Q&A with Chris Broadbent

28 Nov 2018

Chris Broadbent talks to Khai Trung Le about his prestige lecture delivered at the 2nd Russia-UK Dialogue.

Can you tell me about your working history?

I started off in research in universities and then with Rio Tinto and Shell Billiton. I moved into consultancy 25 years ago to Wardell Armstrong, where I’ve been a director for 18 years. However, I’ve always been associated with R&D in mining and metallurgy. Innovation has always been something close to my heart, and through both research and consultancy, I’ve always looked at where it can be applied.

Your prestige lecture was focused on technological and materials trends that future Russia-UK collaboration might take advantage of. How did you decide on this theme?

I’ve worked quite extensively in Russia and the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS), and was asked to present something that would be of interest to an Anglo-Russian audience. I thought the recent innovations in the processing world were particularly relevant to that audience, especially regarding exploitation of Russian deposits. It’s always a challenge to fund innovation, and one we’ll be increasingly faced with in the future because of the changing nature of future deposits. This is particularly relevant to Russia, and the UK could assist the local exploitation, with the innovation itself and London being the finance capital of the mining and metallurgical world.

It was a privilege and an honour to be asked to deliver the lecture. It was quite daunting being told to speak to a prestigious, knowledgeable audience for an hour with little guidance. But I actually enjoyed putting my lecture together – it made me think about how we fund innovative projects, and what we should be doing and how we talk to the finance community.

Given your extensive involvement in the metallurgy and mining communities, have you seen any changes in the ways Russia and the UK collaborate over the years?

The Russian research institutes have a lot of experience and expertise that we don’t necessarily have in the West. Instead, it’s a two-way process. The West can learn from the Russian research institutes that see things in slightly different ways – perhaps stemming from working in relative isolation for a long period, they developed solutions to processing problems in a different way to how we did in Western Europe, Australia, and the USA. But with the changeover from a command economy to a more capitalist-driven economy, Russia has to adapt its previous philosophies, implementing far more transparency in all stages, and a different approach to the resource reserve allocation at the level of comfort that the banks want. This is something the West can help with.

One aspect of the dialogue was the repeated call for closer collaborations between the two countries. Are these partnerships something we’re recently beginning to explore?

They’re relatively new, but Wardell Armstrong has had offices in Russia and Kazakhstan for 15 years. I joined Wardell 25 years ago, and the first job I ever did with the company was in Uzbekistan, just a few weeks after the country became independent. There are some exceptions, but it’s only relatively recently that other players have started looking at Russia for new relationships.

What are your expectations for future Russia-UK Dialogues?

I really think there’s a lot of benefit in maintaining the Dialogue just so that people are more aware of the issues on both sides – talking is always good. Developing resources in Russia, and environmental factors, are becoming more important, but they’re playing a little
bit of catch up. In the West, people have been tackling those issues for longer. There are a lot of best practices that can be exported to Russia and the CIS.

On the other side of the coin, the Russian system of state-run research institutes is what used to happen in the West. By and large, many of the western state-run institutes for mining and metallurgy have disappeared, and that’s been a great shame as they largely delivered the innovation in years gone by. I’d love to see something on the capabilities of Russia’s research institutions, and to discuss their projects. There are ideas being generated that we’re not aware of, such as the Vanyukov process. It isn’t standard in UK metallurgy, and I actually think that technology could be a game changer for processing things like low-grade nickel laterites. There must be lots of other examples of solutions that have been developed and gone unnoticed.

After the prestige lecture, Bernie Rickinson gifted you a Davy lamp. Where has it ended up?

It’s ended up in pride of place in my living room. As I said when I received it, my grandfather was a coal miner in the Black Country in England, and he had a Davy lamp. When I was little, I was always impressed with it. It’s taken 62 years, but now I have one of my own.

Chris Broadbent FIMMM is Director of Research at Wardell Armstrong, and has been an integral figure in the wider mining and metallurgy sector, previously working at Rio Tinto, BHP Billiton, and the UK Environment Agency. Broadbent is also Research Coordinator of the Horizon 2020 Flexible and Mobile Economic Minerals Processing EU project (FAME).