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A monthly publication devoted to scientific transactions and specialist technical topics is unlikely to be on the priority reading list of the majority of the mining and metallurgical community. But it is the ambition of the Publication's Committee to make the Journal of much wider interest to our general membership from technician trainees to mine managers to CEO's of our constituent companies. It is to entice general readership that some 1200 words of valuable space are devoted to the Journal Comment each month. This is intended to highlight some of the features and impact of the papers to excite and activate attention.

To entice this preliminary glance before confining the publication to the book shelf or even the wpb, the author has to call on a large measure of journalistic licence in style, titles and quotations. It is essential to be spicy, controversial and even provocative to separate it from the abbreviated authoritative but necessary scientific style of the bulk of the contents.
The Journal Comment aims to be an enticement to dig into some important feature of the papers in the issue. For this reason it has been decided to include it as a separate item on the Institutes Web Site. This might provoke those who enjoy twittering, blogging and googling to submit comment and criticism, all of which will be welcomed and responded to. At least it is proof that somebody has read it.
R.E. Robinson

Infacon XV

RJonesThe Fifteenth International Ferro-Alloys Congress (Infacon XV) was held in Cape Town from 25 to 28 February 2018, and was attended by 450 delegates from 32 countries. After a cycle of four congresses in the northern hemisphere (New Delhi, India, 2007; Helsinki, Finland, 2010; Almaty, Kazakhstan, 2013; and Kyiv, Ukraine, 2015), it was appropriate that Infacon should return to South Africa at a time of great change in the region.

Where will our future metallurgists come from?

The 14th Annual SAIMM Student Colloquium 2017 was held at Mintek on 25 October 2017. This is a prestigious annual event where mining and metallurgy students at tertiary institutions can showcase results of their projects to an audience from the greater Southern Africa mining community. The top students are invited to publish their papers in a special issue of the Journal. Looking at the papers in this edition, it is clear that the type of research conducted by students increasingly reflects the priorities in the industry, and that the outcomes are applicable, current, and of very high quality. This is a very encouraging sign, and it does go far to dispel the notion that only ‘pie-in-the-sky’ research is being done at our tertiary institutions. We are indeed successfully contributing to the creation of prosperous and empowered young professionals, to paraphrase the slogan of the Colloquium. Anybody with any interaction with these bright young minds can confirm that the industry will be in good hands in the future.

Platinum — A Changing Industry

v118n4Journal Comment

G.L. Smith and R.T. Jones
Co-Chairs, Organizing Committee

The Seventh International Platinum Conference, entitled ‘Platinum — A Changing Industry’ was held in October 2017 at Polokwane, Limpopo Province in the heart of the northern limb of the Bushveld Complex, the world's biggest platinum-producing region. The event was held in association with the Precious Metals Development Network of the Department of Science and Technology’s Advanced Metals Initiative. The Southern African Institute of Mining and Metallurgy convenes regular platinum conferences in order to disseminate recent technical developments in the industry and to facilitate stakeholder engagement. Previous themes have been ‘Platinum Adding Value’ in 2004, ‘Platinum Surges Ahead’ in 2006, ‘Platinum in Transformation’ in 2008, ‘Platinum in Transition — Boom or Bust’ in 2010, ‘Platinum — A Catalyst for Change’ in 2012, and ‘Platinum – Metal for the Future’ in 2014.

AfriRock 2017

W. JoughinThis edition of the Journal is dedicated to AfriRock 2017, the International Society for Rock Mechanics (ISRM) International Symposium for 2017, which was held at the International Convention Centre in the beautiful city of Cape Town, South Africa from 3 to 5 October 2017. This is the first conference of that name and the first African-hosted ISRM International Symposium since the Tunisian and Zimbabwean national groups joined the African Region of the ISRM. The Symposium was well attended by 264 delgates from 42 countries. Each of the ISRM regions were represented; Africa (135 delegates), Asia (56, including 33 from China), Australasia (10), Europe (36), North America (13), and South America (14). Africa’s proud participation was evident through the number of delegates from Botswana, the DRC, Egypt, Ghana, Lesotho, Swaziland, Tunisia, Zambia, and Zimbabwe, with a substantial number from South Africa.

