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Technology in Australia 1788-1988Australian Academy of Technological Sciences and Engineering
Table of Contents

Chapter 10

I 1. Introduction

II 2. The Role Of Technology

III 3. Some Highlights Of Australian Minerals Technology
i Gold
ii Copper
iii Lead-zinc-silver
iv Technology in iron ore mining
v Iron and steel technology
vi Nickel
vii Mineral sands
viii Bauxite, alumina, aluminium

IV 4. Other Technological Achievements (in brief)

V 5. Export Of Technology

VI 6. Education And Research

VII 7. The Scientific Societies

VIII 8. Conclusion



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Broken Hill technology (continued)

The evolution of the mining practices in the several past and three surviving companies has been determined by many factors peculiar to this extraordinary orebody, which extends over 2 km in length, to widths up to 170 m and to depths up to 1600 m. Included in these factors are the high density of the ore due to the high sulphide content and some heavy gangue minerals, the great width of stopes, the economic necessity of securing maximum extraction of the high grade ore, the high virgin rock temperature gradient (1C/20 m) and the additional ventilation problems due to the great longitudinal extensions of the development openings. Combinations of open sloping and square sets have provided the major method of extraction and roof support, supplemented by backfilling with mill residues, cemented in some instances, and by rock bolting and grouted cable supports. Long hole open stoping has been developed in recent years with considerable economic advantage.

Similarly, the evaluation of the metallurgical processing has been determined by factors peculiar to the mineral content of the ore and the mineral texture, which is unusually coarse grained. The galena and marmatite are substantially liberated from each other and from the gangue minerals by relatively coarse grinding, and the substantial absence of iron sulphides simplifies the process of segregation into separate lead and zinc concentrates. Also, the association of the silver values primarily with the galena is a fortunate circumstance. However, with the cessation of smelting of the oxidized capping in 1897 the mines were confronted by the problem of the sulphide ore from which only 70 per cent of the lead and 50 per cent of the silver were recoverable using conventional gravity and magnetic separation methods, whilst the zinc values were completely discarded in dumped residues containing 20 per cent zinc.

Intensive studies in mill laboratories and trial plants over the next 15 years resulted in the world-shaking development of the froth flotation process, which was successfully applied in the first instance (1905) for recovery of zinc concentrates from accumulated gravity residues, and later for selective separation of lead and zinc concentrates from current gravity tailings, and later again (1912) for selective separation from the ore as mined. This bald summary of events cannot do justice to the ingenuity and persistence of the managers, the chemists and metallurgists and the practical mill operators whose efforts were ultimately responsible for the successful development of a process which was destined to become the most important single mineral concentrating technology in the world. The story has been told in detail by Woodward and Blainey in particular and by many other authors, and the names of Potter and Delprat in the initial stages and Bradford, Lyster and Owen in the final phase and many others in between are enshrined in the histories.

Broken Hill's gift of the flotation process to the world's mineral industries was essentially the fruit of trial and error plant scale research under dauntingly difficult conditions, and the overall result was a classic case of practice outrunning theory. The physical chemistry behind the process is complicated and the mechanism is still only partly understood, despite having engaged the attention of many eminent researchers throughout the world. The Broken Hill companies have contributed technically and financially to such researches, notably those of Wark and his co-workers which uncovered some of the most basic principles involved and inspired further researches which continue to this day in Australian and overseas research establishments and universities. The companies also contributed to the mineragraphic investigations of Stillwell and Edwards which included major studies of the mineralogy of Broken Hill.

People in Bright Sparcs - Blainey, G.; Bradford, Leslie; Delprat, G. D.; Edwards, A. B.; Lyster, F. J.; Owen, T. M.; Potter, Charles Vincent; Stillwell, F. L.; Wark, Sir Ian W.; Woodward, O. H.

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© 1988 Print Edition pages 746 - 747, Online Edition 2000
Published by Australian Science and Technology Heritage Centre, using the Web Academic Resource Publisher