Women in Engineering Profile - Chemical Engineering PhD candidate Jackquline Eardley (UOM)

Chemical Engineering PhD candidate Jackquline Eardley is using a Magical Potion’ to collect Precious Metal and Mineral Particles

A Sri Lankan who grew up in Bangladesh and studied in the United Kingdom, Chemical Engineering PhD candidate Jackquline Eardley now calls Melbourne, Australia home. She believes, Australia is the place to be’ when it comes to building a career centred on discovery and innovation related to precious minerals, and The University of Melbourne is known for its engineering education and opportunities”. 

Jackquline’s scientific work revisits and improves mineral processing methods that have a long-standing history but are potentially underutilised in today’s industry practices. Her post-graduate research with the ARC Centre of Excellence for Enabling Eco-Efficient Beneficiation of Minerals (COEMinerals), is discovering and inventing practical, more efficient ways to utilise commercially available products in mineral separations. 

I’m interested in the complexity of recovering mineral and am inspired by the opportunity to develop practical, and more sustainable minerals processing solutions for industry and the world.” 

Hear Jackquline explain her work:‑Lic3q3RDw

Jacquline’s goal is to make mineral separations more efficient and cost effective, and therefore more commercially viable. As a result, she hopes to spur industry adoption and drive tangible change in mineral processing practices. She is focused on finding new ways to enable society to recover as many valuables as we can from limited and depleting global sources, and says her work is, a bit like a treasure hunt”, where she uses magical’ new ways to unlock a treasure chest of precious minerals to deliver more valuable minerals for our future.

The magic’ in the mix involves testing new ways to recover tiny particles of hematite mineral particles that would be lost to waste using current methods.

Hematite is one of the most abundant minerals in Australia, and is the base Iron Ore, which is a key ingredient of steel used in construction, shipping, aeronautics, mechanical equipment and clean energy technologies.

My work aims to enable the recovery of more hematite, which is important from the perspective of minimising industrial waste’, as well as delivering other efficiencies, including enabling more concentrated amounts of minerals to be recovered from the ore,” she shares.

Getting technical, when specific long chain polymers (‘collectors’) are added to the mineral/​ore mix, they can selectively stick to the valuable mineral, thereby making them larger and more able to be floated to the surface of a flotation cell’ by bubbles. Flotation is a key component of many beneficiation technologies and mine-site operations. Ms Earley’s refined process, termed flocculation-flotation’, can be retrofitted onto existing cells at minimal cost.

At present, mechanical flotation cell’ mining equipment and reagents’ (additives that attach to minerals to help them float or sink, as a stage of mineral separation) for separating hematite don’t collect the fine mineral particles. 

If Jackquline can find a way to improve the recovery of fine minerals particles with combinations of commercial reagents, the valuable hematite can be aggregated and collected at the same time, in the same process used to recover the larger particles. In other words, delivering a veritable treasure-trove’ of hematite.

Industry engagement has helped inform of Jackquline’s research and lab work, as part of her search for more efficient and effective ways to process and recover minerals.

I’ve found that the mining industry, in general, would like to improve efficiencies but using an additive they’re already using, that is easily available, and which remains stable under mine-site conditions. So, I’m testing ways to modify existing processes, using commercially available reagents but make it more effective and efficient. 

This is a small step forward, but ultimately I’m aiming for a large-scale change based on a positive return on investment (ROI) for the (relatively expensive) chemicals already used today in mining operations by introducing a new method that better utilises that same chemicals to recover the fine minerals that are normally lost to waste.”

Jackquline shares that up to 30% of valuable fine minerals are often lost to waste because current separation methods cannot recover ultrafine mineral particles.

If Jackquline’s work is successful, mining companies could potentially achieve operating cost reductions and other efficiencies, including ability to deliver more valuable minerals from the same amount of ore.

The size of fine mineral particles being lost to waste today can be 20 microns by industry definitions. However, our work is focused on recovering those, as well as mineral particles of 10 microns or less. If our Centre can solve it, we add further efficiency and create even less waste in the beneficiation stage.”

Another potential benefit of Jackquline’s research is associated with improving the overall effectiveness of the process, by reducing reagent’ volumes and also reducing the incidental recovery of quartz. 

When quartz is floated alongside hematite particles, as commonly happens today with finer mineral particles, the overall recovery grade of the hematite drops, making it less concentrated or pure’ once recovered. 

My scientific research is helping the mining and minerals industry to be future-ready, as overall ore-grade quality/​concentrations are declining around the world, meaning fine particle minerals may one day be the norm’.

In the future point we’ll want or need to go back to today’s waste’ storage areas to recover the lost fine valuables. My hope and plan is that my new method will also become a technique to extract those fine mineral particles from those tailings dams too.”

Listen to Jackquline explain her work in less than 3 minutes:‑Lic3q3RDw