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CHEMICAL ORE SEPARATION MARKET NOW EXPANDING

Mining Weekly April 2018

While the company’s historic market for the supply of chemicals to separate orebodies comprises mainly the Central Africa Copperbelt of Zambia and the Democratic Republic of Congo, the market is expanding in terms of geography and mineral range, says mining reagent specialist Axis House MD Trevor McLean-Anderson.

The increase in growth that the electrical vehicle market has experienced in the last few years, along with more electrical wire being used in communication technology, has led to copper demand growing globally. This has led to an increase in new mining projects in Africa’s Copperbelt to replace production.

Axis House supplies flotation and hydrometallurgical reagents for mineral processing, with a range of proprietary collectors, depressants and frothers designed to assist in recovering mineral particles.

McLean-Anderson notes that this range is constantly expanding through research and development (R&D) and finding new applications in the flotation of platinum-group metals (PGMs), rare-earth oxides (REOs), phosphates and lithium-bearing ores.

A key focus for the company is R&D pursued in its laboratories. Through focus areas, such as product development, new chemistries are being innovated for existing applications.

“We also look at chemistry on a molecular level to find cheaper alternatives where we haven’t found a novel chemistry. We try to find similar molecules that may be more readily available, closer to market or more economical so that we produce a cost per output benefit for clients,” he says.

McLean-Anderson explains that clients send ore samples to one of the Axis House laboratories, with company scientists travelling to mines to do the testwork in cases where countries are reluctant to allow ore to be sent out of the country.

“The bulk of our operations are in Africa, but we also have laboratories in Australia. We have staff and offices in Peru, South America, and serve Chile from our Peru office. We also have offices and technical people in Mexico, and we’re doing some work in Kazakhstan and Russia,” he states.

While McLean-Anderson notes the importance of chemistry, he also highlights the company’s focus on understanding the client.

“No two orebodies and no two flotation plants are the same. There are too many variables involved in a flotation process for a one-size-fits-all approach to be effective, so an Axis House solution is tailor-made for the application,” he says.

A key R&D pillar is to scale down the production process at a client’s site through laboratory research. This is done with testwork being done on the client’s ore samples, McLean-Anderson says, noting that it is interesting to find solutions that increase the efficiencies of mines so that they can improve their output using chemistry.

He further notes that while Axis House has a laboratory for case studies to improve a mine’s efficiency and profitability, the company also has a team of on-site engineers who will take the client through the process of implementing the technology on site.

“Laboratory work is done in a very controlled environment . . . Plants are different from labs because there are more variables, such as soil dynamics, water quality, ambient temperature differences, operator knowledge and training,” McLean-Anderson points out.

Continual Expansion

Axis House also focuses on expanding its range of chemicals. As a large portion of its business is in copper and base metals, the company bought a patented copper oxide flotation technology from Australian company Ausmelt in 2009.

“That was when we first saw the cost to the client increasing by about $0.50 to $1 per tonne of ore, but the client is getting far more in the end. For $100 000 more per month on chemicals, the client would gain several million dollars in extra copper,” he highlights.

Axis House further improved the flotation technology and developed it for other applications. With similar chemistries being used in the flotation of industrial minerals, Axis House is also proficient in fluorspar and phosphate flotation, and offers flotation chemistries and technologies in PGMs and REOs.

Copper Effect

While the copper price has been recovering, following volatile upward and downward movement in recent years, the market is still somewhat uncertain, which means mines are still receptive to new technologies and novel ideas, McLean-Anderson suggests.

“When copper is at $8 000/t mines don’t want to lose any production, but when the mines are on care and maintenance or five-day weeks, they have time on their hands to invest in improving efficiencies. Technology is more interesting to clients when they need to be efficient,” he concludes.

“As air is forced through the slurry, bubbles attach to the hydrophobic copper sulphide particles, which rise to the surface where they form a froth and are skimmed off. Frothing agents, known as frothers, may be introduced to promote the formation of a stable froth on top of the flotation cell; Axis House has a range of these, called Hydrofroth,” he concludes.