated fleet will transport material from HVO’s preparation plant to its Newdell train load out facility, Bis said.

Bis Chief Executive Officer, Brad Rogers, said: “Building on our existing long-term relationship with Glencore, we are delighted to continue our support to the HVO joint venture operation for Yancoal and Glencore. The NHVR-approved Bis haulage solution adopted at HVO was specifically designed by our in-house team to cater for a greater payload capacity thereby reducing the number of overall truck movements, operational health and safety risks and fuel consumption.”

The contract comes only months after Bis secured another new multi-year haulage contract on the eastern seaboard for Anglo American’s Capcoal operations near Middlemount, in Queensland’s Bowen Basin.

Glencore’s Mount Isa ops set for renewable power injection from APA Group

APA Group has reached a Final Investment Decision (FID) to build stage two of the Mica Creek Solar Farm in Mount Isa, Queensland, a decision that has brought with it an agreement to supply Glencore’s Mount Isa Mines copper-lead-zinc-silver operations in the state with renewable electricity.

The stage two investment is underpinned by a variation to the existing offtake agreement with APA customer Mount Isa Mines Limited (MIM), a Glencore company, according to APA. The variation adds a new service for the supply of electricity from the Mica Creek Solar Farm for 15 years, requiring additional capital expenditure by APA of around A$70 million ($49.8 million).

FID on stage two, which comprises 44 MW of additional solar power generation, follows APA’s announcement on November 1 that APA had reached FID on stage one of the Mica Creek Solar Farm and entered into an offtake agreement with MMG’s Dugald River operation to supply an initial 44 MW of renewable electricity to the miner. APA’s total investment for both stages of the works is estimated to be around A$150 million.

The second stage of the solar farm is to be co-located on the same site as stage one, near APA’s Diamantina Power Station Complex, on land which is leased from the Queensland Government. The solar farm is expected to be operational by mid-2023.

APA’s solar offtake agreement has been negotiated at a commercially competitive tariff, consistent with utility solar pricing, and will reduce the average delivered cost of power for MIM, APA said.

“This A$150 million investment will support APA’s vision for a world-leading hybrid energy grid in Mount Isa and our aspiration to support the further increases of renewable energy penetration for the region,” APA CEO and Managing Director, Rob Wheals, said.

“The support for the 88 MW Mica Creek Solar Farm demonstrates the enthusiasm of customers in the Mount Isa region for integrated energy solutions that can both meet their energy needs and help reduce their operational emissions.

“With continued strong interest from customers, APA is investigating a potential expansion for a third stage.”

Olitek on a mechanisation mission to provide mine safety step change

IM’s Teams call with Olitek Mining Robotics’ (OMR) James Oliver and Newcrest’s Tony Sprague starts like many other meetings, with a safety share.

Centred on the experiences of a drill and blast expert, Barry Crowdey, owner of Blastcon Australia Pty Ltd, this ‘share’ goes some way to highlighting mining’s hidden safety problem.

“So often we hear about safety shares that are almost instantaneous: rock failures, rock bursts, collapses, vehicle incidents, energy releases, ground collapses, or somebody getting pinned against something,” Oliver, OMR’s Managing Director, told IM. “You have this instantaneous safety hazard you are always trying to protect against.

“The ones that don’t get reported – and are possibly creating a big stigma in the mining industry – is the ongoing wear and tear on the human body.”

Crowdey, a blasting consultant, offers direct experience here.

As a charge-up operator, he was recently side-lined for six months after major shoulder surgery. A whole host of repetitive tasks – such as push and pull activities during blasthole preparation and charge-up – conducted over the last two decades had proven too much for his body.

“A charge-up operator is a highly sought-after job,” Oliver said. “The perception is: you have to be tough to do it well. Barry never complained about this – which probably speaks to awareness around men’s mental health to a degree – and would often use his time off to recover from body soreness likely caused by these repetitive tasks.”

The injuries that don’t get reported – and are possibly creating a big stigma in the mining industry – are the ongoing wear and tear on the human body, James Oliver says

He added: “After stories like this, it is no wonder the mining industry has a stigma for wearing people out and, essentially, taking away more than it is providing – personally and from an environmental perspective.”

