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Five minutes with Phillip Fawell, joint recipient of MetPlant 2019 Best Presentation Award

· 600 words, 5 min read

We sat down with Phillip Fawell, Team Leader: Hydrometallurgy Innovation at Australia’s national science agency CSIRO, to discuss his award-winning presentation at MetPlant 2019. Phil offers advice for those looking to present and make an impression at #MetPlant2023.

How did it feel receiving the Best Presentation Award at MetPlant 2019?

I was very pleased and surprised, given there were a lot of good presentations by people who are well known in the industry.

Presenting at MetPlant did lead to some very useful contacts from industry seeking more information, so that certainly made attending worthwhile. Whilst I’m at the ‘back-end’ of my career and I’ve previously delivered a few keynotes at conferences, if I had a career bucket-list, winning such an award would certainly allow me to tick that off.

Can you tell us more about your award-winning presentation?

I’ve spent most of my CSIRO career looking at getting the best flocculation performance out of gravity thickeners in the minerals industry, and that’s involved combining my expertise in physical chemistry with advanced computational fluid dynamics (CFD) performed my fellow CSIRO co-authors.

My team has been doing this work successfully for thickening operations around the world, but they were confidential studies, with very few cases where we could openly disclose the changes made or the improvements in performance that were gained. However with more than 20 years of study and focus in this area we have been able to develop rules for thickener feedwell design and operation, and so I took this opportunity to present some of these learnings openly for the first time.

My role as a chemist is to interpret CFD in relation to feedwell performance, and CFD outputs can be a great tool to clearly illustrate key concepts. The single most important outcome was the derived relationship between feedwell diameter and volumetric throughput which distilled a decade of CFD studies of selected designs and allows for very simple benchmarking. This relationship has since been published in a journal, but until MetPlant 2019 it hadn’t been shown outside of the original project’s sponsors.

Do you have any advice for others considering submitting an abstract for the MetPlant Conference in 2023?

MetPlant is a conference focused on practical applications in operations, so it’s essential that any results you seek to present are linked to full-scale operations in some way. That doesn’t mean you can’t present good science, but it can’t just be at a lab scale – it has to be either something that’s been implemented on a site or validated with operating data. My advice would be to have a ‘take home’ message in your paper which has application to an operating site.

What were some of your key highlights from MetPlant? Would you recommend it to others?

MetPlant 2019 had many high quality keynote and regular presentations that hit the mark, either summarising large efforts towards a particular area or drawing out important guidance on more general topics. With my personal interests lying in solid-liquid separation and tailings, I found Kathy Ehrig’s keynote paper and presentation on ‘The Effect of gangue mineralogy on flow sheet design and plant operation’ to be a highlight, effectively demonstrating the impacts of clay mineralogy on downstream properties.

A problem with many industry-focused conferences is minimising the number of papers that are in effect sales pitches and ensuring that what is presented adds significant recognisable practical value to attendees. Judging from MetPlant 2019, AusIMM does this better than most. There were presentations I got value out of in every single session, even when they were outside of my personal interests, and there is no higher praise I can give a conference than that, as it very rarely happens.

Call for abstracts are closing soon, submit your abstract before 24 June. 

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