Extraction and Applications of Uranium – Present and Future

journal2 04032018

The exhibition area at the conference

Discussions involving the 92nd element in the periodic table, uranium, tend to elicit mixed reactions. Although uranium plays a key role in the production of medical isotopes, it has the dark side of being the power in highly destructive nuclear weaponry. Strong positive and negative viewpoints emerge when nuclear reactors and their wastes are considered. Fortunately, the Uranium 2017 International Conference that took place in Swakopmund, Namibia (11 to 15 September 2017) did not generate quite such strongly opposed views.

The conference, with the theme Extraction and Applications of Uranium – Present and Future, brought together professionals in the uranium industry. A broad range of topics was discussed, ranging from mining to some of the applications of uranium, and included safety, as well as post-operations closure and remediation issues. Innovations in the extraction and applications of uranium are constantly being made, and the conference provided a platform for the discussion of advances and for generating new ideas.

Extraction and Applications of Uranium – Present and Future

journal2 04032018

The exhibition area at the conference

Discussions involving the 92nd element in the periodic table, uranium, tend to elicit mixed reactions. Although uranium plays a key role in the production of medical isotopes, it has the dark side of being the power in highly destructive nuclear weaponry. Strong positive and negative viewpoints emerge when nuclear reactors and their wastes are considered. Fortunately, the Uranium 2017 International Conference that took place in Swakopmund, Namibia (11 to 15 September 2017) did not generate quite such strongly opposed views.

The conference, with the theme Extraction and Applications of Uranium – Present and Future, brought together professionals in the uranium industry. A broad range of topics was discussed, ranging from mining to some of the applications of uranium, and included safety, as well as post-operations closure and remediation issues. Innovations in the extraction and applications of uranium are constantly being made, and the conference provided a platform for the discussion of advances and for generating new ideas.

We were fortunate in being able to organize the conference in cooperation with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), the Namibia University of Science and Technology (NUST), the Namibian Uranium Institute, and the Canadian Institute for Mining, Metallurgy and Petroleum (CIM). The IAEA sponsored two delegates from the region. Generous support was received from our sponsors Protea Chemicals Namibia, CiDRA Minerals Processing, AECI Mining & Chemical Services, AEL Mining Services, DRA Projects SA, IMP Automation SA, Naminsol Namibia, Bannerman Resources, Langer Heinrich Uranium, Rössing Uranium, MEI Media, ALTA Metallurgical Services, Lanxess Ltd, Purolite Ltd, and SNF Floerger SA.

The conference started with a day where delegates could choose between a short course on Uranium Ore Processing led by the well-known Alan Taylor (ALTA Metallurgical Services), or a technical visit. The visit Viewing the geology of the alaskite mineralisation in the lower Swakop River was led by Professor Judith Kinnaird and Paul Nex (Wits University), and included a visit to the Bannerman Resources demonstration plant. The day ended with a well-attended cocktail function. The next two days (Tuesday and Wednesday) were full days, with a combined plenary session for keynote lectures each day, followed by two parallel sessions. The last two days offered further technical visits to Rössing Uranium Ltd and to the Langer Heinrich uranium plant.

Swakopmund is a holiday town, in an interesting position: it lies between the shore of the Atlantic Ocean on the western side and the fascinating Namib Desert on the east. Its German origins are still very visible, dating from the early 20th century. For instance, the conference venue was the original Swakopmund railway station.

The conference dinner was held on the Tuesday evening, with the Namib desert providing an interesting and unusual setting. A caravan of 4x4 vehicles took us along the Swakop river to our venue. Fortunately, the cold desert air was mitigated by good company, food, patio heaters, blankets, and fun entertainment.

Attendance was good, with more than a hundred delegates, of which 15 were from the UK, Australia and Europe. Participation from the local uranium mines was disappointing, but understandable due to the extremely tight financial environment they are currently operating in.

