The risk aversion of most mining companies has resulted in their being unwilling to invest in new technologies, which limits their competitiveness and growth potential, says emerging mining project management service provider Manhize Mineral Consultants (MMC) executive director Joel Mungoshi.
“This negatively affects the development and implementation of breakthrough technologies that can fundamentally change cost structures and improve competitiveness.”
Mining companies could benefit from some of the new technologies, such as energy densification mills, which use a combination of impact and attrition to do finer crushing and milling in one step, says Mungoshi.
He adds that downstream processing such as flotation and leaching can also be enhanced by use of emerging pre-treatment reactor technologies that use a combination of aeration and attritioning to change mineral particle surface and slurry characteristics, resulting in increased recoveries. Near surface and partially oxidised metal ores that are not economically recoverable using the conventional bulk sulphide flotation process constitute substantive latent resources that could benefit from such technologies.
For example, economic conversion of the relatively abundant lithium minerals (lepidolite and petalite) to the scarce and highly sought-after battery quality upgradable lithium mineral (spodumene) is another area where new technologies have potential to unlock value.
South Africa has a huge resource base of vanadium which occurs within the magnetite ore on the eastern limb of the Bushveld Complex which presents opportunities based on development and application of economic process technologies.
Mining companies can benefit from the replacement of energy-intensive pyro- metallurgical processing with hydrometallurgical processing for base and precious metal processing and refining, he says.
For small-scale miners, these technologies will allow for the construction of port- able milling and leach plants that can target small and high grade deposits, resulting in significant improvement in margins.
New technologies will also allow for establishing centralised hydrometallurgical facilities that can process complex precious and base metal concentrates, also unlocking the latent value in the refractory and complex ores that cannot be mined currently, owing to process constraints. Companies can potentially increase their revenue base as a result of new technologies that provide process solutions for material that cannot be processed by current technologies.
Meanwhile, Mungoshi says that, “the combination of the application of new tech- nologies and good project management can reduce the risk for mining companies, as project managers can partner with mining compa- nies in implementing the new technologies, resulting in costs being reduced, owing to improvement in process efficiencies”.
However, in the absence of new technologies, project management companies can assist with a holistic review of the business to consider other opportunities to improve business performance, and also modify and refine existing technologies and processes, Mungoshi concludes.