CEEC: the one-stop shop for comminution efficiency in the mining industry

Reproduced from the Heads Up CIPEC news, May 2014 Vol. XVIII, No. 5.

"Comminution, as the major energy user in mineral processing, is responsible for the majority of processing costs at a mine,” says Sarah Bocaut, Executive Officer of the Coalition for Energy Efficient Comminution (CEEC) based in Melbourne, Australia. CEEC aims to provide the most current and best-in-class research and data that will allow companies to make a solid business case to become more energy-efficient using alternative comminution strategies.”

Comminution, an important part of mineral processing, is the reduction of solid materials to a small average particle size by crushing, grinding, and other processes. CEEC’s mission is to raise awareness on research findings and proven applications of efficient and innovative comminution strategies with the goal to lower processing costs and improve the profitability of the mining industry.

Officially launched in 2011, the CEEC was born out of industry discussions and an acknowledgement of the comminution’s high energy consumption. In fact, it is estimated that up to five percent of the world’s electrical energy is used in the comminution process; therefore any efficiency gains will have a significant business impact.

Six leading research institutions, including the University of British Columbia, are focused on research into improving energy efficiency of the milling process. It has already shown that improved or “smart” blasting, pre-concentration, and new grinding techniques can improve efficiency and lower energy costs significantly.

A number of global mining companies support CEEC, have adopted more efficient processes and are reaping the benefits. For example, Barrick Gold Corporation achieved a 6.3 percent energy use reduction in 2013 for each of three mines by improving the comminution circuit. According to Ivan Mullany, Senior Vice-President, Capital Projects at Barrick, the improvements were quite simple in many cases – “just a reconfiguration of the circuit.”

Mullany notes that “we are very aware of how energy is used and not to waste it.” Peter Kondos, Barrick Senior Director, Strategic Solutions, agrees, noting that energy represents up to 40 percent of a mine’s cost base especially for high altitude and remote mines where diesel power plants are used. Given that energy prices will only increase and ore grades are falling, the industry has to focus on controllable costs, such as energy. Mullany notes that “by increasing the energy efficiency of comminution, we can decrease the cost per tonne of product.”

Flynn McCarthy, Corporate Energy Manager at GoldCorp Inc., another CEEC sponsor, notes that for his company, “energy efficiency is a key strategic business objective.” GoldCorp has also seen significant reduction in energy consumption by increasing the comminution circuit using high pressure grinding roll technology.

McCarthy believes that CEEC can be instrumental in spreading the word about proven technologies and comminution best practices. “Once there is sufficient knowledge, mining companies will be quick to adopt and move to holistic energy management. A global view needs to be taken to improve overall efficiency. Ultimately, if we collaborate as an industry through platforms like CEEC, the industry as a whole will be more robust.”

Boucaut agrees, noting that in addition to CEEC acting as a conduit between research and the operational arena, the organization also aims to produce communication tools for non-technical decision-makers. “CEEC’s Resource Center contains over 150 individually selected technical papers addressing efficiency in comminution as well as a range of non-technical reports that capture the core business opportunities,” says Boucaut. Moreover, CEEC strongly endorses work by the Global Mining Standards Group to benchmark comminution performance.

CEEC’s website offers easy access to efficiency-related comminution papers, as well as an industry roadmap developed at a recent CEEC Workshop. “CEEC wants to create a culture of shared knowledge,” says Boucaut. This echoes the philosophies of Barrick and GoldCorp. Mullany and McCarthy both note that “we can’t solve it on our own” while Kondos acknowledges the importance of the CEEC as a platform to capture the available knowledge on comminution efficiency and raise awareness about it.