Sprague, Group Manager, Directional Studies and Innovation at Newcrest, has experienced some of the strains placed on the human body by carrying out similar manual tasks on mine sites, reflecting on a three-month stint on a blast crew in Kalgoorlie at the height of summer.

He, Newcrest and the wider mining industry are responding to these issues.

For the past three-or-so-years, Newcrest has been collaborating closely with OMR to develop a range of smart, safe and robust robotic systems enabling open-pit mechanised charge-up, blasthole measurement and geological blasthole sampling, as well as underground remote charge-up for tunnel development.

This suite of solutions is tackling a major industry problem that most mining OEMs focused on automating load and haul, or drilling operations, are not looking at.

OMR is addressing this market gap.

“Apart from a small number of mines and in specific applications, the mining industry is generally not ready for automation,” Oliver said. “Effective mechanisation of the hazardous mining tasks is what is needed first. This is where design thinking is crucial – process review, deletion, modification and optimisation to enable robotic mechanisation.”

Sprague added: “Most processes in mining have been designed for fingers and have taken hundreds of years to be optimised around them. We now need to mechanise these processes before we can start thinking about automating.”

The metric for momentum

The injuries that OMR and many others are looking to alleviate with mechanisation of these manual processes are not generally captured by lost time injuries or other similar safety metrics.

Most processes in mining have been designed for fingers and have taken hundreds of years to be optimised around them, Tony Sprague says

This has historically made it hard to invest in such technology – the numbers don’t typically show up in the WH&S reporting.

Yet, the risk of not confronting this issue is starting to have more sway over operational decision making at the same time as technology is reaching a suitably mature level.

“The image of Barry at home recovering from surgery to address career-induced injuries is not the image the mining industry wants to portray any longer,” Oliver said.

And with mining companies competing with other industries for skilled talent, they can no longer afford to put such stress on their people.

The idea, as OMR says, is to maintain process performance with well executed mechanised equipment. “Strain the machinery, not the people” is one of the company’s mottos.

And it will only take a few more frontrunners adopting such technology to affect real change across the industry, according to Oliver.

“Socially, people will speak,” he said. “If the mine down the road has someone in the comfort of an air-conditioned cabin carrying out remote charge-up operations, that news will soon spread. Operators will no longer tolerate being exposed to rock bursts, injuries and the like, and will leave positions where they are put in such a situation.”

It is such momentum that has, arguably, led to the industry backing innovators like OMR.

One of the company’s products, the Remote Charge-up Unit (RCU), is now the subject of a major collaborative project managed by the Canada Mining Innovation Council (CMIC).

Seeking to alleviate the issues associated with loading and priming explosives at the development face, the RCU’s core enabling technology is OMR’s innovative “Trigger Assembly” (pictured below), which enables lower cost conventional detonators to be mechanically installed safely and efficiently. This system is fitted to a modified Volvo wheeled excavator, with its hydraulic robotic boom, and is the key to moving people away from harm’s way in the underground mining setting.

The project is being delivered in a series of development phases through to Technology Readiness Level 7. This functioning prototype machine will enable personnel to move at least 4-5 m away from the underground development face and carry out efficient and effective face charge-up.

This project is moving into the procurement and build phase of the first prototype, according to Oliver.

Newcrest is also one of the major miners steering developments of the RCU, alongside Agnico Eagle, Glencore and Vale within the CMIC collaboration.

While Sprague says his company has injected early seed funding to get some of the OMR work moving, he thinks industry collaboration is key to bringing the products to market.

“What got me into wanting to do these sorts of projects is the belief that the mining industry can be so much better than it currently is,” Sprague said. “We can change this faster by finding smart, agile companies like Olitek and support them with groups of like-minded mining companies to accelerate projects. We are showing that when the industry works together, we can make solutions to our problems appear.

He added: “I’m a true believer that momentum breeds momentum. In these types of projects, I use my finite seed funds and stretch them as far as possible. I might not know how to get to the end of a project in terms of funding it, but if I can get it to a point where we have some TRL3 designs and lab testing to prove the concept, you can go out to the market and find ways to progress up through the technology readiness levels.

“It is about chipping away and progressing up through the TRLs as opposed to asking the industry to blindly invest in R&D.”

