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The University of Queensland Metallurgy Field Trip – South Australia/Western Australia 2022

Patrick Harris SAusIMM, University of Queensland
· 1100 Words
5 Minutes

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Students at the Prominent Hill copper mine

During late June and early July of this year, seven students and one staff member from the University of Queensland (UQ) toured operating metallurgical processing plants across Australia. This included three concentrators, two gold processing plants, a smelter, and a metal refinery.

The field trip has been a long running tradition for the final year chemical and metallurgical engineering students, giving them the opportunity to see the processes they have been learning about throughout their studies. It also ties into their final year metallurgical plant design project which this year is to produce nickel products.

Prominent Hill and Carrapateena

After setting off from Brisbane on the 26th of June, the Prominent Hill concentrator was our first visit on the 27th. The metallurgy team gave us a warm welcome with lunch and some background information about the site. During the tour we saw everything from the haul trucks dumping into the primary crusher, through to concentrate handling. Some of the students had not visited a concentrator before and a highlight was seeing the large grinding mills up close. It was also interesting learning about the flexible work arrangements that OZ Minerals was trialling.

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Observing the SAG mill at Prominent Hill

The next day the group was lucky enough to be able to visit Carrapateena. Despite having a very similar flowsheet to Prominent Hill, differences in plant design between the two sites were highlighted and discussed. Carrapateena’s plant was a lot more compact with a few distinctions in equipment selection. The group heard about the challenges of operating a site that is still quite new and some of the opportunities for further process optimisation. We were also treated to a visit to the tailings dam, core shed and on-site metallurgical lab where a batch flotation test was on display.

Kanowna Belle and Kalgoorlie Consolidated Gold Mines

Next, the group was off to Western Australia where we would spend the remainder of the trip. On the 30th of June we toured the Kanowna Belle gold mine where we learned about refractory gold processing. We were given a presentation by the metallurgy team explaining the comminution, flotation, and roasting areas before the tour. The roasting area was of special interest to many of the students due to the complexity and uniqueness. It was also interesting learning about the difference in flotation reagents used when compared with the copper concentrators we had seen earlier.

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Tour group in front of the Kanowna Belle processing plant

While in Kalgoorlie, the group also visited Kalgoorlie Consolidated Gold Mines (KCGM) and were given a guided tour through the Fimiston and Gidji plants. One notable difference was the use of ultrafine grinding mills at Gidji to treat the flotation concentrate trucked in from Fimiston. We were fortunate enough to get a look at these mills up-close and the discs that are used inside them. On our last day in Kalgoorlie, the students also enjoyed the view from the super pit public lookout and got to see a blast.

BHP Nickel West

We then visited BHP Nickel West’s Leinster Nickel Operations, Kalgoorlie smelter and Kwinana refinery. This gave us a look at every step of the process from mine to nickel products. At Leinster, we saw the whole process from blending of different ores through to dewatering of the final concentrate. One of the highlights was seeing the pressure filters in action and taking in the sights from near the top of the dryers.

At the Kalgoorlie smelter, we toured the primary smelting and converting areas. This included walking around the blast furnace, seeing the primary matte being transferred to the converting area and seeing the converters being punched. This tour was eye-opening for a lot of the students, seeing the scale of the operation and how much auxiliary equipment goes into the process.

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Group photo after tour of the Kalgoorlie nickel smelter

At the Kwinana refinery we were shown around the leaching, hot metal, and ammonium sulphate recovery areas. We were also able to have a look at the new nickel sulphate plant from afar. The processing team was patient with our many questions and gave us a look at some samples from along the Nickel West supply chain. These started at concentrate and matte through to nickel briquettes and sulphate.

Additional Activities

In addition to site tours, the group was invited to attend presentations from Ausenco, Pure Battery Technologies (PBT) and JKTech. The Ausenco Perth team treated us to morning tea while teaching us more about Ausenco’s history and who they are as a company, as well as some of their current projects. The team at Ausenco Brisbane presented some of the lessons they wish they had learnt when they were back in university as well as a session on metallurgical plant design, using Carrapateena as a relevant case study. Next, we were off to the PBT office where we learnt about various nickel processing routes and what sets PBT apart. JKTech were generous enough to present a two-day JKMetSkill course where we learnt about a variety of topics, statistics for metallurgists, met accounting and pulp chemistry to name a few.

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Students meeting the team at Pure Battery Technologies

Final Remarks

We are all very grateful for the opportunity to be part of the trip. Being able to visit so many incredible sites and meet so many new people like this is truly special. The lessons that we have learnt during the trip will absolutely help us with our studies and future careers, and I don’t think anyone that attended would disagree with that. For many of the students (including myself), this was the first time seeing a smelter or a refinery and these experiences were enormously educational. We were also blown away by how welcoming everyone that we met was, and how eager they were to tell us about what they do. For me, the trip is something that I am very proud to be a part of and hope that it continues for many more years to come.

Amazing opportunities like this field trip would not be possible without the help of our industry sponsors. We would like to thank FLSmidth, Newcrest Mining, JKTech Pty Ltd, Glencore, Ausenco, Pure Battery Technologies and the AusIMM Southern Queensland Student Chapter for their support. We would also like to thank Oz Minerals, Northern Star Resources, BHP, Ausenco, Pure Battery Technologies and JKTech for allowing us to visit their sites/offices. Without them the trip would not be possible.

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View of the Kalgoorlie Super Pit from the public lookout

Patrick Harris SAusIMM, University of Queensland

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