The recent Flexible and Mobile Mineral Processing conference demonstrated flexible processing solutions for the mining industry. Katherine Williams attended to hear the latest updates on EU minerals technology projects.
Minerals processing angels were singing merrily at the start of December 2018, although not a legwarmer was in sight at the Flexible and Mobile Mineral Processing (FAME) conference held at the IOM3 headquarters in London, UK. Sharing initial results of the EU-funded project, FAME, the wrap-up conference had good news for mineralogists and processors.
Lithium was the metal of the day on 5 December. Why is it so popular right now? ‘Convergence,’ said Jeremy Wrathall of Cornish Lithium, UK, noting that technical and external factors have united in the face of climate change to make lithium a favoured product.
With several new battery plants planned in Europe, Finland’s Keliber is working to produce high-quality, battery-grade lithium. It is currently the most advanced lithium project in Europe with production earmarked for 2021.
Results from the FAME work on optical sorting with Keliber were described by Pertti Lamberg, company CEO, and outcomes are 2–5% recovery improvement, a lowered variability risk and the potential for several million Euros in increased revenue.
Mirko Martin of GEOS, Germany, explained how bioleaching could present an alternative route to viable lithium-carbonate precipitation. His team saw 25% recovery from bioleaching, compared with 16% during chemical leaching.
However, from a mineralogical perspective, lithium can be elusive. Robin Armstrong from the UK’s Natural History Museum was part of a FAME project for the quantification of lithium-bearing mineral phases.
Multiple techniques were compared with variations of up to 10% seen across methods, due to the complexity of lithium ore bodies. Armstrong commented that all methods available are needed for lithium analysis, thereby emphasising a need for skilled people as well as advanced technology.
Processing was described by Marco Roscher of Saxore, Germany, and Mario Leite of the National Energy and Geology Laboratory, Portugal. The German team has developed a pilot plant which has shown that ore, previously considered untreatable, can be processed effectively. The Portuguese team also developed pilot-scale trials, this time for lithium extraction.
Further Portuguese work revaluated lithium in the country, with Violeta Ramos, National Energy and Geology Laboratory, noting that in 2017 the country had total lithium resources of 29.74 million tonnes (Mt). FAME revaluation indicated 52Mt, which Ramos noted is, ‘much more interesting’.
More raw materials
The second day focused on wider issues, such as framework conditions and Europe’s role in raw materials. It also brought a touch of cold reality to the proceedings.
Jonathan Williams, of SP Angel, in discussing battery materials noted that, while everyone is excited about lithium, cobalt and nickel, ‘copper is a big part of a battery cell… vanadium has a big part to play in energy storage’.
Looking at all the European raw materials projects, Williams said, ‘We are still going to have to extract metals from difficult places in the world, global metals trading will remain.’ However, he predicated that Scandinavia would have a bright future as a centre for battery materials.
FAME, co-ordinated by Dr Chris Broadbent, was one of the initial Horizon 2020 projects. The main objective lay in developing mineral processing solutions allowing exploitation of selected European ore bodies.
In response to questions on the economic viability of some projects discussed, Broadbent replied, ‘The EU will only see FAME as a success if it impacts positively on GDP and jobs,’ he noted that the results will not open a new mine, but predicted that mines may open earlier as a result of this research.
He also noted that, ‘Europe is in danger of losing a lot of these [processing] skills. FAME keeps these skills alive’.
Broadbent emphasised the role of real business cases in the project, his hope is that it has helped to reinvigorate the European mining industry. With a smile he added, ‘The world needs raw materials’.