Metals and minerals are ubiquitous in so many aspects of our everyday lives that is is easy to take them for granted – a fact that Ruan is well aware of. “For a very long time, particularly in so-called first-world countries, these materials have been almost an afterthought. Materials science, machine manufacturing, semiconductor production – all of these require a continuous flow of primary metals to sustain the value chain, yet the resources allocated to helping us address the production challenges and sustain this flow have been diminishing since the 1980s,” Ruan explains.
Few deposits anywhere in the world are now considered easy to process.
“Producers are now under heavy pressure to keep the taps open on what was once considered to be a virtually limitless supply of metals and minerals. Easily accessible primary sources of raw materials containing moderately or highly enriched ore are now largely depleted, especially when it comes to metals,” Ruan continues.
Few deposits anywhere in the world are now considered easy to process. Where high-quality ore does still exist it’s likely that the deposit is too small to be economically viable; where deposits are of sufficient size the ore is likely of low-quality, highly disemminated, or extremely finely grained, making it challenging for processors to turn a profit.
“At Kemira, its our job to help our customers in the field of metals and minerals face these challenges with innovative new solutions that add real value,” explains Ruan. “Metals and minerals share a lot of common processes, so we can take our deep application knowledge from one process and use it to refine and optimize another. Our application knowledge and chemistries are primarily focused on the liberation,concentration and extraction steps of the processing phase, as well as on tailings management.”
Kemira serves metals and minerals processors all over the world, with customers across Africa, Russia and the CIS countries, Europe, and the Americas. These customers are typically processing coal, copper, iron, or gold.
In Ruan’s view the industry is facing four big challenges: the need to work ore deposits that present specific processing challenges, access to high-tech raw materials (rare earth metals, or REEs), the need to optimize energy efficiency, and the pressure to continuously optimize and improve processes to maintain profitability.
“Working deposits with fine-grained, complex, or low-quality ore means concentrators and refineries need to get more from less to ensure their operations remain economically viable. This is where we can bring to bear Kemira’s 100 years of application experience to co-create solutions that help them hit their KPIs,” says Ruan. REEs have unique physical properties and are often extraced as a by-product in the processing of bulk metals like zinc, copper or iron; with our chemistries and expertise producers can successfully adapt and optimize their processes to maximize end-product volumes,” Ruan explains.
Processes like comminution, crushing, grinding, drying, and separation are energy intensive, meaning that as demand for metals and minerals continues to rise coupled with decreasing particle sizes required for processing, the energy consumption and therefore the carbon footprint of mines is also rising. “Here, we can help in several different ways with solutions like grinding aids, rheology modifiers, flocculants, and antiscalants that reduce the energy required to grind ore and pump muds and slurries,” Ruan explains.
The concept of zero-footprint mining resonates deeply with the values that Kemira stands for.
The concept of zero-footprint mining, a topic that Ruan has a keen interest in, resonates deeply with the values that Kemira stands for: driving performance and innovation, dedication to customer success, care for people and the environment, and succeeding together. “With our expertise and chemistries we can help to improve and optimize our customers’ processes in all sorts of different ways, whether it’s reducing emissions by helping to cut energy usage, reducing water consumption with closed-loop systems, or minimizing waste by increasing thickener performance,” Ruan states.
“Our role in the world of metals and minerals mining is a really interesting one. I like to say that the chemistries we develop build a bridge between the atomic, microscopic, macroscopic, physical, chemical, and mechanical worlds. Our focus on innovation and over a century of working with the industry enables us to stand behind our customers and help them overcome the challenges they are facing and, importantly, puts us in a unique position to help enable a more sustainable future for mining,” Ruan concludes.