[ASC-media] Media release: advances in mineral science

CRCA Media crca-media at starclass.com.au
Mon Nov 10 23:40:33 EST 2003

Cooperative Research Centres Media Release - CRCA 39

November 11, 2003


Three important advances by Co-operative Research Centre researchers in mineral processing, mining engineering and landscape development are building Australia's edge as a world leader in mineral science.

AN UNEXPECTED discovery by an Australian scientist at the AJ Parker CRC for Hydrometallurgy has opened the way for a major enhancement in the processing of Australia's $2.8 billion nickel production.

Nickel forming on an electrode during the extraction process can be contaminated by other metals, sometimes with disastrous consequences for the electrowinning plant and added costs for industry. 

Electrowinning is used to recover nickel metal from a solution containing nickel atoms. An electric current is applied to the solution and nickel metal forms in sheets on the sides of the negatively-charged electrode.

Dr Daniel Kittelty of the Parker Centre was investigating the role of aluminium, copper and other contaminants in the nickel solution, as part of his doctoral research.

He knew that tiny amounts of aluminium caused the nickel to stress and peel away from the electrode - but curiosity prompted him to find out what larger amounts would do.

Contrary to all expectation, he found that increasing the level of aluminium actually resulted in a smoother, stronger nickel sheet being deposited. 

His discovery - on which a provisional patent has been lodged - has given Australia's growing nickel industry a new way to control and optimise its electrowinning process.

"This indicates that nickel plants can reduce strain buildup in nickel deposits by maintaining tight control over the conditions in the solution, and by replacing the normal boric acid additive with small concentrations of aluminium."

Although he has not yet had a chance to explore the consequences downstream to metal products, Daniel considers it likely that a higher quality nickel sheet will also result in superior quality and stronger fabricated nickel products, giving Australian nickel a further competitive edge in the global market as well as sparing industry the cost of downtime in the plant.

More information: 
Dr Daniel Kittelty, Parker Centre, 08 9360 6784
Dr Ros Dilworth (Communications Officer), Parker Centre, 08 9360 6361

PROTECTING AND ENHANCING investments in mining equipment worth tens of millions of dollars is the benefit from a smart new sensor system developed by Australia's CRCMining (formerly the CRC for Mining Technology and Equipment).

Draglines - the giants of the mining industry - can cost up to $100 million a piece. A typical mining company spends 30-50 per cent of its operating budget maintaining such machines and systems, and the cost to Australia alone exceeds $10 billion a year.

The CRCMining Dragline Dutymeter can help raise the operational capacity of a dragline by up to 25 per cent, without significant loss in reliability or availability.

The Dutymeter acts as an early warning system to alert dragline operators in real time to actions which can rapidly degrade the machine's reliability. It also continuously monitors and logs the cumulative wear and tear on the machine. 

It not only provides a tool for enhancing operator performance but also gives managers a new way to assess, compare and control the effects of bucket loads on dragline life and provides maintenance staff with information on the specific duty experienced by different components.  It also enables comparisons to be made between different draglines and minesites.

The Dragline Dutymeter has been licensed to Tritronics Pty Ltd as a component of the company's new Series 3 Dragline Monitoring System, and has recently undergone successful trials in the Bowen Basin. Operators of Dragline 18 at BHP Billiton Mitsubishi Alliance's Saraji mine now know in real time how their operating practices are affecting machine duty.

At an industry conference earlier this year CRCMining's Professor Hal Gurgenci and Dr Paul Meehan estimated that Dutymeter use can improve operator practices to such a degree as to enable an increase in suspended load capacity of up to 25 per cent, without a noticeable degradation in machine reliability and availability.

CRCMining hopes to apply the dutymeter concept to shovels and trucks, and has been conducting research in these areas. The CRC has analysed operational practices on hydraulic excavators over a number of shifts and developed a prototype tool to detect practices that cause the most duty.

Researchers have also been working on a technology to enable trucks to monitor the quality of the road they are travelling on in real time to enable the driver to make adjustments to increase tyre and truck life. 

More information:
Professor Mike Hood, CRCMining			07 3365 5640
Professor Hal Gurgenci, CRCMining		07 3365 3607

AUSTRALIA is an arid continent - but exactly how it became that way remains a blind spot in our understanding of how to live here sustainably.

The first 'history' of modern Australian aridity and salinity is being painstakingly pieced  together by two researchers from the CRC for Landscape Environments and Mineral Exploration (CRC LEME), Dr John Magee and Professor John Chappell.

Around 80 per cent of Australia is dominated by the fossil remnants of the extreme aridity which occurred in stages during the last ice age - vast sheets of sand, dunes, wind-blown dust and gibber plains.

This environment, say Magee and Chappell, has been relatively static since the end of the last glacial period around 10,000 years ago - until recently, when human activity wrought massive change.

"By clearing vegetation, changing water tables, altering flood and fire patterns and remobilising salt we're recreating earlier, more volatile conditions - but in a far different climatic setting," Prof. Chappell says.  "This makes it very hard to predict the consequences - but an obvious one is the loss of species."

Dr Magee's research indicates there are 'thresholds' in the evolution of our environment, where the gradual buildup of interacting forces leads suddenly to precipitous change.

An example is the gradual drying of the great inland lakes, leading to 'deflation' in the sediments as they become playas, or salt pans. This leads to rapid mobilisation of huge amounts of sediment and salt, sandblasting the region, killing off vegetation and building vast, active dunefields.

The mobilisation of salt by human activity bears similarities to its liberation in extreme dry periods at the peaks of the ice age, and gives us a window for understanding the long-term consequences of our actions - the Australia we are making.

Unclear, as yet, is whether such events happen at the same time across the continent, whether they radiate from its centre, or occur in different regions independently.

The picture of Australia's development under these conditions is far more complex that hitherto imagined - with soils, surface water, groundwater, salts, fire and vegetation interacting to reshape the landscape - and makes it all the more imperative for us to understand just how this happens. One of the obvious impacts is that we are losing soil at far faster rates than it is being formed.

Dr Magee and Prof Chappell are compiling the first chronology of the onset of aridity in Australia during the last 350,000 years - the period that mainly shaped the landscape as we know it today - and opening in new chapter in our understanding of what it means to be Australian.

Dr John Magee, CRC LEME and ANU				02 6125 2761
Prof. John Chappell, CRC LEME  and ANU			02 6125 8113

Julian Cribb, CRCA media						0418 639 245

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