“The level of education at universities is only as good as the research they are involved in,” he emphasises.
The network of research institutions known to Amira and the scope of the projects in which the international research body is engaged can only benefit local institutions. In addition, the expertise housed at South African universities and research organisations Mintek and CSIR Miningtek also supports the greater research initiatives driven by the Amira International network.
Having established the Johannesburg office three years ago, Beck has brokered the development of research projects by facilitating and managing the relationship between local researchers and the mining industry. He explains that mining companies that are members of Amira and sponsor research benefit from their access to the intellectual property (IP) developed by the researchers. The IP generated will remain with the researcher who developed it.
Currently, South African universities are participating in a number of Amira’s research projects.
Five students at the MSc and PhD level at the University of Cape Town (UCT) and Stellenbosch University have been collaborating on a project to develop metal accounting and reconciliation systems. Among Amira members, this project is known as P754.
Beck explains that developing a system to improve the credibility and transparency of the reporting process is becoming increasingly important as mining companies come under pressure to improve their corporate governance.
Building on existing modelling and database technology, the aim of the research project is to improve the metal accounting process from deposit to saleable product. Pivotal to this is the development of guidelines for data collection, data analysis, reporting and auditing.
“Over time, these guidelines will evolve into a code of practice and eventually into a standard,” Beck states.
However, it will take at least four years to develop the technology that will support this.
The final proposal for P879, a project to develop microwave-assisted comminution and liberation of minerals has been prepared and will be circulated among mining companies that have shown interest in it. Stellenbosch University, the University of Nottingham, in the UK, as well as UK firm e2v Technologies are spearheading this research project.
“The ultimate goal is to treat different ores at pilot scale at economic microwave-energy inputs,” Beck explains. The complexity of the subject warrants the development of a multipartner, multidisciplinary research programme.
UCT, Australian research organisation the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation and the University of British Columbia, in Canada, began collaboration on a research project aimed at investigating important issues in the use of natural organisms for the recovery of minerals in June last year.
Project P768, improved heap bioleaching, will allow its sponsors access to quantitative descriptions of microbial, mineral and transport processes critical to heap bioleach design and operation. It will render an enhanced predictive model for the bioleach processes, particularly for the exploitation of low-grade sulphide ores containing copper, zinc or gold.
Moreover, industry sponsors willing to conduct confidential projects will be given preferential access to project resources. P763, a review of water-treatment technology for recycling process water with minimal process impacts, was launched last month and could pave the way for further development in the field.
CSIR Miningtek will lead the project, collaborating with research organisation Golder & Associates Africa, the University of Queensland, Australia, and the University of California Berkeley, in the US.