Opening addresses were presented by the Namibian Deputy Minister for Mines and Energy, the Hon. Kornelia Shilunga, Professor Selo Ndlovu (SAIMM President), Mr Hilifa Mbako (Namibian Uranium Association Chairman) and Professor Tjama Tjivikua (NUST Vice Chancellor). Four well-received keynote lectures were delivered:

  • Remaining uranium resources: where and how much? Dr Martin Fairclough, IAEA
  • Uranium in Namibia – past, present and future. Mr Werner Duvenhage, Rössing Uranium Ltd
  • The Namibian Uranium Association, the environment, and sustainable development. Dr Gabi Schneider, Namibian Uranium Institute
  • Will fission Mo-99 production be seriously impacted through other efforts to diversify the supply of Mo-99? Dr Jan-Rijn Zeevaart, NECSA.

In addition, 40 technical papers and 5 poster papers rounded out the technical content of the conference.

This edition of the Journal carries a vignette of selected contributions from the conference. These focus mainly on metallurgical processing – as did the conference – without neglecting the broader issues such as the safe containment of nuclear waste. While the processes for leaching (alkaline or acidic), concentration and purification, and recovery are well established, challenges still abound, as may be seen from these papers. Complex mineralization, as well as process water, often present considerable impediments to the processing circuits. Several conference papers discussed the possibilities of using saline waters, and even seawater. The high chloride levels impact on the separation processes and on plant equipment, and the papers discuss a number of innovations to meet these challenges. Other topics include improved on-line measurements for plant control and the optimization of plant equipment.

At present uranium mining is under pressure due to low prices and processing challenges. However, if this conference was a stethoscope gauging the health of the uranium industry, it indicated a still strongly beating heart.

D. Groot

The SAIMM Journal

b gencThe SAIMM organizes a number of conferences every year to promote technological developments in the mining- and metallurgy-related sectors. Selected papers from each of these conferences are published in the SAIMM Journal throughout the year. The SAIMM Journal is not only one of the top journals but also one of the most popular journals in the field of mining and metallurgy, and it continuously receives scientific papers from international researchers who wish to publish their output. The Publications Committee receives an average of 300 scientific research papers annually, and the current trends show that the numbers are increasing.

Every Journal edition has a theme that is usually associated with a specific conference topic, and every effort is made to include research papers on related topics that were submitted for consideration by the Journal in that specific edition. Despite these efforts, the Journal continues to have a backlog of research papers awaiting publication. It can take up to a year for a paper of general interest to appear in the Journal from the date that the paper is received. This is not a desirable situation, especially from an academic perspective, as researchers would like to see their findings published as quickly as possible.

The SAMREC/SAMVAL Companion Volume Conference

LombergThis edition of the Journal features papers that were presented at the SAMREC/SAMVAL Companion Volume Conference held on 17 and 18 May 2016 and attended by some 100 people. The intention of the conference was to provide Competent Persons and Competent Valuators with the opportunity to prepare and present details of recognized standards and industry benchmarks in all aspects of the SAMREC and SAMVAL Codes. These contributions were collated into a Companion Volume to provide a guideline for the declaration of Exploration Results, Mineral Resources and Mineral Reserves, and the Valuation of Mineral Projects for South Africa.

The 6th Sulphur and Sulphuric Acid Conference

The 6th biennial Sulphuric Acid Conference and Workshop was held in Cape Town between 9 and 11 May 2017.

Approximately 90 delegates attended with regional representation from South Africa, Namibia, Zimbabwe, and the DRC and from further afield with delegates from Germany, the USA, UK, The Netherlands, Canada, and Denmark. Delegates representing plant operations management, technical experts, traders, transporters, and vendors were all present.

