In the build up to our Iron Ore 2019 conference (22-24 July, Perth), AusIMM asked some of our keynote speakers questions on critical issues in the iron ore sector and what their presentations will cover.
Allon Brent MAusIMM
Allon is the Principal of Perth-based consultancy Global Minerals Marketing, having retired as Iron Ore Marketing Manager from BHP in 2016. Allon has over 30 years’ experience in the international minerals and metallurgical industries, having held senior management roles in marketing, technology/R&D, business development and operations.
Allon has PhD and MS degrees in Mineral Engineering from the University of Minnesota (USA) and a BSc in Chemical Engineering from the University of Cape Town (South Africa). He is the author/co-author of 26 international journal and conference papers, the co-inventor of three international patents and an AusIMM member.
Q. At Iron Ore 2017, there was a strong focus on the importance of mineralogy and petrology on iron ore processing characteristics (ie geometallurgy). The rationale being that there needs to be an understanding of the detailed characteristics of an ore to optimise mining, blending, beneficiation and downstream processing operations. Do these characteristics still hold true in 2019?
Yes, I believe that they continue to hold true today and will likely become more important as China continues on its path to increase steel industry efficiency and reduce emissions, both of which favour higher quality iron ores over lower grade products.
As ores do not beneficiate equally, a fundamental understanding of ore geomet characteristics is essential to optimise product quality through mining, beneficiation and blending, especially when deciding which ores may be more amenable to upgrading at reasonable capital and operating costs.
Run-of-mine head grades will inevitably decline over time as producers exhaust the highest grade resources, and as the market continues to favour higher quality ores, I think we will see more beneficiation, particularly in the Pilbara, which will require detailed understanding of ore geomet properties.
Q: What do you hope will be the main message delegates will take away from your keynote presentation?
Despite the recent market surge resulting from the Vale closures, the China boom years are over and producers need to be able to prosper in a more competitive environment where quality is likely to be increasingly important moving forward.
I see strong technical capabilities being the key to optimising value for iron ore producers in the future – from geosciences and mining engineering on the resource side, to metallurgical skills and geomet knowledge for ore processing. There will also need to be application of artificial intelligence and automation in the production chain to increase productivity and reduce costs, and a deep technical understanding of the market to maximise product price realisation.
Olga has more than 15 years’ experience at an international level across multiple disciplines. She holds a BSc (Hons) and MSc (Hons) in Mechanical Engineering (Manufacturing) from National Technical University (Ukraine) and a dual PhD in Mechanical Engineering/Material Science from BAYATI, Budapest/University of Miskolc, Hungary.
Olga joined AMIRA International in 2011 and is currently a Program Manager and Innovation Lead. She applies her technical knowledge, management skills and enthusiasm for innovation in developing high-value multidisciplinary collaborative projects for the mining industry.
Q: What is the importance of collaboration and its value to the iron ore industry?
The challenges facing the mining industry are becoming increasingly complex, ranging from licence to operate issues to declining ore grades, increasing development costs, etc. Companies do not have all
the necessary expertise to address these challenges in-house. In fact, during the recent downturn, reduction in commodity prices and focus on cutting costs and improving efficiency has meant that a lot of internal capacity has been lost. This was accompanied by significant cuts to R&D funding, and particularly collaborative R&D. Indeed, there has been a switch from the traditional peer-collaborative model to the one-on-one OEM collaborative model, as companies have shrunk their time horizon for ROI to one to two years or less. The latter model effectively shifts the risk from the companies to the OEMs.
In implementing new digital technologies, companies are largely relying on adapting off-the-shelf solutions. However, many challenges are deep-rooted problems that are common across all sectors of the industry, whether iron ore or base metals, and can only be addressed through sustained multi-company support. Industry’s long-term challenges include transforming the way it does business, achieving the zero-waste mine, converting post-closure into an asset rather than a liability, faster process and project development, and developing the ‘invisible mine’. The only sensible way of tackling many, if not all, of these challenges, is through multi-peer collaboration.
Peer-to-peer collaboration is not an easy task, and despite an appreciation that the iron ore sector is quite competitive by its nature, there is definitely room for multiparty collaboration. A few completed AMIRA projects serve as good examples of this, and many of the solutions from these projects have delivered multi-million-dollar savings to our members, in addition to capacity building within research institutions around the world.
Q: Can you give readers an insight into the main message of your keynote presentation?
My keynote will focus on the role of AMIRA International, who is a global broker of collaboration. Created by industry 60 years ago, it serves the mining community by providing a collaboration model that helps reduce risk/cost, enables the leveraging of funding and other industry knowledge and expertise. AMIRA International provides excellent project management and protection of sensitive information amongst competitors, as well as offering a diverse set of skills and capability. AMIRA International also provides the framework that enables companies to do something beyond what they could do on their own, as well as access to a greater range of experience and quality research providers.
‘Hlsmelt offers an alternative route for the smelting of different ores that are presently uneconomic.’
Neil is currently the CEO of Acadia Iron, a Vancouver-based company, which has the rights to licence the HIsmelt technology outside China, and is currently developing HIsmelt projects in North and South America and Australasia.
Q: What are your thoughts on the importance of mineralogy and petrology on iron ore processing characteristics? Are these still critical in 2019?
The effect of iron ore characteristics on downstream processing operations is critical today and will become more critical as the Chinese steel industry changes due to environmental regulations, economic slowdown and increased scrap generation.
Q: How important is flexibility when responding to today’s market conditions (eg the Feijao disaster vs slowing Chinese economy)?
Strategic rather than short-term flexibility will be key as the Chinese steel industry reaches ‘peak BF production’ as steel intensity falls, and scrap consumption rises over the next few decades. This will put even more pressure on the prices of ores with lower Fe and higher gangue.
Q: What do you hope delegates will take away from your keynote presentation at Iron Ore 2019?
My key message will be that the HIsmelt technology has been proven in China and offers an alternative route for the smelting of different ores that are presently uneconomic for use in blast furnaces.
Read more of our speaker spotlight interview series at ironore.ausimm.com/news.
Image: Bruce Aspley/Shutterstock.com.