Moving up a level

And this is where most of OMR’s technology suite is at: TR5 to TRL6 level.

Oliver explained: “If we look at the RCU unit at the moment, we have a robotic excavator platform that was developed on a sister project. This modular approach we are taking has allowed us to go into new applications seamlessly because of the base technology building blocks we have created.”

Alongside the RCU, the company is working on an “Anako” suite of products, namely: Anako Sense, Anako Sample and Anako Prime.

Anako Sense is a borehole probe sensing machine allowing operators to remotely measure the depth, temperature and presence of water within blastholes. It has been designed to mechanise this quality monitoring process in the open pit, removing operators from danger and putting them in the safety of an air-conditioned cabin. The Mark 2 machine – which is now commercially available – provides faster than manual cycle times, while eliminating fatigue, repetitive strain injury and exposure risks, according to OMR. It also provides real-time data capture of borehole quality measurements.

Anako Sample provides a mechanised sampling process to collect blasthole data. It, again, removes personnel from harm’s way, while providing fast cycle times and repeatable sample quality. It also provides automated data recording. This technology is currently going through Factory Acceptance Testing, with plans to deploy to a customer site shortly.

Anako Prime – for mechanised open-pit charge-up – provides all the benefits of the other Anako products while being compatible with multiple types of explosives. It is leveraging the developments made in the underground environment with the RCU and has a Mark 1 machine completed. Progress is also being made on a Mark 2 version to achieve high productivity, fully mechanised priming and bulk emulsion placement, according to Oliver.

While more products could be added to the OMR portfolio in time, the company is focused on leveraging the proven Volvo wheeled and excavator platform that can scale up from 6 t to 60 t capacities and can move quickly around the mine.

Given the strong collaborative relationship OMR has fostered with Volvo over the years, there is also potential down the line for the Volvo network to support these machines across the globe, providing the machine uptime safety net that many remote mine operators would like if they were to take up the OMR technology option.

The inspiration

Crowdey’s role in this story does not end with the safety share. He is also now training operators on this new equipment, providing a real-life example of the reason to adopt such mechanisation as well as how easy that adoption process is.

Sprague said: “You might think you need to be an expert excavator operator to work these technologies, yet the smart controls, vision and positioning systems for hole location, for instance, means the machines do the hard work for you.”

Oliver added to this: “We say a trainable operator can be sat in that machine and, after a matter of days, be as efficient as a manual operator.”

There is an impending deadline for mine operators to confront these issues, with mechanisation of the most dangerous processes the first port of call, according to Oliver.

“The only way to stop this mining impact is about enabling machinery to do the work and going through a mechanisation process to ensure the Barrys of this world don’t have to conduct these manual processes,” he said. “A good example of that over the last decade is the installation of hose feeders on emulsion pumping units in blasthole charging. That represents a ‘step’ in the right direction, but what we need now is ‘step change’.

“Eventually there will be places in a mine that people simply cannot go, so we better start perfecting mechanisation now as automation will be needed one day. It might be 10 years from now, but, if we’re not mechanised by that point, we will simply not be able to mine these more challenging ore deposits.”

Lifezone hydromet tech blueprint puts Kabanga Nickel in pole refining position

Kabanga Nickel is ready to put its ‘money where its technology is’ in the pursuit of production from a highly prospective nickel-copper-cobalt asset in Tanzania, according to Keith Liddell, Executive Chairman.

Having been granted access to a project that has had more than $290 million spent on it by previous owners such as Barrick Gold and Glencore between 2005 and 2014, including 587,000 m of drilling, the company is coming at the Kabanga project with a fresh set of eyes and a plan that aligns with the government’s in-country beneficiation requirements.

The outcome of this previous investment is an in-situ mineral resource of 58 Mt at 2.62% Ni, containing more than 1.52 Mt of nickel, 190,000 t of copper and 120,000 t of cobalt. This resource is in the process of being updated with the latest modelling software.

The Barrick-Glencore joint venture also outlined a mine plan in a draft feasibility study that looked to recover 49.3 Mt of ore at 2.69% nickel equivalent from the two primary orebodies – North and Tembo. Again, Kabanga is re-evaluating this strategy, having identified several opportunities to enhance project outcomes including a development plan that facilitates higher production rates and access to high-grade ore earlier in the mining schedule.