Advanced Metals Initiative (AMI) is with great pleasure that we once again present the annual conference of the Advanced Metals Initiative (AMI). The AMI was established jointly by the Department of Science and Technology (DST) and the science councils, namely, Mintek, NECSA and the CSIR and has received generous funding from the DST since 2003. The principal objective of the AMI is to increase local industrialization through a research and development led initiative. In essence the AMI focuses on the downstream beneficiation of local resources and aims to achieve this through the development of materials, applications and technologies that enable the formation of new industries, enhance the competiveness of existing industries or localise the production of existing advanced and critical products. The AMI is split into four networks, each focused on specific local resources. We have the Precious Metals Development Network (PMDN) active in platinum group metals and gold, the Light Metals Development Network (LMDN) looking at aluminium and titanium, the Ferrous Metals Development Network (FMDN) considering iron and alloying base metals, and the Nuclear Metals Development Network (NMDN) advancing zirconium, hafnium and tantalum processes and products.

Hydrometallurgy Conference 2016

Selo Ndlovu 2017ʻSustainable Hydrometallurgical Extraction of Metalsʼ

This edition of the Journal features papers that were presented at the Hydrometallurgy Conference, which was held from 31 July to 3 August 2016. The theme of the conference was ‘Sustainable Hydrometallurgical Extraction of Metals’ and it was attended by 150 delegates from around the world. The conference was organized in collaboration with the Western Cape Branch.

The conference was preceded by a workshop on ‘Test work and its importance in metallurgical design’. Topics presented at the workshop included a review of existing models for process and project development, process test work, flow sheet selection, simulation models, and case studies. The workshop was very well attended by industry delegates, academics, and students.

We have a Problem?

I start my Journal Comment with the iconic phrase: ‘Houston, we have a problem’. Those with good memories might just recall that these were the words spoken by astronaut Jack Swigert during the aborted Apollo 13 moon mission, when he reported to ground control an undervoltage on the capsule bus. At least that’s what I recall he said.

Something in the back of my mind suggested that it might just be prudent to check the correctness of the quotation. The words were actually spoken by Kevin Bacon who starred as Jack Swigert in the movie ‘Apollo 13’. What Swigert actually said was: ‘OK, Houston, we’ve had a problem here’. Close enough – I prefer the movie version!

Focus on the Heavy Minerals Conference held at Sun City from 16–18 August 2016

The papers in this issue of the Journal are selected from the Heavy Minerals Conference held at Sun City from 16–18 August 2016. This conference, which has been held every two years since 1997, is the main technically focused conference covering the heavy minerals industry. The venue moves between various countries where heavy minerals processing is important. The 2016 conference, the 10th in the series, was attended by representatives from 17 countries covering all the major continents.

University of South Africa (UNISA)

This issue contains just one paper from the University of South Africa (UNISA), the only South African university offering mining engineering and mine surveying by open distance learning. Lugoma explores the possibility of supplementing online course content with oncampus practical sessions. The encouraging findings have prompted him to roll out this approach to education so as to enable students to familiarize themselves with mine surveying equipment before they begin their professional careers.

Mining, Environment and Society Conference

        Major issue areas for mining and the SDGs (

The papers in this issue of the Journal are selected from the Mining, Environment and Society Conference, held at Mintek on 12 and 13 May 2015. The two keynote addresses, 14 presentations, and two panel discussions highlighted the increasing relevance of environmental and social issues to the mining sector and its sustainability.

Renewable Energy — Quo Vadis?

The December edition of the Journal contains 14 papers, split almost equally between mining and metallurgical topics – there is something to cover most interests.

Four papers deal with different aspects of coal mining, with all having an underlying theme of enhancing safety in mining. The next two investigate the testing and mechanized installation of rockbolts, also dealing with safety in mining, albeit at a slight distance. The remaining two mining papers also have an indirect link to mining safety, with the first investigating the numerical simulation of surrounding rock creep. The second paper in this mining group reviews previous methodologies for stope boundary selection (alright, I confess, somewhat of a stretch in finding a safety association here!).

Wits Mining

From time to time the SAIMM dedicates an edition of its Journal to a special event. The two volumes of which the November 2016 Edition is Volume I, are dedicated to the Wits School of Mining Engineering (Wits Mining) in celebrating its 120 years of existence, and to providing a platform for the School to showcase its research efforts. The papers could not fit into a single volume, hence the double edition – ample testimony to the amount of research work that Wits Mining undertakes! A perusal of the papers shows the relevance of the research to both the local and international mining industries.

