BASF is the world’s leading chemical company serving clients across the globe, posting sales in 2011 of €73.5 billion and having about 111,000 employees worldwide. Recently they have opened a global R&D centre for mining in Perth, Australia.We speak to BASF’s Dr Marco Altmayer about what this new mining R&D centre looks to achieve.
While BASF is probably best known for its polymers such as the Ultramid polyamides used in such things as automotive applications, your product portfolio obviously extends far and wide. Can you tell us about BASF’s involvement in the mining industry?
Through recent acquisitions (Degussa Construction Chemicals in 2006, Ciba in 2009 and Cognis in 2010) BASF has significantly broadened its product and technology portfolio and is now well-positioned to serve the mining industry. As chemicals are used throughout all phases of a mine lifecycle, from exploration and construction to operations and rehabilitation, BASF is involved with a wide range of products and system applications. It is in the area of innovation, however, that BASF aims to add most value to the industry, especially in areas such as energy consumption, water management, ground support and consolidation, novel extraction and processing techniques.
Why are chemicals so important to the mining industry and where are they used?
According to the United Nation Environmental Program, the demand for metals and minerals will have doubled from the turn of this century until 2020. Population growth with an emerging middle class, urbanisation and industrialisation are the main drivers, in particular in China and other emerging markets.
With growing demand putting an increasing strain on our planet, sustainability has become a crucial issue and a key driver of growth and value creation. In many cases, sustainability is only possible with the help of chemistry.
Mining chemicals are used throughout all phases of a mine lifecycle, from exploration and construction to operations and rehabilitation, with highest use in operations. For instance, there is a need for sustainable chemical solutions enabling ore recovery and processing under more demanding conditions.
Given that this is a “Global R&D Centre”, why did BASF choose to locate it in Australia and in particular in Perth?
Wanting to intensify the dialogue with the mining industry and demonstrating our commitment, our R&D centre had to be in proximity to key customers and industrial research centres. And they are in Australia.
The Australian Minerals Research Centre (AMRC) in Perth helps Australia's minerals industry to remain competitive in global markets and enhances collaboration between public and private sector research groups. It has a clear focus on mineral processing R&D and particularly hydrometallurgy. One of the key disciplines used in hydrometallurgy research is chemistry. So our involvement with the AMRC is natural and an important step towards building technology and innovation leadership.
On 13 July, the Hon. Martin Ferguson AM MP (Minister for Resources, Energy and Tourism) and Dr Martin Brudermueller (Vice Chairman of the Board of Executive Directors of BASF SE) officially opened BASF's global mining R&D centre in Perth.
Your new facility is located at the Australian Mineral Research Centre (AMRC), which is part of the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO). How closely will your team be working with CSIRO scientists?
Being at the CSIRO site and participating at the Parker Centre helps us to strengthen our R&D capabilities in proximity to industrial research centres and key customers. This creates the opportunity to connect BASF technologies and research and development platforms with opinion leaders in academia and industry, and thereby jointly address new developments for mineral processing. We are convinced that our research will greatly benefit from the intellectual property generated from the Parker Centre and from our interactions with the participant research groups.
Can you tell us about some of the products you will be looking to develop at the new research facility?
In first projects, our scientists will be studying innovation needs specific to mineral processing, such as advanced rheology modifiers for the improvement of the thickening process for valuables and tailings or modification of the crystallization process in alumina production. In this way we want to continue to provide major operational, environmental and economic benefits for the mining industry.
With our vision to become the innovation partner and leading chemical solutions provider to the mining industry, we will focus on key ores that have the highest demand for innovation, such as advanced extraction reagents as an alternative to smelting and leaching. We will also drive process innovation, which is applicable in multiple ores such as efficient grinding aids, improved flocculants and magnetic flotation.
BASF is committed to sustainability and no doubt you will be looking to develop sustainable products for the mining industry. Can you tell us what their effects on the mining industry will be?
Climate protection is a core element of BASF’s sustainability strategy, and it is a priority for BASF to cut emissions. Our production methods are highly energy-efficient and being improved all the time. At the same time, many of our products facilitate greenhouse gas reduction by raising energy efficiency, for instance supporting the construction and housing, agriculture, mobility and energy sectors.
With growing demand for metals and minerals putting an increasing strain on our planet, sustainability has become a crucial issue and a key driver of growth and value creation. In many cases, sustainability is only possible with the help of chemistry.
For our mining team this means developing step change innovations that ensure the sustainability of existing deposits, reduction of energy and water reuse at mines in Australia and around the world. The mining sector also benefits from improvements in the performance of existing minerals processing plants, for example by increasing efficiency and yield, improving product quality and minimising operating costs.
In the news we often hear about waterways that have become contaminated from run off from mines and see images of tailings dams. Will the products that you will be developing look to address some of these mining issues?
The mining industry faces many challenges and issues relating to the use of water and the impact of exploration, extraction and disposal activities on the environment. These include minimising water consumption and maximising recovery, reducing land areas consumed by tailings disposal and minimising the costs and time required to rehabilitate such land.
BASF has an innovative approach to tailings management which has resulted in the development of our Rheomax® technologies. These technologies, coupled with our global expertise and practical application assistance, help deliver operational excellence in all areas of tailings and water management.
The Rheomax® ETD (Enhanced Tailings Disposal) process is able to rigidify tailings at the point of disposal by initiating instantaneous water release from the treated slurry. This accelerates the drying time of the tailings, resulting in a smaller tailings footprint. This treatment has been found to be highly effective in improving tailings properties for industries including alumina, copper, nickel, gold, iron ore, mineral sands and oil sands.
Innovation needs specific to mineral processing, such as advanced rheology modifiers for the improvement of the thickening process for valuables and tailings or modification of the crystallization process in alumina production, are among the first projects undertaken at our new R&D and technology centre in Perth.
Using novel technologies like BASF's Rheomax® ETD (Enhanced Tailings Disposal) to change and control the structural and drainage properties of mineral processing residues has been found to be highly effective in improving tailings properties for industries including iron, coal, alumina, mineral sands, gold and copper.
Some of the higher quality and easier to access ore bodies are becoming depleted. Will new mining and refining techniques be required to deal with lower quality ores and will these require different minerals processing chemistries to make them viable? And is this something you will be looking to develop at the new R&D Centre?
As high-quality ores are becoming depleted and additional reserves are mainly found in less accessible locations, there is a growing demand for innovative chemistry. For instance, there is a need for chemical solutions enabling ore recovery and processing under more demanding and sustainable conditions.
Innovation needs specific to mineral processing, such as advanced rheology modifiers for the improvement of the thickening process for valuables and tailings or modification of the crystallization process in alumina production, are among the first projects undertaken at our new R&D centre in Perth.
Thanks for taking the time to speak to us. We look forward to reporting on developments that stem from work at BASF’s new global R&D centre for mining in the near future.
For more information about BASF, click here.
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