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Australian Fine Coal Lab Establishing International Reputation

Results coming out of a fine coal research laboratory have attracted the interest of some of the world’s biggest coal producers. Established by site water management specialists Nalco Australia, the laboratory is adopting a holistic approach to fine coal recovery.

A complementary facility to the company’s primary Mining R&D laboratories in Western Australia, the new Sydney lab is focusing on the multiple characteristics of the fine coal circuit.
Based on the often-proved premise that a substantial percentage of revenue could be achieved through correct processing and recovery of fine coal, staff at the laboratory is adopting a holistic approach to fine coal recovery including infrastructure (thickeners, filters, flotation), chemical reagents (frothers, collectors, dewatering aids, solid/liquid separation) and tailings management.

With a number of successes to date for Australian coal producers – particularly around flotation and maximising coal recovery through floating hard-to-float coal – the lab is now engaged in detailed testing for a major coal project in Mozambique.

The project owner had set stringent specifications around the moisture content of coal shipped from the mine and commissioned Nalco to achieve the required level. In conjunction with Dr Roe-Hoan Yoon, currently the Nicholas T. Camicia Professor at the Department of Mining and Minerals Engineering at Virginia Tech, and an acknowledged worldwide authority on fine coal processing technology, Nalco established that the only way to achieve the desired moisture content was to use novel reagents. The reagents were novel not only in their chemical properties which achieved the desired moisture contents but also in that they were developed to be safer than current reagents in the marketplace. Based on those results, the project owner then sent coal samples to the ACRIL facility in the Hunter Valley for further testing. Nalco’s Sydney-based coal lab was invited to participate in the program and is currently testing newly developed reagents to improve overall performance and output for the international miner.

Closely allied to the fine coal research program is water recovery (quality water / usable water) and water recycling.

Described by some in the industry as the ‘new frontier’ of site environmental issues effective and efficient site water recovery and use is essentially a by-product of the Sydney-based research. For example, industry best practice indicates that, in coal processing, magnetite will be lost at around 300g per tonne. Dirty processing water will significantly increase magnetite loss. The holistic approach adopted by the research program is showing reductions in water use and increases in usable water recovery as further research goes into matching coal types to appropriate reagents and processing techniques.

Although not conclusive, and still at the laboratory scale, the results are, nonetheless, encouraging enough to warrant extended research.

The new Sydney laboratory adds to an integrated research facility chain around the world, headed by the company’s central research laboratories in Chicago along with labs in India, Kwinana (W.A.), Virginia, and Shanghai. It adds to Nalco’s worldwide coal technology group and provides improved access to the company’s worldwide expertise.

Additional information can be found here.