Tag Archives: Minerals Research Institute of Western Australia

FBICRC’s battery value chain plans accelerate with cathode precursor pilot plant launch

The Future Battery Industries Cooperative Research Centre (FBICRC) has launched its flagship project – the Cathode Precursor Production Pilot Plant – in Western Australia.

Backed by 19 industry, research and government participants, the launch represents a major step in Australia’s journey to expand its presence throughout the global battery value chain, it said.

The first of its kind in Australia, the Cathode Precursor Production Pilot Plant will establish the technology and capabilities for Australia to design and build cathode precursor manufacturing facilities on a commercial and industrial scale.

The FBICRC explained: “Cathode precursors are precisely engineered materials, the highest cost component of a cell, and a crucial element of the battery value chain. The FBICRC’s report – ‘Future Charge – Building Australia’s Battery Industries’ – identified establishing an active materials manufacturing capability as an immediate priority for Australia to move up the global value chain, which could deliver A$1 billion ($672 million) to the economy and support 4,800 jobs by 2030.”

The Cathode Precursor Production Pilot Plant capitalises on Australia’s strong position in mining and its emerging battery metal refining industry. The facility will link with other FBICRC flagship projects across Australia, including the National Battery Testing Centre at the Queensland University of Technology, battery materials research at the University of Technology Sydney, electrolyte research at Deakin University and battery anode research at the University of Melbourne.

Shannon O’Rourke, CEO of the FBICRC, said: “The launch of the Cathode Precursor Production Pilot Plant is the culmination of several years of hard work, collaboration and integration by industry-leading partners and academic institutions, to progress the current and future needs of industry. We’re delighted to see this world-class facility up and running.

“The incoming government has committed to a National Battery Strategy which will help to seize local battery manufacturing opportunities. The Cathode Precursor Production Pilot Plant will be a key enabler to build an Australian manufacturing capability.”

The global battery market is expected to grow 9-10 times by 2030 and 40-fold by 2050. In a net-zero world, between now and 2050 over A$23 trillion will be spent on batteries, according to the FBICRC. Australia is positioned to capture more of this value given it has leading resources of all raw materials required to make high performance batteries – nickel, cobalt, manganese, graphite and lithium.

Cathode precursor materials are further processed to create cathodes in the battery cell. The performance, durability, safety, and operating envelope of a cell are impacted by the properties of precursor materials. Composition, shape, and surface properties must be controlled closely to ensure a cell performs reliably over many years.

Over 18-months, the plant will run a series of test campaigns through four fully integrated and automated P-CAM production units, provided by BASF. The four units will enable the Cathode Precursor Production Pilot Plant to run different compositions and ratios of chemistries simultaneously, or to run the same chemistries under four different conditions, changing variables such as temperature, pH or stirring rate. Produced P-CAM is then lithiated, calcined and electrochemically tested at the FBICRC-funded Electrochemical Testing Facility at the Queensland University of Technology.

BHP Nickel West has also provided equipment for the precursor facility, repurposed from its nickel sulphate pilot plant.

The Cathode Precursor Production Pilot Plant will not only deliver the technical capabilities required to build commercial scale P-CAM manufacturing facilities, it will help educate and upskill the next generation for a future battery industry, it said.

O’Rourke concluded: “Australia has the potential to develop into a competitive player in the international batteries industry. The Pilot Plant launch is a significant step in developing the on-shore capabilities and industry knowledge to create thousands of jobs and add billions of dollars to our economy.”

Jessica Farrell, Asset President, Nickel West, said: “The launch of the Cathode Precursor Pilot Plant is a vital step towards developing a future growth industry here in Western Australia. The launch of this plant, made possible through the repurposing of equipment from our nickel sulphate pilot plant, will allow the FBICRC and the State Government to explore further options for a downstream battery materials manufacturing industry. This is another exciting step for BHP as a major supplier of nickel, a commodity highly sought after by car and battery manufactures across the globe.”

