The next big thing

Peter Amelunxen

Presented at Procemin 2016, October 26-28, Santiago, Chile.

We all know the story of froth flotation. The first patents date to 1885, when Carrie Everson discovered a method of concentrating sulfide minerals from a powdered ore using a froth phase.  Everson’s process was successful in small plants, but not on a larger scale, and because she did not have the financial resources to continue her work, she returned to being a teacher.

By the turn of the century, technological developments in the U.S. and Europe where creating higher demand for base metals.  This coincided with the depletion of high-grade, secondary ores, which could be shipped directly to the smelter; the subsequent period of declining ore grades and higher energy requirements (sound familiar?) created a challenging economic climate for mining operations. This motivated the development of alternative processes, and by 1906, bulk flotation of zinc concentrates was working well at Broken Hill lead and zinc mine in New South Wales.

In 1911, froth flotation was implemented for lead and zinc in the U.S. for the first time—in Basin, Montana. It was implemented for copper at the Inspiration Mine in Arizona during the early 1910s.  By 1915, most of the principal copper and lead mines were using, or experimenting with, froth flotation processes.

Froth flotation took twenty years to progress from development to implementation, but it wasn’t for ten more years that it had become widespread and accepted.  When compared to other industries (say, computer technology, or aerospace), thirty years is a very long time.  While it is tempting to regard this time lag as a singular incident, it is actually a pattern that is readily apparent from the history of other technical milestones, including, for example, the development of autogenous and semi-autogenous grinding in the 1930s and 1940s, the introduction of SX/EW during the 1960s, and the implementation of High Pressure Grinding Rolls for hard rock processing in the late 20th century.

In this presentation, we examine some of the reasons for the delays in the adoption of new technology.  We also review some the exciting new developments in our field that may one day (hopefully in less than 30 years) become the next big thing in our field.  Lastly, we discuss some of the challenges and possible solutions that may help to accelerate the adoption curve of future innovations.

Amelunxen P.  The Next Big Thing

Presented at Procemin 2016, October 26-28, Santiago, Chile.