FAME secures European mineral supplies

Materials World magazine
,
7 Aug 2019

The Flexible and Mobile Economic Mineral Processing project for the EU Horizon 2020 programme delivered tangible results.

Flexible workflow models have been proven to help maximise ore yield and minimise cost from relatively small deposits in Europe. It is hoped these models, developed under the Flexible and Mobile Economic (FAME) mineral processing project – part of the EU’s Horizon 2020 (H2020) programme – can pave the way for future proofing the use of European-sourced critical raw materials.

Working collaboratively

Horizon 2020 aimed to enhance the competitiveness of European industries, particularly in the wake of the global financial crisis in 2008 and recession. The EU recognised that raw materials were crucial to Europe’s economy, as Europe is almost totally reliant upon imports for most of the 27 official critical raw materials (CRMs).

Many European deposits are mineralogically and relatively small. Flexibility in mineral processing flow sheets is needed to accommodate changes in mineralogy or grade to make the most of the deposits available. Deploying mobile plants would allow such equipment to move easily between deposits and alleviate the necessity for the construction of large, static mineral processing facilities. Flexibility and mobility are central to the FAME concept. Successful implementation of FAME would inevitably increase the proportion of European raw materials, including key CRMs, used by European industry.

Almost 20 partners, mostly industrial, from several European countries were involved in the FAME consortium over the project’s life, from January 2015 to December 2018. The industrial partners helped direct the work programmes and ensure the project was industrially relevant. The programme aimed to discover which mineral processing techniques could be deployed to process similar ores. Tests were based on ores obtained from European deposits that had the potential to become operating mines or extend the range of commodities produced at operational sites. Test work was carried out on six reference ores, two examples of each ore type. These comprised:

  • Pegmatites at Länttä by Keliber, Finland, and Gonçalo of MOTA Group in Portugal
  • Greisen at Cinovec by European Metals Geomet in Czech Republic, and Tellerhäuser by Saxore in Germany, and
  • Skarn at Tabuaço by Eurocolt, Portugal, and Tellerhäuser by Saxore in Germany.

The ore types are relatively abundant throughout the EU and contain a relatively large number of the CRMs and lithium, which although not formally recognised as critical, is widely regarded as a key strategic metal in Europe due to its rapidly increasing use in lithium-ion batteries. These reference ores were chosen due to being representative of the ore types, and FAME having direct sampling access, either because the deposit was under the control of a partner

or an associate partner, as in the case of the MOTA group, which had
a working relationship with FAME partner LNEG.

Measurable outcomes

Testing flexible worksheets at two different ore sites was at the core of FAME. One site was Gonçalo, looking at lithium mica pegmatite, with pilot plant testing of production of a lepidolite (Li-mica) concentration with co-recovery of cassiterite and feldspar/quartz carried out at LNEG in Porto, Portugal. The second was Tellerhäuser, which looked at tin skarn/greisen ore in Saxony, Germany, with pilot plant testing of a process flowsheet to recover tin and byproduct elements, undertaken at UVR-FIA in Freiberg, Germany.

Test work on the Gonçalo pegmatite was significant as the ore contained economically interesting values of lepidolite, the lithium mica. The significance of lithium as a battery metal, vital to the implementation of the electrification of vehicles, grew dramatically since FAME was proposed in 2014. FAME was one of the few H2020 raw materials projects dealing with the upstream production of lithium from European sources. Hence, the FAME steering committee concluded it was desirable for one of the principal demonstration projects to revolve around the production of lithium mineral concentrates, especially mica, as it was the dominant lithium-bearing mineral.    

LNEG, assisted by other FAME partners, carried out successful pilot tests to produce a lithium mica concentrate containing up to 5% mass/mass Li2O. This concentrate was used to produce small quantities of battery-grade lithium carbonate in subsequent bench scale tests at GEOS in Germany. In addition to the mica concentrate, heavy minerals – essentially cassiterite – were collected in a gravity concentrate, while feldspar and quartz products were recovered from the lepidolite tailings.

A flowsheet proved flexibility meant a whole series of products and byproducts could be recovered from the Gonçalo ore, therefore minimising the amount of waste that would require long-term disposal in any commercial mining operation. FAME partner, engineering consultant firm GBM, derived preliminary OPEX and CAPEX figures for 350,000 tonnes per annum (tpa) and one million tpa processing plants with CAPEX estimates of US$40mln and US$75mln respectively, with indicative OPEX of between US$150-35/t. The results demonstrate Europe has the potential to create a sustainable lithium supply chain for use in EV battery manufacture.

Tellerhäuser has a polymetallic skarn hosted deposit in the Western Erzgebirge in Saxony, Germany. The deposit was explored extensively by SDAG Wismut in the 1960s and 1980s, and concluded that the ore was too complex to mine and process economically. Saxore Bergbau GmbH, a subsidiary of Anglo Saxony Mining Ltd, holds the exploration rights and is investigating the viability of mining the Tellerhäuser deposit. Saxore, a FAME partner, collaborated with German state-funded project Aufbereitung feinkörniger polymetallischer heimischer In/W/Sn-Komplexerze (AFK) to demonstrate a viable process flowsheet to treat the ore with recovery of a variety of different principal and byproduct commodities, including a tin concentrate, bulk sulphide, copper-zinc, magnetite and aggregate production.

Saxore Managing Director, Marco Rocher, said the FAME-AFK collaboration had resulted in the production of a marketable tin concentrate with co-recovery of sulphides and magnetite. Rocher indicated the adoption of modern mineral processing techniques, including enhanced flotation, meant that ores such as that at Tellerhäuser, previously regarded as too complex to be economically viable, could be processed. The close proximity of the Tellerhäuser site to an existing tin smelter (Feinhütte), currently operating using secondary materials, offers the potential for primary tin production from a European ore – something that has not been possible in Europe since the demise of BHP’s tin smelter in Arnhem, Netherlands, in the early 1990s.

FAME concluded on 31 December 2018, with a final review meeting held in Brussels on 12 February 2019. EU Project Officer, Catalin Perianu, concluded that the FAME project was regarded as a great success and expressed delight that innovations resulting from the research were being implemented.

The impact on FAME partners included:

  • Assisting Keliber to valorise by-products keeping it on track to become Europe’s first significant lithium producer by 2021
  • Fast track the commercialisation of Saxore’s Tellerhäuser deposit
  • Identify potential for European lithium production from mica sources such as MOTA Group – owner of the Gonçalo deposit, and
  • Undertaking SAG mill testing, which identifies potential for inclusion within processing routes for European metals at the Cinovec deposit.
  • The University of Lorraine, France, has developed new flotation reagents for calcium minerals and the potential for implementation of SAG milling and electrofragmentation, demonstrated by partners WAI and BRGM.

Lessons learned

FAME could have a significant long-term impact upon the European mining and metallurgical sector. The initiative has had a strong impact on SMEs within and associated with the FAME consortium. The project showed how maintaining flexibility can allow machinery to be mobilised more efficiently on mine sites, which in turn can reduce project costs and maximise the potential of resources that may have otherwise been left untapped for perceived uneconomic resources.