Interview conducted by Alta Ley Corporation on January 23
AUSTRAL CHEMICALS TOGETHER WITH ARKEMA DEVELOPED SOLUTIONS TO MAKE THE CONCENTRATOR PLANT PROCESS MORE PRODUCTIVE AND SUSTAINABLE.
Chemical solutions are incorporated into the mineral concentration process, optimizing tailing management from the thickening stage to its deposition leading to better water recovery.
The results of these innovations have been technically validated at semi-pilot and pilot levels in Chilean laboratories as well as industrial stage.
Today many concentrator plants operate their thickeners with a solid content well below the design capacity, which negatively impacts their performance due to poor water balance. Other known challenges are related to tailings rheology to facilitate long-distance transport as well as to increase slopes deposition to meet design specifications and finally raise storage capacity lifetime.
In order to address those issues encountered in the mining industry, Austral Chemicals together with Arkema, began working on the development of a range of taylor made rheological modifiers suitable for different applications related to mineral concentration processes.
In general terms, these are liquid form chemical solutions, ready to use and easy to add. They could be incorporated into the process in order either to increase or reduce the rheology (viscosity and yield stress) to solve or improve operational difficulties.
In this interview Victor Gomez, Business Development Engineer of Austral Chemicals, and Civil Metallurgist Engineer, gives us more details about this innovative solution. After three years of development it shows positive results. They have been technically approved at semi-pilot and pilot levels in laboratories in France and Chile as well as industrial level in Chilean mines.
What issues solve your solutions?
Every day it is more difficult to operate a concentrator plant either by internal variables such as geology and also by external variables such as the lack of water associated with climate change. Because of this, the grinded ore contains less and less valuable mineral and more impurities. This could modify yield stress (minimum force necessary to initiate a sustainable flow) and viscosity of the generated pulp, bringing a serie of changes in its fluid-dynamic behavior.
Operationally speaking most recurring problems associated with rheology are: high torque, transmission system collapses and thickeners cracking, low pumping capacity, blocking in piping systems, as well as management of slopes for tailings deposition, among others. All of this impacts negatively production KPIs.
Why is it a good solution?
Our technology is unique, specialized and tailored made according to the challenge encountered by each mining company and their ore characteristics. We propose rheology solutions to problems that are traditionally resolved with high-investment structural projects. Those require high demanding environmental authorizations. In addition, our solutions are friendly to people, communities, environment and facilities. They are easily added without any major process modification.
What are the targeted customers?
In general, all the concentrator plants that have challenges associated with improving thickening processes, tailings and concentrates transport, water recovery and management of tailings deposits, etc.
What stage of the project are you in?
Currently, after more than 3 years developing this market and a serie of tests carried out with samples from different Chilean prospects in our laboratory in France, we have technically verified our results at semi-pilot and pilot levels in prestigious laboratories in Chile and also at industrial level . It gives us full confidence regarding the benefits of our technology. We have recently started to promote our taylor-made solutions.
What are your growth expectations?
Rather than talking about growth, we focus at this stage on learning and training our potential clients on rheology. It is important to emphasize the unicity of our solutions often wrongly associated with flocculants, which we do not produce.
In the short term we want to be recognized, among the large, medium and small mines as the leader in rheology solutions promoting alternatives that today do not exist in the Chilean mining industry.
In order to promote more intensively our technology, we will be present at Expomin 2020, presenting interesting applications and live trials for all attendees.
Do you think that the mining industry needs projects / suppliers of this type to maintain its leadership?
Yes. Considering the successful development of other countries in the last few years, innovation is the way to strengthen our leading position in the worldwide copper market. Therefore, the Chilean mining industry is forced to operate in a context of continuous improvement, costs reduction, safety of operations while maintaining constructive relationships with all stakeholders.
Chile produces annually more than 500 million tons of tailings still containing a significant amount of water. With the global warming situation, we believe that innovation is the right path to tackle this environmental hurdle.
How was your experience with innovation in Chile?
Innovating in Chile requires a lot of patience, perseverance and passion. Although we had positive feedback regarding the implementation of the technology, it is sometimes difficult to move from laboratory scale up to industrial test due to running processes and related volumes.
Even if we are working in a quite conservative industry, we observe positive signs from large mining companies management as well as a mentality shift from innovation leaders. We are convinced there is still room for improvement and more precisely accelerating this process with R&D departments.