COM 2024

MetSoc of CIM

COM 2024

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Metsoc of CIM hosts the 63rd Annual COM – Conference of Metallurgists 2024.

Damian Connelly will be presenting 3 papers at COM 24. Time and date TBC closer to the conference.

Paper 1: Recovering Rare Earths from an Ionic Clay Hosted Deposit

Ionic adsorption clays (IAC) are formed by natural weathering of rare earth (REE) bearing minerals and the subsequent adsorption of the REE on onto the clay surface. In regolith deposits the Chinese found that weakly acidic ammonium sulphate would leach the REE. Generally Chinese costs from such deposits are economic with very low processing costs. Initial testwork organised by Itech Minerals at a commercial laboratory achieved zero recovery. Itech contacted METS and a metallurgical testwork programmed was developed and executed resulting in eighty seven percent (87%) leaching recovery of the REEs.

In addition, process optimisation resulted in a reduced OPEX and CAPEX. At the same time a kaolin product was produced as a by-product. Testwork on one Australian IAC revealed that not all IAC deposits are the same. In addition it was fond the ore could be substantially beneficiated simply using screening to almost double the REE grade for subsequent processing. Ammonium sulphate and a number of mineral assays were investigated as lixiviants. It was determined from laboratory testwork the best result was using hydrochloric acid at pH 87% REE extraction.

Paper 2: Executing Metallurgical Testwork Programmes Including Interpretation of the Results & the Process Design

This paper describes the current best practice and critical steps of developing metallurgical Testplans and the final important step to process design of a circuit. No two deposits are the same and developing testplans appreciation the geology and ore domains is a complex task. Sample selection, ore characterisation to understand the metallurgical response of an ore is only the start. Invariably testplans need to be updated based on results received and that’s fine. The testwork needs to be considered as a project with the scope of work, schedule, cost, quality, safety and environment the new norm required. It needs to be managed using the best project management knowledge available.

The data interpretation of the results is the most difficult part and requires personnel skilled in the art as well as benchmarking and discussing with Vendors and reference to existing projects. Project Failure Analysis often highlights where gaps in knowledge existed and the interpretation of the metallurgical results was deficient. In some cases this may require piloting of the process to improve process confidence, reduce risks and provide engineering data. Often this is all summarised in A Metallurgical Summary Report. Process Design is the final step and has its own challenges with regards to not being too conservative but ensuring the design is functional and operable. A number of examples are provided highlighting the lessons learned.

Paper 3: Lessons Learned from Developing Battery-Grade Lithium Projects

Lithium (Li) is recovered from the mineral spodumene, other lithium bearing minerals such as lepidolite and lithium-rich brines. It is used in a range of products such as ceramics, glass, batteries and pharmaceuticals. Lithium use has expanded significantly in recent years due to increasing use of rechargeable batteries in portable electronic devices and in batteries and electric motors for hybrid and electric cars. The global market for lithium products is very attractive with the supply of raw materials falling behind the emerging demand growth in markets such as China. This paper looks at the growing number of lithium conversion plants to produce battery grade lithium hydroxide or carbonate. These are complex chemical plants with very high capital costs.

The Feasibility Study CAPEX and OPEX for a number of conversion projects have not been achieved during development. Project Ramp up was slow at 24-36 months due to achieving batter grade specifications (4N) and plant achieving plant throughput and
reliability. This paper references a number of projects and lessons learned. A number of projects made mistakes and bad decisions with fast tracking and efforts to reduce capital, poor quality equipment all of which has increased operating costs. Whilst the acid roasting and leaching which is standard technology proved to be operable the multi-stage crystallisation and re-leaching proved problematic.

The softening in lithium prices during 2023 has exacerbated some of these problems. We are now seeing industry mergers and takeovers and in the longer term a strengthening of prices which will see a different industry emerge.

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Date And Time

19-08-2024 to

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