Tag Archives: Iron ore

Hatch identifies opportunities to cut Australian tailings generation by as much as 30%

A new report from multi-disciplinary engineering, operational and development project, Hatch, estimates Australia’s mining waste can be reduced by 30% using already available technologies.

One of the biggest challenges currently facing the mining industry is managing the volume of tailings generated as minerals mining ramps up to meet the demands of the transition to renewable energy.

Undertaking an in-depth analysis to identify the technologies required to reduce or eliminate tailings of six key commodities (copper, gold, nickel, iron ore, coal and bauxite), Hatch investigated how tailings production would be impacted by applying the key technologies ‘themes’: advanced geometallurgy, ore sorting, advanced sensing and particle sorting, in-situ extraction, and preferential fracturing.

The company’s analysis revealed that technologies available today could reduce tailings by 20-30%, also identifying that, in the next 10-20 years, the integration of these technologies in future projects or expansions could provide an opportunity to reduce tailings by more than 50%.

Managing Director of Australia and Asia at Hatch, Jan Kwak (pictured), says the challenge of reducing tailings is a complex effort that is best solved utilising the innovative capacity of the entire mining supply chain.

“A balanced spread of researchers, METS (mining equipment, technology and services) companies, and operators in the mining industry are actively commercialising technologies,” he said. “Half (50%) of stakeholders identified are METS companies, whose core business is the supply of equipment and services of these technologies, indicating commercialisation is underway. This group was also present across the technologies that our analysis has shown to have higher TRLs (Technology Readiness Levels).”

The TRL ranking system measures the maturity of technologies, whereby Hatch graded technologies from zero (idea stage) to nine (commercial application).

For in-situ mining and preferential fracturing technology themes, there is a larger representation of research organisations and partnerships. This suggests collaboration is required to advance technological development, according to Hatch.

“It is vital that these stakeholders are highly engaged in the tailings reduction challenge in order to achieve the greatest cut through and introduce real change and advancement in the reduction of tailings, which will be needed to support the increase in mining activity while meeting emissions reduction targets,” added Kwak.

Metso Outotec to add to Grate Kiln iron ore pellet reference list with Oman order

Metso Outotec has signed an agreement for the delivery of engineering and key equipment for an iron ore Grate Kiln pellet plant to Vulcan Pelletizing LLC.

The plant is located in the industrial port of Sohar, the Sultanate of Oman, with the value of the order being approximately €33 million ($35 million). The pellet plant will supply pellets to Jindal Shadeed Iron & Steel LLC, Oman.

Metso Outotec’s scope of delivery consists of the supply of core pelletising plant equipment, including the traveling grate, rotary kiln and annular cooler. The design is based on the Grate Kiln plants that Metso Outotec is currently supplying for a customer in India. The plant, which is planned to produce 6 Mt/y of high-quality iron ore pellets, is scheduled to be operational by the end of 2023.

Chris Urban, Vice President, Heat Transfer Products at Metso Outotec, said: “This is the third order for a 6 Mt/y Grate-Kiln pelletising plant within the last 16 months. Metso Outotec is proud to be the Vulcan group’s selected partner in iron ore pelletising, and we look forward to propelling the Vulcan group to be a global leader with world-class pellet products.”

Metso Outotec says it is the world’s leading supplier of Grate Kiln pellet plants, with more than 50 installations globally totaling over 130 Mt/y of production.

BacTech Environmental building up to bioleaching pilot plant milestone

BacTech Environmental Corp, an environmental technology company delivering eco-friendly bioleaching and remediation solutions for precious metal and critical mineral recovery, says it is advancing its Sudbury pilot plant development for nickel-cobalt and ‘green’ iron recovery with plans for the plant to be operational in July.

Dr Nadia Mykytczuk, a leader in biomining technology, member of BacTech’s advisory board and Interim CEO and President of MIRARCO Mining Innovation, is leading the development and building of a bioleach pilot plant to be located in Sudbury, Canada.