Project participants include: BASF Australia Limited, BHP Nickel West, Queensland University of Technology, Curtin University, CSIRO, Minerals Research Institute of Western Australia, University of Technology Sydney, HEC Group Pty Ltd, JordProxa Pty Ltd, Ardea Resources Limited, IGO Limited, Blackstone Minerals Limited, Cobalt Blue Holdings Limited, Calix Limited, Alpha HPA Limited, Lycopodium Limited, ChemX Materials Limited, EV Metals Group PLC and Allkem Ltd (formerly Galaxy Resources Limited).

Western Australia puts money behind ‘net zero’ emission mining pledge

Western Australia has committed to its “net zero emission” mining pledge by committing up to A$1.5 million ($1.17 million) in funding for research and development geared towards decarbonising the sector.

Today, Western Australia’s Mines and Petroleum Minister, Bill Johnston, launched the first actions of the Minerals Research Institute of Western Australia’s (MRIWA) Net Zero Emission Mining Challenge.

This MRIWA challenge aims to reduce the carbon footprint, lower overall energy costs and improve the energy efficiency of the Western Australian mining sector through harnessing collective efforts, enabling decarbonisation to become an opportunity for the sector, not a cost, the MRIWA says.

MRIWA has identified three priority themes representing cross-cutting issues in the mining sector that would benefit from a collaborative approach to addressing the challenge. This includes data-driven decisions, mining and processing technology, and energy utilisation.

A A$1 million competitive funding round opened today to co-fund research proposals that address challenges to reducing emissions in the mining industry.

Additionally, expressions of interest opened for small to medium businesses in the mining, equipment, technology and services (METS) sector to participate in CSIRO’s Innovate to Grow online program.

The free 10-week program will commence in July and help METS leaders develop innovative solutions to business challenges related to net zero emission mining in Western Australia, the government said.

The Western Australia Government (through MRIWA) is offering A$500,000 (A$20,000-$50,000/grant) to eligible program participants to develop their solutions. These grants require matched funding and will be subject to an application process after the program’s completion, it explained.

Johnston said: “Today’s funding announcement will support the diversification of our state’s economy, and progress research on overcoming the challenges to decarbonise the mining sector. METS are a vital part of the resources sector supply chain, and I encourage all eligible small businesses to apply and play a role in the McGowan Government’s commitment of net zero emissions by 2050.”

Applications for CSIRO’s Innovate to Grow program close on June 28, 2021, and applications for the A$1 million competitive funding round close on July 7, 2021.

Hyperspectral imaging technology tested at Western Australia gold, iron ore mines

The University of Queensland and research partners Plotlogic Pty Ltd have developed new automated mining technology that, they say, will facilitate automation of the mining process while improving operating efficiency.

The research has shown how artificial intelligence can use scans of the mine face to almost instantly identify valuable minerals and waste rock, allowing each stage of the mining process to be planned more effectively in advance, UQ said.

Professor Ross McAree, Head of School of Mechanical and Mining Engineering from UQ, said the new technology used visible and infrared light to automatically classify materials.

“Each mineral has its own characteristic response to different wavelengths of light, so by scanning the mine face with our system we can map out the minerals present in the rock and their concentration (ore grade) almost instantaneously,” Professor McAree said.

This real-time mapping allows the mining process to be planned out before digging even starts, according to the researchers.

“Beyond this immediate efficiency gain, the enhanced ability to recognise ore grade could also underpin future autonomous mine systems,” Professor McAree said. “Machines equipped with this imaging system would be able to recognise ore grade as they were excavating it. Linked to artificial intelligence, this could allow automated machinery to operate in the mine environment, removing workers from hazardous parts of the mining process.”

Real-time ore grade classification at the mine face could also enhance mine scheduling and improve resource recovery and minimise processing waste, the researchers claim.

