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BIOX Transforms Unviable Projects into Profitable Ones

Jan Van Niekerk - Outotec
Director of Gold Process Solutions
Home > Mining > View from the Top

BIOX Transforms Unviable Projects into Profitable Ones

Eric Gloria - Outotec
Sales Director Mexico, South Area & Central America
outotec gloria


Alejandro Ehrenberg By Alejandro Ehrenberg | Journalist and Industry Analyst - Wed, 06/10/2020 - 13:15

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Q: What industry trends has Outotec identified that can result in new business opportunities for the company?

EG: Outotec determines its business opportunities by analyzing key industrywide trends. COVID-19 has certainly influenced a number of these trends. For example, digitalization. There are very few silver linings to the pandemic, but one is the expedited transition to digitalization. In mining and metals refining, there is always a necessity to control the process. Achieving as little dependency on human involvement as possible is a widespread goal. Outotec’s portfolio includes systems that help companies achieve those goals, such as online analyzers, other cloud-based data solutions and data analysis-based process optimizers. These solutions make it possible for managers to reach intelligent decisions without needing a technician in front of the machine. Decisions can be made remotely, as well as monitoring and reporting activities thanks to our intelligent systems. When operations have to remain people-free, because of a virus or another hazard, these solutions are invaluable.

JVN: We do not really know what COVID-19’s impact will be. But certainly, in the foreseeable future at least, international travel will be restricted. In many mines, it will be difficult for key experts to get on site. Having a proper platform for controlling information and managing the plant remotely will be fundamental. Canada, for example, is very far advanced in that area. You can be in an office in Toronto monitoring and controlling a process plant out in West Africa. There is a strong drive to go down the digital route and make operations more autonomous.

Q: How can a company integrate automation in its plants?

EG: It is necessary to have a good entrance point for digitalization. Namely, there should be a strong instrumentation level of automation in the plant. Outotec’s portfolio has a number of solutions for gradually elevating the automation level in a mining plant. Automation can begin with different pieces of equipment in an operation, like a beneficiation plant, for instance. The key aspect is that the level of instrumentation in the different steps of the industrial process is high enough to provide a wealth of measurements and data. These are then sent to a control room where they are analyzed. That is the first required level.

If the plant comes with a distributed control system, that is another good step. That allows us to see all the different signals from the equipment in the plant. If we have that, we are strong enough to install the next level. At this stage, we employ an advanced tool that gathers all the information and puts it together so that an algorithm makes sense of it allows managers to make decisions. More specifically, we offer our Online and particle size analyzers (Courier and PSI packages) and Outotec Pretium technology, like remote monitoring, which is installed in a thickener in a beneficiation plant or a roaster in a metals refining plant, for example. It monitors the process and its variations, lets the client see them and provides/suggests process changes on time to prevent having losses or increase values recoveries. That information often results in money saved or generated. If we see that any process is suddenly out of line, we can advise our client that its gold recovery is suboptimal, and it should make a change according to the algorithm that we have installed.

Q: How does BIOX work and what problem does it solve for the industry?

JVN: In some gold ores, like at Golden Minerals’ Velardeña deposit in Mexico, the gold is locked in a sulphide mineral matrix. The gold particles are so small that no matter how finely you grind the ore you cannot access them with cyanide. Recovery rates become so low that projects cease to be viable, even if there is a lot of gold in the ground. For Velardeña, specifically, gold recovery without BIOX was on the order of 5 to 7 percent. With BIOX, this increases to over 90 percent.

What BIOX does is to use bacteria to oxidize the sulphide mineral – essentially dissolving it – thereby exposing the gold particles. Subsequently, cyanide can access the particles and leach them. The solution containing the dissolved sulphides is finally treated to produce stable precipitates that conform to the highest international standards. They can be put into a tailings dam safely, with no long-term implications. This last aspect makes BIOX a comparatively greener solution. Also, we are continuously improving this solution’s power use.

Q: What kinds of projects benefit the most from BIOX?

JVN: There are other methods for treating Velardeña-like ores, each with its own advantages and disadvantages. BIOX is perfect for smaller projects that are located in far-flung areas. It is a fairly simple technology. It uses standard equipment, like tanks, agitators and thickeners. Outotec has developed related equipment for the BIOX process, like Outotec OKTOP BIOX Reactor, Outotec OKTOP BIOX Agitator, Outotec Thickeners, Outotec OKTOP Neutralization Reactors and Outotec Larox Filters. The advantage of using our own proprietary equipment is that it can be tailored and optimized for every project. There is no specialized technology required, which makes it easy to employ local operators for setting the process in motion. It is well-suited for smaller projects because the capital cost is relatively low.

Q: How widespread is BIOX in the industry?

JVN: It is a well-established technology, developed in South Africa from 1986 to 1989. Velardeña will be the first mine in North America to implement BIOX. We have installed 13 globally. The reason why it is not more widely used on the American continent is two-fold.  The more traditional treatment methods were already well established in North America when BIOX was developed and most of the mines there tend to be bigger, favoring the other treatment processes. In Mexico, however, smaller projects in remote locations can benefit. For every project, we have to determine what is the best technology, based on factors like concentrate characteristics, location, operating cost drivers and size. BIOX is a niche process that can have dramatic benefits if applied to the right project

Outotec develops leading technologies and services for the sustainable use of natural resources. Its 4,000 experts are driven by each customer’s unique challenges. Outotec's comprehensive offering targets value creation for its customers in the mining, metal, and chemical industries.

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