Diamonds still Sparkling Conference 2016

What an apt name for this conference, given the current turmoil in the mining industry as a whole and particularly here in southern Africa. While the rest of the industry battles through its routine commodity cycle, diamonds seem able to maintain a certain sparkle. That is not to say that diamonds do not experience their own cycles, but rather that diamonds have always stood apart from other minerals commodities and seem to have that little bit extra. With the De Beers’s ‘Diamonds are Forever’ catchline and ‘Diamonds are a girl’s best friend’ slogan keeping the allure of diamonds up there apart from the other commodities.

Danie Krige Geostatistical Conference 2015

One might ask what benefit the Danie Krige Geostatistical Conference imparted to the delegates. Principally, it drew us together and confirmed again the importance of the work being done in the field of geostatistics. A significant concern over the past decade and a half has been the declining numbers of local geostatistics practitioners and the need for ongoing education of the geostatistical fraternity. Unfortunately, there are many geostatisticians working in South Africa who have become ‘transparent’ to the professional institutions in that they are not affiliated in any way. All participants at the Conference were urged to enrol as members of the Southern African Institute of Mining and Metallurgy (SAIMM), and the Geostatistical Association of Southern Africa (GASA).

Copper Cobalt Africa 6–8 July 2015

The African Copper Belt has experienced a huge resurgence of activity in the past decade following many years of political and economic instability. Today, an impressive proportion of capital spending, project development, operational expansions, and metal value production in the Southern African mining industry are occurring in this region. The geology and mineralogy of the ores differ significantly from those in other major copperproducing regions of the world, often having very high grades as well as the presence of cobalt. Both mining and metallurgy present some unique difficulties, not only in the technical arena, but also with respect to logistics and supply chain, human capital, community engagement, and legislative issues. With an increasingly mature industry developing in this region, the Metallurgy Technical Programme Committee took the decision to host the inaugural Copper Cobalt Africa conference, which also incorporated the Eighth SAIMM Base Metals Conference.

Slope Stability 2016

rock2The papers in this Journal issue are selected from the proceedings of the Slope Stability Symposium held in Cape Town in October 2015. The symposium was organized by the SAIMM in conjunction with the South African Institute of Rock Engineering (SANIRE). This was the sixth event in this international symposium series, which originated in Cape Town in 2006 and has subsequently been held in Perth, Santiago, Vancouver, and Brisbane. A total of 222 delegates attended from the following countries: Argentina, Australia, Botswana, Brazil, Canada, Chile, the DRC, France, Italy, Lesotho, Madagascar, Namibia, Dominican Republic, Russia, Saudi Arabia, South Africa, Spain, Switzerland, The Netherlands, Turkey, United Kingdom, the USA, and Vientiane. This is the only international event that is dedicated to slope stability in mining and is therefore well attended by authors, delegates, and sponsors.

A Council for our Youth

Membership of the Southern African Institute of Mining and Metallurgy (SAIMM) includes mining and metallurgical students and new graduates from various universities and colleges in the southern African region.

Among these young people are those who have either authored or co-authored papers similar to the ones in this edition of the Journal, and the quality of these submissions leads me to believe that we are on the right track in terms of the academic part of the training that we provide in developing our future mining and metallurgical engineers.

Mine Planning and Equipment Selection (MPES 2015)

The Southern African Institute of Mining and Metallurgy (SAIMM) hosted the 23rd International Symposium on Mine Planning and Equipment Selection (MPES 2015) at the Sandton Convention Centre in Johannesburg from 9 to 11 November 2015. This was the first time that South Africa has hosted the MPES in its 25-year history. This conference’s theme was ‘Smart Innovation in Mining’ in order to recognize technological innovations and new ideas that are required to prepare the industry for the mine of the future.

