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BHP – understanding complex mineral processing

BHP is a household name in global resources. It directly employs approximately 4500 people in South Australia where it operates the Olympic Dam mine. This is one of the world’s largest ore deposits where copper, uranium, gold and silver are mined and processed in a fully integrated and unique processing facility

For cost-effective exploration BHP needs to understand how the Olympic Dam ore body formed. Microscopy is essential for this, enabling them to examine and understand the structure of minerals at the nanoscale across the entire deposit. To maximise efficiency, they must also understand how each mineral responds in the complex processing facility.

Trouble-shooting any performance issues with the metallurgical plant requires immediate microanalytical analyses of minerals. Although BHP do not own and operate micro-analytical facilities they use the Microscopy Australia facilities at the University of Adelaide and have done since 1992.

BHP is also involved in a significant number of ARC co-funded geology and metallurgy projects, and analytical infrastructure proposals. Microscopy Australia facilities at the University of Adelaide, University of Western Australia and Curtin University, along with other facilities at the University of Tasmania and the University of Melbourne are used to support these research activities.

I would like to stress the importance of Microscopy Australia facilities, including the highly skilled, professional staff who operate the facilities, to the mining industry within Australia. Some of the industry, like BHP Olympic Dam, directly use your facilities, whereas other parts of the industry use the facilities indirectly by supporting university-based research projects. The quality of ore being mined throughout the industry is gradually declining and it is becoming more challenging to extract the metals in a cost-effective way. We therefore need to tailor our processing facilities to cater for the minerals present in the ore. This is only achieved by characterising our minerals down to the nanoscale.

– Kathy Ehrig, Superintendent Geometallurgy, Olympic Dam BHP

Mineral analysis for BHP