Working closely with BacTech’s scientific team, the plant is for the testing of bioleaching processes like the company’s proposed approach for pyrrhotite treatment. The pilot plant will simulate a commercial bioleach process consisting of a cascade of reactors operating on a continuous basis. The plant will also include front and back-end equipment operating as separate units for capturing additional revenue sources beyond nickel-cobalt (eg elemental sulphur, iron as feed for steel making and oxidised residue conversion for construction materials).

The proposed pilot plant is expected to be operational by July. One reactor has been 100% completed to date and is being used to test select concentrates from BacTech’s Tenguel project in Ecuador.

On April 7, BacTech announced it had filed a provisional patent application documenting its proposed approach to bioleaching pyrrhotite materials. Pyrrhotite is a very volatile sulphide mineral containing nickel and cobalt values that oxidises rapidly and produces large amounts of iron and sulphur components as by-products, which are typically considered as wastes. The pilot plant is part of Dr Mykytczuk’s larger effort to establish the future Centre for Mine Waste Biotechnology, a facility focused on scale-up and commercialisation of biotechnologies to help extract value and reduce impacts from mine wastes.

The object is to use this pilot facility to obtain the design data necessary to establish a fully integrated tonnage-based demonstration plant, which would then lead towards full-scale commercialisation. The production of value-added materials from the iron and sulphur and oxidised residue, which would normally be disposed of as waste, differentiates this process from other pyrrhotite bioleach endeavours which only target nickel and cobalt production, BacTech says.

On May 11, 2022, the Canadian government announced a C$10.9 million ($8.5 million) fund to assist with the construction of pilot plants and projects to support the development of critical mineral value chains. The Sudbury Basin hosts up to 100 Mt of pyrrhotite tailings deposited over the past 90 years of mining estimated to contain on average 0.8% Ni and 0.03% Co, according to BacTech.

“We are very happy to see the government stepping up and providing capital for pilot stage plants in the critical metals space,” Ross Orr, President and CEO of BacTech, said. “This is probably the most difficult capital to obtain at the R&D stage, as the demands are much greater than a typical lab setup. We will definitely be answering the Canadian Government’s call for proposals. In addition to reactors and other equipment, we need to conduct studies on the pre- bioleach phase as well as recovery of metals from solution at the back-end.”

BacTech’s scientific path is to develop an innovative zero-carbon liberation and extraction approach to separating iron from its ore, in addition to optimising nickel-cobalt recovery efforts. BacTech says it believes its method answers the need raised by the Canadian Government and to accelerate the sustainable extraction and processing of critical minerals from existing mine tailings and invest in domestic production.

Orr concluded: “Providing the solution to the complex pyrrhotite issue in the Sudbury Basin would be a tremendous win for BacTech and its shareholders. Having completed an applicable year-long bioleach study with great results some 20 years ago gives us the confidence that we can succeed. The complementary technologies that we hope to now use were not available to us back in the late 1990s and should allow us to commercialise and sell multiple end-products derived from the pyrrhotite source.”

Kerman Contracting to construct ore storage facility for MRL’s Ashburton Hub project

Kerman Contracting Pty Ltd says it has been awarded a A$60 million ($42 million) contract from Mineral Resources Limited (MRL) to design and construct its Port of Ashburton Ore Storage facility in Onslow, Western Australia.

The scope includes the design, fabrication, supply and erection of an enclosed 284-m-long ore storage facility and associated materials handling. The design is already well underway and on-site construction works are expected to start in January 2023, Kerman said. The facility is part of MRL’s plans to develop the 30 Mt/y Ashburton Hub iron ore operation.

“This project fits perfectly into our core business and will provide employment for about 60 site personnel and opportunities for local businesses,” Kerman’s Managing Director, Chris Kerman, said. “To deliver a world-class facility for MRL we will call upon our previous experience in the design and construction of port bulk storage and materials handling facilities in locations such as Bunbury, Esperance, Geraldton, Port Kembla and Whyalla.