Furnace Tapping 2014



  Almost too close for comfort - conference delegates admiring the
scale of blast furnace tapping at ArcelorMittal South Africa
Vanderbijlpark Works (photograph by Maryke Pelser)

Furnace Tapping 2014 was the first event of its kind, focusing on the challenges associated with the tapping of furnaces and ways in which these challenges are currently addressed. The conference was inspired by an in-house event arranged by Dr Lloyd Nelson – then employed by Hatch Africa – in 2003, and the need for peer-reviewed papers published in the open literature. This was identified when I conducting a literature survey for my PhD studies, which focused on enhancing the taphole design for silicomanganese furnaces.

The School of Chemical and Metallurgical Engineering at the University of the Witwatersrand

Celebrating one’s 21 year of existence is indeed a most joyous occasion, and another milestone in the history of Chemical and Metallurgical Engineering at the University of the Witwatersrand. Since its formation in 1995 through the merger of the departments of Chemical Engineering and Metallurgy and Materials Engineering as the School of Process and Materials Engineering, the School has gone from strength to strength. In 2005 ‘Chemical and Metallurgical Engineering’ became the official designation of the School after ratification of the name change by the University Council. The School has been at the forefront of education and research in engineering and has contributed greatly to the demand for skilled manpower by the process, beneficiation, and metallurgical industries in South Africa. The School prides itself on its contribution in terms of human resources training and development, knowledge generation, and community involvement and contributions. A significant number of industry and academic leaders locally and worldwide are Wits Chemical and Metallurgical Engineering graduates and alumni.

Surface Mining September 2014

Two years have passed since the last Surface Mining Conference was held. At that time, optimism prevailed and the spectre of the Global Financial Crisis (GFC) had blown away. Commodity prices were cresting a wave created from continued industrial expansion in China, and the mining industry looked set to right its floundering course on a global scale. Explorers and developers on the world’s stock exchanges, whether juniors or majors, thrived and impressive joint ventures, mergers, and acquisitions were the order of the day.

Nuclear Materials

This special edition of the Journal of the Southern African Institute of Mining and Metallurgy is dedicated to the Nuclear Materials Development Network (NMDN) of the Advanced Metals Initiative (AMI) of South Africa’s Department of Science and Technology (DST). The AMI consists of four networks: the Light Metals Development Network (LMDN) which is coordinated by the CSIR, the Precious Metals Development Network (PMDN) and the Ferrous Metals Development Network, both coordinated by Mintek, and the NMDN which is coordinated by the South African Nuclear Energy Corporation SOC Ltd (Necsa).

Platinum In The 21st Century

‘There is a tide in the affairs of men’ ... Shakespeare

The theme of most of my previous Journal Comments has been job creation. This demands identifying the goods and services for sale, and its corollary, the skills and education required.

On this latter score, the mining professional community has had some spectacular success in the 21st century. Many hundreds of skilled mining engineering graduates and diplomates have been produced using the latest in computer-based education, a good percentage being women.

Heaping coals of fire upon our heads

A blessing at the best of times, electricity has become the bane of life in South Africa: it adds quality to life, but when supply is erratic, as we all know too well, the effects cripple and evoke anger. Constraints in the supply of electricity are damaging the economy. Some predictions even foretell a crisis of monumental proportions. Eskom can barely meet current demand.

Conference ’Platinum – Metal for the Future’

The SAIMM biannual platinum conference was first convened in 2004 and has run regularly through to 2014. During this period the industry has moved through a number of challenges – from the global financial crisis to metal pricing spikes and troughs, labour unrest in the form of a crippling five-month strike in South Africa in the first half of 2014, and now sustained oversupply in the face of reduced demand associated with the slow recovery of the European markets and the cooling of the Chinese economy.

Pyrometallurgical modelling

’It is unworthy of excellent men to lose hours like slaves in the labour of calculation which could safely be relegated to anyone else if machines were used.’
– Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz (1646 - 1716)

’The computer is incredibly fast, accurate, and stupid. Man is unbelievably slow, inaccurate, and brilliant. The marriage of the two is a force beyond calculation.’
– Leo Cherne (1912-1999)

Pyrometallurgical operations are essentially concerned with the high-temperature processing of materials. These chemical processes can be extremely complex, involving reactions between gas, solids, liquid slag, and liquid metal (and sometimes other phases as well).