Speaker Spotlight: James McQuie
With just under two months to go until the 15th Mill Operators Conference in June 2021, we interviewed keynote speaker James McQuie MAusIMM, Principal - Business Development in the Nickel West Asset of BHP, to offer insights in his presentation and key issues relating to the industry.
1. What message would you like to highlight to the delegates at this upcoming Conference? What do you hope will be the main take away from your keynote presentation?
Mining has not always had a great social image, but now, more than ever, we need the best minds and smartest scientists and engineers contributing to the zero carbon journey humankind now knows we must take. It has been said that the most effective and lasting change comes from within. Ideally we will get a solid stream of passionate and aware professionals coming in and challenging and helping the industry change and find new, more responsible ways of providing the metals that society needs.
2. Throughout your extensive career, what challenges stood out to you with regards to minerals processing and do these challenges still occur today?
Mines are where you find them, and that may not always be in the most hospitable of places. Working remotely or FIFO and relationships are still a balancing act as ever, but this should not be seen as all negative. The personal growth and comradery that comes from raising a young family in a mining town as everyone else is, or in the FIFO lifestyle, having 7 days R&R every month for that fishing trip with the mates has advantages too. There is a lot more support and awareness around this now, and that is a good thing.
3. It is an exciting time to be in the resource sector as innovation is constantly evolving, what advice do you have to our young professionals looking to attend the conference?
There is a genuine and necessary shift in industrialisation where the energy needs of society was met by abundant and inexpensive coal and hydrocarbons in the past. That is changing very quickly to solar, wind, tide & geothermal and the harnessing and storage of this energy will require different metals and possibly completely new processes.
4. You have been a part of rapid transformation at the Nickel West Asset, how has the changes across the years shaped your approach to new technologies, and do you look forward to more changes in the future? Will automation be suited for these operations?
The last five years has been as much about a change in self-image as it has been a business change. We have moved from being a relatively small contributor of high purity nickel to the stainless steel market to being a more significant feedstock to the EV battery market. The self-image change has been the most fascinating culturally. We now see ourselves as part of the green energy movement, and this has made us quite open and receptive to early trials and adoption of the technology. We recently invested in WA’s biggest solar farm at Merredin that will supply 50% of the refinery needs at less than mains prices, we are building an 18MW solar farm at Leinster, a “Pathway to Net Zero” team (P2NZ) has been created and these are new roles tasked with driving the real change this journey will involve. We have a zero tailpipe emission electric Toyota going through trials underground that will contribute to better air quality in our mines. I feel our willingness to explore and adopt these options is due largely to our new self-perception & passion for this journey and it’s also very good business.
5. Why do you think it is important for mill operators and plant operation professionals to continue their professional development?
The world changes and you need to change with it to remain relevant and engaged. The engineers and scientists who make up this profession are no strangers to study and learning, so I believe we are life-long learners in the main, but forums like this really help to foster networking and the ability to hear of new and exciting developments occurring, so are invaluable energisers for the profession.