“We are very pleased with the opportunity to design and construct a storage facility with these dimensions in the Pilbara region. Once constructed this facility will be one of the largest enclosed bulk storage buildings in Australia’s cyclone region.”

Schlam to supply Fortescue with new Hercules EXO truck body

Schlam says it has been awarded a multi-million-dollar supply agreement with Fortescue Metals Group Limited for both its products (Schlam Payload Solutions) and services (Schlam People Solutions) divisions.

The contract will see Schlam Payload Solutions supply Fortescue with dump bodies and buckets – including the company’s newly-released Hercules EXO – while Schlam People Solutions will provide skilled on-site mechanical and fabrication services for a minimum of three years with options to extend, it said.

The agreement solidifies Schlam’s decade-long relationship with Fortescue, the company added.

Schlam Chief Executive Officer Matt Thomas said that he expected the agreement’s value to reach over A$90 million ($62.7 million).

“Fortescue will be one of the first operators to receive the Hercules EXO since its successful trial and market release,” Thomas said. “The Hercules EXO is a 240-t-class iron ore specific dump body that is 20% lighter than the company’s already class-leading Hercules. The decreased weight gives miners a greater payload potential, while a complete redesign and innovative material selection have resulted in a 100% increase in service life.”

Thomas added: “Like Schlam, Fortescue is a proud and innovative West Australian company. This relationship strengthened when we trialled a Hercules dump body suited to their fleet of 240-t-class trucks in 2018. At the time, it was the lightest 240-t body we had manufactured and, through working with innovative partners, like Fortescue, we’ve been able to develop the next generation of payload products, including the Hercules EXO.”

To date, Schlam has supplied almost 60 Hercules bodies to Fortescue’s fleet of mining trucks and will deliver a further 50 in the next financial year alone.

The agreement brings Schlam Payload Solutions and Schlam People Solutions under the same set of terms and conditions. The latter expands Schlam’s portfolio of Tier-1 clientele, for which it supplies heavy-duty mechanics, boilermakers, auto-electricians and other skilled labour.

“The agreement will underpin our journey to introduce the latest robotic technology to transform our manufacturing processes and develop a state-of-the-art advanced manufacturing facility right here in Western Australia,” Thomas said.

K2fly to deploy Ground Disturbance Solution across BHP WA iron ore sites

K2fly has announced that BHP Iron Ore has signed an initial one-year contract to deploy K2fly’s Ground Disturbance Solution over its entire iron ore operations in the Pilbara of Western Australia.

The agreement with K2fly will generate annual recurring revenue of A$620,000 ($432,151), according to the provider of resource governance solutions.

BHP’s Western Australia Iron Ore (WAIO) is an integrated system of four processing hubs and five mines, connected by more than 1,000 km of rail infrastructure and port facilities in the Pilbara region of northern Western Australia. It produces over 245 Mt/y of iron ore, making it one of the top five producers of iron ore globally.

Sitting within K2fly’s Natural Resource Governance area, K2fly Ground Disturbance solution is a cloud-based Software as a Service platform for applying, approving, tracking, reporting and submitting closure of permits and rehabilitation commitments surrounding ground disturbance activities, K2fly explained.

“K2fly’s Ground Disturbance Solution is the only commercial off-the-shelf (COTS) solution available in the market today and is transforming the way resource and infrastructure landowners manage and govern their land assets, enabled by delivering spatial first visibility, speed and efficiency in understanding and decision making, and collaboration for the users across the spectrum of land management,” it said.

The agreement with BHP means K2fly now provides the ground disturbance solution for the three biggest iron ore producers in Western Australia: Rio Tinto, BHP and Fortescue Metals Group.

Nic Pollock, CEO of K2fly, said: “We are delighted to be starting our relationship with BHP, who will join many other Tier 1 global mining companies as a valued client of K2fly. Our Ground Disturbance Solution is the only system which helps provide better transparency and governance whilst avoiding damaging the environment or protecting cultural heritage and ensuring all stakeholder engagement and obligations are met.