Yet, the biggest departure from the previous plans for Kabanga is the “mine to metal” concept that Liddell and Dr Mike Adams, Senior Vice President: Processing & Refining, have been marketing.

This is part of the reason why the Tanzanian Government signed a binding framework agreement with Kabanga Nickel earlier this year that resulted in a joint venture company called Tembo Nickel Corp (owned 84% by Kabanga Nickel and 16% by the Government of Tanzania) to undertake mining, processing and refining to Class 1 nickel with cobalt and copper co-products near the asset.

Unlike the plethora of smelter plans being drawn up in the likes of Indonesia and the Philippines – two other countries attempting to keep more ‘metal value’ in-country – Kabanga’s plan hinges on a hydrometallurgical refining route.

This isn’t a carbon copy of the high pressure acid leaching (HPAL) technology the industry is used to hearing about – most of the time for the wrong reasons. The hydrometallurgy Kabanga is talking about is more in keeping with the process Vale uses at Long Harbour in Canada, Adams pointed out.

“There’s hydrometallurgy and then there’s hydrometallurgy,” he told IM. “HPAL is incredibly different to the Lifezone hydrometallurgy we are proposing at Kabanga, which is dealing with sulphide concentrates. Our process is effectively 17% of the HPAL carbon footprint; HPAL has a much higher carbon footprint than smelting, let alone what we are proposing.

“Our technology comes with lower temperatures and pressures, and the materials of construction are nowhere near as exotic as HPAL. It is more economic and more environmentally friendly than both HPAL and smelting.”

The ‘Lifezone’ Adams mentioned is Lifezone Limited, a technology and development company established by Liddell to exclusively own and develop the patented rights to the Kell Process – a unique hydrometallurgical process. Although devised to treat platinum group metals and refractory gold ores without smelting or the use of cyanide, and with major energy savings, cost benefits and a significantly reduced environmental impact (CO2 and SO2) over conventional technologies, the Kabanga team is keen to draw from Lifezone’s experiences when it comes to devising the refining plan in Tanzania.

They and much of the South African platinum industry are looking at developments at Sedibelo Platinum’s Pilanesberg Platinum Mines (PPM) operation on the Bushveld Complex where a 110,000 t/y beneficiation plant employing the Kell Process is currently being constructed. This plant has the capacity to produce 320,000 oz/y of platinum group metals at the refinery end, with seven refined metal products set to be produced on site.

If Sedibelo, which Liddell is a shareholder of, can achieve such a feat, it will become the first South African PGM operation producing refined PGM, gold and base metal products on site. At the same time, this metal production would come with some 82% less energy consumption and the associated significant reduction in carbon emissions, plus improved recoveries and lower operating costs, than conventional off-site PGM smelting.

But, back to Tanzania, where the aim is to deploy hydromet technology with a specifically designed flowsheet to leach and refine the base metals. End products from the Kabanga refinery will be Class 1 nickel and cobalt metals with >99.95% purity readily saleable to customers worldwide, as well as A-grade copper cathode for the Tanzanian market, according to the company.

Not only is this different to conventional pyrometallurgical nickel sulphide smelting and refining – which, according to Liddell comes with around 13 t of CO2 emissions per tonne of Class 1 nickel metal, compared with the 4 t of CO2 emissions per tonne of nickel (Nickel Institute industry baseline numbers) with the Lifezone hydrometallurgical route – it also removes the need to transport and export concentrate long distances to European, North American or Asian smelters and refineries for further processing.

Such benefits and plans go some way to answering the questions around how Kabanga is holding a nickel-copper-cobalt asset that many battery metal investors and mining companies would be interested in.

Kabanga Nickel is putting Lifezone’s hydrometallurgy expertise to the test at the project in Tanzania

The majors might not be ready to offer up a plan featuring in-country beneficiation with new technology, but Kabanga and Lifezone are.

“As you know, the industry is very conservative – no-one wants to be first, they want to be second,” Liddell said. “As technology providers, we’re going to be first and second – first with the Kell Process plant in South Africa and second with the hydromet plant at Kabanga.