The project was supported by the Minerals Research Institute of Western Australia (MRIWA), with MRIWA CEO, Nicole Roocke, saying investment into research like this helped position Australia’s minerals industry at the leading edge of technology development.

“This imaging approach could prove particularly valuable where rapid extraction and consistency of ore grades could provide a competitive advantage to those leading the way,” Roocke said.

The project, which was conducted in 2018-2019, had a total grant value of A$850,850 ($653,322). In addition to MRIWA, UQ and Plotlogic, CITIC Pacific Mining and AngloGold Ashanti were also involved, hosting trials at the Sino iron ore and Tropicana gold mines, in Western Australia, respectively.

It was based off the OreSense® prototype system, developed to meet the needs of the research project, as well as offering a commercial pathway for early industry adoption of the technology.

“The prototype delivers a system capable of acquiring, processing and classifying hyperspectral data in the field and in real time, mapped to terrain and geo-referenced for integration with mine maps,” the project partners said. “In order to be the most general and applicable to all minerals, the hyperspectral imaging capabilities cover the visible to short wave infrared spectrum (400-2,500 nm).

“The surveying capabilities of the system rotate in more than one axis to perform face scans and build a 3D data-cube from two individual line-scanning hyperspectral sensors. The system spatially and spectrally fuses the data cubes from the two sensors to provide a single data-cube for an entire scene. The system also performs on-board corrections and post-processing of the hyperspectral data to support real-time ore grade classification.”

The prototype used on site during the trials consisted of a sensor head with LiDAR and hyperspectral cameras, a pan-tilt unit and a GNSS receiver among other elements (see photo above).

CSIRO senses a new way forward for mineral exploration

A project focused on the Capricorn region of Western Australia has indicated mining companies could more accurately pinpoint reserves of valuable minerals using a new water-tasting approach developed by the national science agency, CSIRO.

In research supported by the Minerals Research Institute of Western Australia (MRIWA), broad “haloes” of altered water chemistry around known deposits of gold, uranium, and other minerals were discovered where interaction with the ore systems had left distinctive traces in the water.

CSIRO Researcher, Dr Nathan Reid, led a team of scientists analysing samples of groundwater from the Capricorn region, where layers of sediment and weathering are believed to hide potential ore deposits from view.

Dr Reid explained: “Groundwater penetrates through covering sediments and interacts directly with the bedrock, dissolving trace amounts of the minerals present into solution. By sampling those waters, our instruments can essentially ‘taste’ the geology they have come into contact with.”

Where the underlying rocks contain a valuable ore deposit, the chemical flavour of that mineralisation extends much further than the concentrated mineralisation itself, according to Dr Reid, comparing this with a teaspoon of salt making a whole glass of water taste salty.

These haloes of altered water chemistry could help geologists identify areas where other ore deposits might still lie hidden below the surface, helping to focus mineral exploration in the right areas, according to CSIRO.

Chemical anomalies identified in groundwater from sediment-covered areas of the study region have already stimulated further exploration investment from companies seeking to identify undiscovered mineral deposits, according to CSIRO. Industry sponsors of the project include Marindi Metals, Thundelarra Resources, Sandfire Resources, Northern Star Resources, MMG, Gascoyne Resources, Auris Metals, RNI, Erongo Energy and Independence Group.

MRIWA CEO, Nicole Roocke, said the innovative work in this project by scientists across CSIRO, the Centre for Exploration Targeting and Curtin University will play an important role in encouraging mining industry investment in under-explored areas of Western Australia.

“This work demonstrates the exciting mineral exploration potential remaining in the Capricorn, and we anticipate this innovative approach to mineral exploration will stimulate renewed interest in many similar areas of Western Australia where we know richly endowed geology lies buried below younger rocks,” she said.

“By supporting this fundamental research, the Western Australian Government is helping to provide the mineral exploration industry with the tools it needs to invest in identifying the next generation of ore deposits in this state.”

The technical report summarising the findings of this research can be found here.