“Because of recent events in the Pilbara, the world’s attention is very much focused on how mining companies ensure that they better protect the environment, cultural heritage sites and engage with communities. This is a global trend and because K2fly offers the world’s only COTS solution for the range of natural resource governance and ESG issues that mining companies are addressing today, we are expecting this solution to become standard across many mining companies and across all jurisdictions.”

Elastomers Australia develops fire retardant screen media panels for Rio Tinto Iron Ore

A three-year collaborative project between Rio Tinto Iron Ore (RTIO) and Elastomers Australia has delivered a major improvement in fire mitigation to enhance safety and protection of assets at the miner’s Western Australia iron ore sites, the mining services specialist said.

The project involved developing and rolling out Elastomers Australia’s Armalast fire retardant screen media panels in relevant RTIO-owned and operated processing facilities.

The development of the fire-retardant panels occurred following root cause analysis activities after a fire at RTIO’s Cape Lambert ore processing and port facility in early 2019. The analysis highlighted the flammable nature of various materials including screen media panels when exposed to elevated temperature conditions and ignition sources, Elastomers Australia said.

This incident is one of several similar fires that have caused issues for other miners and mineral processing operators in recent years, particularly in the iron ore sector, it added.

Within months of the fire, RTIO and Elastomers Australia had worked together to develop and commence testing a series of fire-retardant rubber screen media products.

Elastomers Australia General Manager Business Solutions, Pat Caputo, says due to the high occurrence of consumable rubber and other flammable materials in processing plants, the risk of fire is always present.

“Operators are always conscious of managing the risks of ignition, but with so many moving parts and the need for hot works to be carried out within close proximity to flammable components, there is always some degree of risk,” Caputo said.

“So, as part of Rio Tinto’s risk mitigation, the company approached Elastomers Australia to develop a screen media product that would inhibit the spread of flames.”

It is not the first time manufacturers have tried to develop fire retardant rubber, but a persistent issue for screen media, and particularly that used for hard-rock processing such as iron ore, has been the impact on wear life and screening efficiency.

The fire retardancy of the Elastomers Australia products was quickly established, but other criteria had to be evaluated prior to rollout, including verifying performance and ensuring that no new risks – such as increased manual handling requirements – were introduced, according to Elastomers Australia.

Caputo said while the rollout was impacted to some degree by COVID restrictions, it was aligned with regular shutdown cycles to prevent any undue impact on planned production.

He added that Elastomers Australia had developed Armalast fire-retardant screen media for use in other mineral processing applications including gold, copper, nickel, coal and lithium operations.

“We typically develop customised screening solutions based on the unique ore properties of materials being mined from one site to another, which means we can formulate fire-retardant solutions to suit most dry screening applications where fire may pose a risk,” he said.

Vale’s Sustainable Sand to impact tailings generation plans

The University of Queensland – through its Sustainable Minerals Institute (SMI) – and the University of Geneva recently released a report indicating that sand from the iron ore production process may contribute to solving two important environmental issues by reducing sand extracted from the natural environment and cutting the generation of mining tailings.

One of the big contributors to this report was Vale, which, itself, has developed Sustainable Sand, a co-product of iron ore processing that, instead of being disposed in piles and dams, is now being processed and transformed into a product, following the same quality controls as in its iron ore production.

This year, Vale will allocate around 1 Mt of sand between sales and donations for use in civil construction and tests in pavement, among other uses. Much of this is set to come from its Brucutu mine in Minas Gerais.

IM put some questions to Bruno Batista, Engineer at Brucutu mine, and Fabiano Carvalho Filho, Executive Manager for Ferrous Business Development, to find out more about the company’s plans for Sustainable Sand.

IM: How has Vale changed its operational practices at mine sites to make the most of the Sustainable Sand process? For instance, have mine plans or layouts been adapted to ensure it is easier to obtain and process this material?