“We have ownership in those so, in effect, we are putting our money where our technology is. In a conservative industry, you have to do this.”

Liddell is right.

Take battery-electric vehicles or hard-rock cutting technology on the mobile equipment side of the mining business. The OEMs, to gain market traction, had to invest in the technology, build prototypes and mine-ready vehicles and then convince the miners to test them at their sites – most of the risk was held with the tech providers, not the miners.

While Lifezone will have to take on similar technology and financial risks for industry buy-in, all the billed benefits of its hydromet technology fit the mining industry ESG and productivity brief, making it a technology that has applications beyond Kabanga, Tanzania and nickel.

According to the company, it represents an architecture of several well-proven “breakthrough” hydromet process technologies – namely pressure oxidation of sulphide minerals, selective solvent extraction of metals and selective metal absorbents – that realise the value of all waste streams, both in-process and by constructing local, regional and global circular economies.

It comes with higher metal recoveries, lower costs, lower environmental impact, a less complex flowsheet, shorter production pipeline and reduced value lockup for those companies employing it. This means metal production comes sooner, more metal is produced at a lower cost and with a lower footprint and less potentially payable metal is left in the waste stream due to a lack of viable processing options.

The main unit operations at Kabanga are likely to include aqueous pressure oxidation in an autoclave to dissolve the sulphides and remove the base metals; copper refining by SX-EW; iron removal to purify the solution for cobalt and nickel refining; cobalt refining by SX-EW; and nickel refining by SX-EW. This could result in 40,000-50,000 t/y of nickel metal as cathode, powder or briquette, alongside 8,000 t of copper cathode and 3,500 t/y of cobalt cathode or rounds.

The refinery blueprint – designed in a modular manner to bolt on additional process trains, according to Liddell and Adams – could see Tanzania become the multi-metals processing hub it has eyes on, processing material from across East Africa and retaining more value in-country. Down the line, it could align itself even closer with the battery metals sector by producing precursor products that gigafactories are calling out for.

Beyond Kabanga Nickel, Liddell sees potential for applying this hydromet concept at existing smelting operations to lower the footprint and operating cost of operations.

“The hydromet process uses anywhere between one fifth and one third of a smelter’s electricity input,” he explained. “You can replace a 50 MW electric smelter with a 10 MW hydromet plant. At the same time, the process allows refiners to get more metal out of the concentrate. This means the lower energy draw and increased revenues can pay back the money invested in a hydromet plant.”

For operations looking to incorporate more renewables, this reduced power draw is a major selling point.

Similarly, for countries like South Africa looking to retain or grow its metal production blueprint while weaning themselves off coal amid routine power blackouts, the concept stacks up.

“In South Africa, you could end up producing the same amount of metals off a much lower power base, and it’s then much cheaper to green up that electricity,” Liddell said.

The potential is vast, and Kabanga Nickel has an 18-month program currently ahead of it to start development.

This one-and-a-half-year plan follows the recent issue of a mining licence that allows the company to get on the ground – symbolised by the drill rig (pictured above) that is about to start turning on site.

Over this timeframe, the plan is to update the existing feasibility study numbers and bolt a refinery module onto it, explore avenues with metallurgical drilling to boost the concentrate grade and re-work the mine design to access the two orebodies simultaneously. The latter is one of the ways the team could access more value sooner in the production process.

All of this could set the company up to start production from Kabanga in 2024-2025, 1-2 years after the Kell Process goes live at Sedibelo’s operation and in time for a further run up in battery metals demand and, most likely, more governments legislating for in-country beneficiation.

Kabanga Nickel and Lifezone’s plans could end up being a future tried-and-tested blueprint.

Wagners to haul McArthur River zinc-lead concentrate for Glencore

Following the completion of a competitive tender process, Wagners says it has secured a new haulage services contract with McArthur River Mining Pty Ltd (MRM), a subsidiary of Glencore, for the haulage of zinc and lead concentrate from McArthur River Mine, in Queensland, Australia, to the Bing Bong Loading Facility and the Mount Isa Mines metal processing facility.

Glencore owns and operates combined surface mining, underground mining, processing and smelting operations in Queensland and Northern Territory for the production of zinc, lead and copper concentrate. This includes the mine which is operated by MRM.

