The Centre for Minerals Research at the University of Cape Town is a multi-disciplinary research unit based in the Department of Chemical Engineering with closely associated activities in the departments of Mechanical Engineering, Electrical Engineering, and Physics.
The Centre began as a small research group in the early 1980s and focused mainly on the chemistry of the flotation process. With time the research expanded to areas such as the role of reagents and the interactions between the various reagents used in the flotation process, the effect of physical parameters such as bubble size and froth phase on flotation performance, the design and operation of flotation cells – laboratory, pilot and full scale including mechanically agitated and column cells – and the modelling and simulation of the performance of flotation cells and circuits.
In the early 90s a strong activity in the area of comminution began and this has grown to the point where today it is internationally recognised for its research excellence. More recently, this research has been significantly strengthened by the development of a strong process mineralogy activity. In 2006, UCT recognised the research group as a Centre, which is now known as the Centre for Minerals Research (CMR).
The main focus of CMR’s research continues to be on the processes of comminution, classification and flotation, arguably the most important unit operations in mineral beneficiation. In excess of 2000 million tons of over 100 different mineral species are recovered annually through the process of flotation which is usually preceded by comminution and classification.
Inefficiencies in these processes translate into both an enormous loss of revenue and an unnecessary waste of the world’s valuable and steadily declining mineral reserves. This is expected to compound in the coming decades as high quality ores become depleted, and mining companies are forced to treat more complex and low grade ore bodies. These challenges, as well as the ongoing challenges associated with reducing energy and water usage and waste and greenhouse gas minimisation, are a strong focus of the CMR’s research activities.
In addressing these challenges, the CMR carries out research at both laboratory and plant scale, and through its MPTech division carries out confidential projects for a wide range of companies. Developing robust predictive models for describing the performance of industrial flotation and comminution units and circuits is an important aspect of the research. In addition, the CMR seeks to be a major provider of high-level skills for the South African mining industry through rigorous postgraduate research training. This is enhanced through in-house and company-based courses.
CMR currently has a complement of 25 staff and 30-40 postgraduate students. It enjoys extensive support from mining companies and suppliers as well as statutory funding agencies such as the Technology and Human Resources for Industry Programme (THRIP).
Research collaborators include the industrial companies and mining houses AngloGold, Anglo Platinum, Batemans, Grinaker-LTA Process Engineering, Hatch Africa, Impala Platinum, Lonmin Platinum, Magotteaux, Rio Tinto, Senmin, Thyssen-Krupp Polysius, Xstrata and the research organisations Anglo Research and Mintek.
The CMR has continually sought to develop a multidisciplinary approach to its research, and its staff and students include chemical, minerals processing, mechanical and electrical engineers as well as chemists, physicists and mathematicians.
The CMR has arguably developed an excellent international reputation for its research in the area of flotation and comminution and has strong links with research institutions in Australia, Canada, Chile, France, Germany, Sweden, Turkey, United Kingdom, USA and Zambia. The CMR has also had a highly successful joint research venture with the Julius Kruttschnitt Mineral Research Centre (JKMRC) at the University of Queensland since 1996. This has largely been facilitated through its involvement as a key research provider in an Australian Mineral Industries Research Association (AMIRA) project, viz. the P9 Mineral Processing Project. This includes research on the application of computational methods, such as Discrete Element Modelling (DEM) and Computational Fluid Dynamics (CFD), as well as in flotation chemistry and process mineralogy. Through the P9 Project, the CMR has access to, and participates in, the research activities of this long-standing research project supported by 30-40 industrial sponsors, including the largest mining companies in the world.