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New research chair in geometallurgy at SU sponsored by African Rainbow Minerals

New research chair in geometallurgy at SU sponsored by African Rainbow Minerals

[Article by Wiida Fourie-Basson

Stellenbosch University is partnering with African Rainbow Minerals on an initiative to ensure the sustainability of mining through innovative research and training conducted in the field of geometallurgy.

The new African Rainbow Minerals (ARM) geometallurgy research chair at Stellenbosch University will drive inter-disciplinary research and training in the emerging field of geometallurgy in the South African mineral resources industry.

Geometallurgy is the integration of geological, mineralogical and metallurgical data in three dimensional space to create a spatially-aware processing model to predict in much more detail the life cycle of a mining/extraction operation – literally from cradle to grave.

Due to the interdisciplinary nature of the research chair, it has been established as a shared position between Dr Bjorn von der Heyden from the Department of Earth Sciences and Dr Margreth Tadie from the Department of Process Engineering. Dr Von der Heyden’s field of specialisation is economic geology, geometallurgy and geochemistry, and that of Dr Tadie includes flotation chemistry, geometallurgy, and process optimisation and modelling.

Dr Von der Heyden said they believe that an ore resource’s full value can only be truly unlocked through interdisciplinary and collaborative understanding: “Through a better understanding of the ore body characteristics in three-dimensional space, we can create workflows and models in the context of the full mine value chain”.

With the world moving towards cleaner-energy alternatives, Dr Tadie said the aim is to model the life cycle of a mine in such a way that it has zero impact on the environment: “There is a growing renewable energy market for the so-called green- and battery metals such as copper, cobalt, manganese and lithium. But without a holistic approach to designing mining operations these metals cannot be considered sustainable.”

In response to the announcement, André Joubert, Chief Executive: ARM Ferrous, said responsible environmental, social and governance practices are integral to ARM strategic priorities to operate safely, responsibly and efficiently: “We believe that this interdisciplinary collaboration will position the South African mining industry to be a global competitive player”.

The two co-chairs have already been working together since 2017, including co-supervising four postgraduate students and co-authoring three research articles on the topic published in international peer-reviewed journals. Both of them will also continue to be involved in teaching and training of mineral resources and geometallurgy-related subject matter at undergraduate and honours level.

By following an “unsiloed” approach, they plan to make a meaningful contribution to this emerging field in southern Africa and globally, as well as to producing adaptable graduates with multiple complementary skill sets who are capable of broad systems-level thinking.

  • African Rainbow Minerals has recently entered into an overarching memorandum of agreement with Stellenbosch University with the aim of establishing a working relationship to identify opportunities for collaboration in areas of mutual interest and create sustainable value. The African Rainbow Minerals (ARM) geometallurgy research chair was identified as one such opportunity. Starting in January 2023, the research chair will be sponsored by ARM for five years.

Photo credit: Wiida Fourie-Basson