BB: First of all, Vale has done deep research about the technical potential for iron ore tailings and the mineral processing to obtain sand from them. Despite sand generation sharing existing assets deployed for the exploration of iron ore, it is important to highlight that Vale had to obtain the mineral and environmental licence to produce, sell and donate sand. The use of new technologies for greater recovery of iron ore have been installed in our operations and, as a result, we will have better quality sandy tailings. In some cases, it was necessary to implement new stages of concentration, classification and filtration so that it was possible to produce quality sand that met market requirements. We did change the quality control, treating sand as a product, with specification, daily analysis and process adjustment in order to meet it.

IM: I think it was 250,000 t of sand set aside for sale or donation to be used in concrete, mortar, cement and road pavement last year, another 1 Mt/y this year and 2 Mt/y in 2023. What are the longer-term goals for Sustainable Sand and – at the same time – how is this impacting your tailings handling plans?

BB: Vale’s objective is to enable more sustainable mining. The figures you mention are correct. Our pace of production in the long term will depend upon several factors, such as logistics capacity and market availability. Sustainable Sand is one of the initiatives to reduce the generation of tailings. Other initiatives are being developed as such as dry concentration and tailings filtering.

IM: Is there a balance to be had here with using sand for dry-stacked tailings purposes – increasing the stability of your tailings infrastructure – and donating/selling it for other uses? Is this what could potentially put a ‘cap’ on your Sustainable Sand production for sale/donation?

BB: Coarse tailings are destined for sand production and also for dry stacking. To increase more significantly sand production there are some challenges, such as logistics capacity and market availability. Vale is advancing and we should forecast a production of 2 Mt in 2023. We are also studying applications for the ultrafine material, so we would need less coarse tailings for dry stacking.

IM: Aside from the 425-m-long road at the Cauê mine, in Itabira, and the Pico Block Factory, what other applications will the sand have?

FCF: At the moment, the focus is on the construction market, mainly concrete, mortar and cement, as it has the largest production scale and is already being sold to by Vale, and road pavement, in which we are advancing our research. Vale has a portfolio of more than 20 initiatives for the use of tailings from mining. These initiatives are the result of partnerships with universities, research centres and other companies. These are initiatives that encompass several industries, focused on civil construction, chemical industry and automotive, among others. The initiatives are at different stages of maturity and the future of the projects still depends on progress in the research being carried out.

IM: Sand is the planet’s most mined material, so what does Vale plan to do with this Sustainable Sand process to reduce the environmental impact of the wider mining industry?

FCF: Vale’s objective is to enable more sustainable mining. The UNEP report (2022), in which the Vale Sand Case has been studied, shows that substituting naturally-sourced sand with ore sand (sand from iron ore tailings) could potentially lead to net reductions in carbon emissions generated during sand production. The substitution of marine or riverine sand for ore sand could also lead to a reduction in ecosystem damage. Besides that, Vale Sand is a certified product, which can contribute to this particular industry.

IM: Is there potential for other iron ore mining companies using this process to reduce their own tailings generation? the process been patented?

FCF: Iron ore tailings beneficiation demands investments and technology; there are patents involved in the development of other products derived from the sand.

Vale and Nippon Steel to evaluate carbon-neutral ironmaking solutions

Vale and Japan’s Nippon Steel have signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) to pursue ironmaking solutions focused on a carbon-neutral steelmaking process, the iron ore miner says.

Vale and Nippon Steel intend to jointly study and explore (i) metallic usage solutions such as direct reduced iron (DRI) and pig iron produced by Tecnored technology; and (ii) usage of Vale’s green briquettes in the ironmaking process and other lower carbon footprint products such as pellets.

This initiative contributes to Vale’s commitment to reduce net Scope 3 emissions by 15% by 2035. Additionally, Vale seeks to reduce its absolute Scope 1 and 2 emissions by 33% by 2030 and achieve net zero by 2050, in line with the Paris Agreement, leading the evolution process towards sustainable mining.