Wagners’ scope of works will include the loading of the zinc and lead concentrate at the mine and its haulage to both the Bing Bong Loading Facility and the processing facility in Mount Isa. The haulage services will operate 24 hours a day, seven days a week throughout the term with haulage services planned to commence in December 2021.

Based on forecast haulage requirements, the contribution to the company’s revenue over the contract term is expected to be in the vicinity of A$33 million ($24 million), Wagners said. This will remain subject to the mine’s production and ability to make the required volume of material available to meet the haulage tonnage forecast.

Wagners’ Chief Executive Officer, Cameron Coleman, said: “Wagners has a long-standing relationship with Glencore and is very grateful to be provided with the opportunity to service the McArthur River Mine operations in the delivery of these haulage services, which is a new project for us. This project will provide many employment opportunities throughout both the Northern Territory and Queensland and will require substantial capital investment to increase our haulage fleet, demonstrating Wagners’ commitment to this area of our business and the resources sector.”

Chute Technology improves the flow at Ulan operations

Chute Technology says its new coal and ore handling technologies, designed to overcome production-limiting factors at mines and bulk handling terminals throughout Australia, are proving their worth in service at the Ulan operations in New South Wales.

The technology packages are designed to eliminate potential bottlenecks, occupational health and safety issues and weak links in the production chain that can increase downtime and reduce output, Chute Technology says.

Typical issues include bin surging, bulk cleaning, spillages, blockages and reduced throughput rates, resulting in inefficient production.

According to Dennis Pomfret, Managing Director, Chute Technology, the company designed a customised chute to eliminate potential downtime for a specific section of the bypass system at the Ulan Surface Operations, which IM understands is owned by Glencore.

The new chute has dramatically reduced downtime since commissioning, according to the company, whereas the legacy arrangements were a source of multiple hours of lost production.

“The new chute allows Ulan Surface Operations to operate with a full feed rate of 2,000 t/h without any stoppages or blockages, so they can maximise their productivity and our profitability,” Pomfret said.

Chute Technology says it combines its decades of Australian and international practical engineering experience with advanced expertise in new flow enhancement and problem-solving technologies to produce modern answers to minerals and materials handling problems. The company provides audits and solutions extending from single issues at individual plants through to whole-of-process improvements extending from mines to port or point of resource use.

Pomfret said Ulan Surface Operations was looking to the future by investing in a solution designed to maximise productivity and eliminate unwanted downtime.

“We’re delighted that we could make Ulan Surface Operations’ bypass vision come to life, and it’s rewarding to see it working out in service,” he said. “Ulan Surface Operations is always looking to employ modern solutions that avoid problems in the first place, rather than cleaning up a mess after it occurs.”

Chute Technology performed an audit of current operations to gain a holistic view of current operations, before recommending the solution. The engineering audit determined that functionality of one known trouble spot, the bypass hopper and vibratory feeder, could be taken out of service and replaced with a simpler transfer chute with an in-built surge capacity.

The chute was designed in such a way that it could all be lifted and installed in one go, minimising installation downtime, the company said.

Chute Technology also designed and installed an adjustable surge control baffle device to control the height of material on the conveyor belt. The device acts like a trimmer on the end of the chute, where it trims the height of material during times of surge loading, to avoid belt overloading, side spillage and keep material heights consistent.

“We anticipate the surge control device will reduce spillage considerably, especially when taking into account the typical delays in conveyor stopping and starting sequences,” Pomfret said.

“A major consideration for the project was to design the new chute around the existing structures as much as possible, so that there was as little rework or modifications needed before installation.

“We also took into consideration that the drop height is almost 15 m. Ulan Surface Operations wished to retain their surge bin, floor structure, vibrating feeder and conveyor structures, so we designed around these as much as was possible. Additionally, the design was modular, so the installation took as little time as possible.”

Chute Technology says it selected an asymmetric chute to avoid belt mis-tracking issues, a “virtual skirtboard” to optimise the internal flow geometry and designed a single point of contact flow path so the material flow is constantly in contact with the chute from the head pulley to the receiving belt.

Pomfret concluded: “This project has been an excellent success, and we look forward to a long-term relationship with Ulan Surface Operations, as they look to maximise productivity and profitability.”