High-voltage 'zapper' could help decarbonise mining industry


Friday, 31 May, 2024

High-voltage 'zapper' could help decarbonise mining industry

Scientists at The University of Queensland have come up with a mineral-processing method that has the potential to help decarbonise the mining industry.

The researchers, from UQ’s Sustainable Minerals Institute, have developed a high-voltage pulse (HVP) technology, using a short-pulsed discharge similar to a lightning strike, to selectively break mineralised ores while keeping barren rocks intact.

This could significantly help reduce energy consumption in mining, according to Project leader Dr Christian Antonio.

“Mineral processing is the most energy-intensive part of mining and is a significant consumer of energy globally,” Antonio said.

“This technology makes it possible to choose the material which should go to the processing plant and leave behind material which contains little or no metal.

“By separating ‘barren’ rocks from the valuable mineralised rocks, which are weakened by the lightning strikes, we can cut down processing time and make the whole process more energy efficient.

“These efficiencies are noticeable throughout the mining process but, in the grinding stage in particular, our research has shown a reduction of approximately 30% in processing time and energy consumption.”

High-voltage pulse technology is discharged onto rocks to help extract minerals. Image courtesy UQ Sustainable Minerals Institute, 2024.

HVP technology uses the same principle that makes a lightning rod effective — leveraging the conductive properties of metal to direct an electrical charge.

“Electrical energy automatically targets the conductive mineral particles within a rock and breaks up the rock as it makes its way to them,” Antonio said.

“To deliver this energy we also electrify a conventional piece of mineral processing equipment that sorts rocks by size, meaning we are simultaneously zapping the rocks and sorting the fragments.

“This is a more efficient way to deliver the energy while achieving the over 100 tonne per hour throughputs required by the mining industry.”

HVP technology is a key focus of UQ’s Julius Kruttschnitt Mineral Research Centre’s Separation Group, which develops mineral separation processes that aim to improve profitability and minimise environmental impact.

Group Leader Associate Professor Kym Runge said there was wide industry interest in how the technology could decarbonise operations. “A key part of this project is showing our partners that the technology can feasibly be added to their plants,” she said.

“We are currently working on building a business case that will quantify the benefits of this technology, then we will design an HVP unit integrating our technology and progress that to commercialisation.

“Ultimately the plan is to build a pilot plant and demonstrate the benefits of HVP at one of our sponsor’s sites.”

The research is being funded through the Resources Technology and Critical Minerals Trailblazer program, which also has the support of several mining industry partners, including Newmont and JKTech.

Top image courtesy of UQ Sustainable Minerals Institute, 2024.

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