In April, Vale and the Government of the State of Pará held an event to mark the beginning of the construction works of the first commercial plant of Tecnored in Brazil. Tecnored’s technology allows the production of so-called ‘green pig iron’, by replacing metallurgical coal with biomass, thus reducing carbon emissions and contributing to the decarbonisation of the steel industry.

The unit will have an initial capacity to produce 250,000 t/y of green pig iron, with the possibility of reaching 500,000 t/y in the future. The start-up is scheduled for 2025 with an estimated investment of approximately BRL1.6 billion ($342 million).

LKAB accelerates carbon-dioxide-free sponge iron plans

LKAB says it is boosting both the pace and the level of ambition of its plans towards transitioning to carbon-dioxide-free sponge iron following a successful exploration program.

A dramatic increase in mineral resources means that the plan for future production of sponge iron has been upped to 24.4 Mt/y by 2050. This will enable a reduction in carbon dioxide emissions among global steel industry customers corresponding to nearly all of Sweden’s current greenhouse gas emissions, LKAB says.

“The climate can’t wait and demand for the raw material for producing fossil-free steel is already upon us – before we have even reached the market,” Jan Moström, LKAB’s President and CEO, said.

In March 2022, LKAB reported increased mineral reserves and mineral resources, referencing deposits containing about 4,000 Mt, which will enable production far beyond 2060. LKAB’s known mineral reserves and resources now add up to double the amount thus far mined in the company’s 130-year history.

“We are accelerating and expanding the plans for future production of sponge iron produced with hydrogen,” Moström said.

LKAB is now moving towards a rapid industrialisation of the HYBRIT technology for transforming production in Malmberget/Gällivare, which is closely integrated with SSAB. The plan is to synchronise the transition with SSAB’s planned transition and to have switched entirely from pellet production to sponge iron amounting to some 5.4 Mt by the 2030s. This will enable emissions reductions amounting to about 9 Mt at SSAB.

Moström added: “After the most recent climate reports from the UN, the urgency of the climate issue must be obvious to everyone. We can see that this transition also makes good business sense and that it creates jobs, growth and yield on investments. By leading the way towards the green transition, we are also building Sweden’s competitive advantage internationally.

“The entire value chain must undergo a transformation, and quickly. The HYBRIT technology, which we have developed in collaboration with SSAB and Vattenfall, will be industrialised starting in Gällivare, where the first plant will be operational in 2026. The capacity increase LKAB is now planning corresponds to three more such facilities in Malmberget/Gällivare within barely a few years after commissioning of the first HYBRIT plant.”

When the transition has been completed, with increased production, by around 2050, the target is for LKAB to produce 24.4 Mt/y of sponge iron, with zero carbon dioxide emissions. By removing the oxygen from the iron ore by means of electrically-produced hydrogen gas, instead of the steel mills using fossil carbon in blast furnaces, LKAB can enable reductions in carbon dioxide emissions of between 40-50 Mt/y at steelmaking customers. That corresponds to nearly all of Sweden’s current annual greenhouse gas emissions.

A rapid transition places higher demands on fossil-free electricity and more power distribution infrastructure. LKAB’s demand, needed mainly for hydrogen gas production, is estimated at 20 TWh/y by 2030, increasing to 50 TWh/y by 2040 and finally reaching 70 TWh/y when the entire expansion has been realised by 2050.

“To make the climate transition a reality, we will need a massive expansion of power production and distribution,” Moström said. “We need to double electricity production within the next 25 years, and the iron and steel industry value chain is waiting for very other TWh of this.”

The switch from pellets to sponge iron also means that the value of the product increases significantly, according to LKAB.

Moström concluded: “In terms of today’s market prices, this expansion would triple LKAB’s revenue. By building up production of sponge iron, we are increasing the value of LKAB’s, and thereby Sweden’s, mineral reserves and resources, and creating growing export values. Above all, we are making an enormous effort for the benefit of the climate.”