Engineering, Heavy industry, Mining, Mining and Heavy Industries

Bulk Handling Technologies helps deliver critical performance

Critical minerals capabilities are in high demand in Australia and abroad. ABHR learns how Bulk Handling Technologies play a key role in this transition.

Critical minerals are required to make the products of the future, but given its challenging handling characteristics, the sector requires specialised bulk material handling equipment, Bulk Handling Technologies (BHT) manager Paul Ingleson told ABHR.

The Perth-based company, established in 2012, has developed a global client base for its specialised, heavy-duty screw feeders.

Syrah Resources, which operates the Balama Graphite Project, approached Bulk Handling Technologies to design and supply multiple heavy-duty twin-screw feeders due to its reputation for creating solutions for the critical minerals sector.

Located in the Cabo Delgado Province, the Balama Graphite Project is considered a ‘globally significant’ graphite project. The mine can produce 350 kilotonnes per annum and has an expected lifespan of 50-plus years. It has seen major industrial giants, including Korea’s Posco Future M, sign long-term contracts for graphite supply. 

The investment has come because the growing demand needs to be supported by specialised machinery, like the solutions created by Bulk Handling Technologies.

“Graphite filter cake, like many filter cakes, poses some difficult challenges for materials handling engineers and plant designers,” Ingleson said.

“With proper design, screw feeders can be one of the cleanest and most reliable solutions for controlled feeding and discharge of filter cakes from storage hoppers.”

BHT designed the three heavy-duty twin-screw feeders with specialty steels and surface treatments to handle graphite’s high nobility. The company carried out specialist material testing using a representative graphite sample to determine the flow properties and best solution for the client.

The testing determined the critical hopper dimensions, outlet size, and head load condition, which led to BHT recommending ribbon flight twin screw feeders.

The company manufactured, assembled, and tested the twin-screw feeders at its Perth headquarters.

VANADIUM ADVANCES

Each critical mineral presents a different logistical problem. For example, graphite filter cake is cohesive, whereas vanadium is highly abrasive.

A WA vanadium producer approached the BHT to support its operations with a tailored solution. The consultation process between the two saw BHT construct a high-capacity cantilevered kiln feed screw which can feed abrasive magnetite to extract vanadium.

“High-capacity rotary kilns are often fed using screw feeders as the circular casing allows for a smaller kiln opening and optimum sealing at the inlet,” Ingleson said.

“The particular challenge with kiln feed screws is that you need to handle cohesive, moist product at the feed end while dealing with extreme temperatures and hard, baked product on the inside of the casing at the discharge end.”

The kiln feed screw installed on location. Image: Bulk Handling Technologies

 

BHT’s material testing process, using a representative material sample, is key to helping determine the material’s potential flow properties. It may sound simple, but it is key to designing the optimum solution for different critical minerals.

The company can arrange material testing using specialist third-party companies or use flow property data provided by the customer.

Recently, BHT employed the flow material property data to determine the best solution for an operator working with betaa-spodumene, which is used to create lithium.

Fabrication of specialised ribbon flight screw shaft. Image: Bulk Handling Technologies

Like the graphite and vanadium contracts, alpha and beta-spodumene presents a unique challenge.

The material is extremely fine and highly abrasive, which can present problems for equipment.

BHT used the flow property data from the beta-spodumene testing to design and manufacture a storage feed bin as well as a large screw feeder, mass flow hopper and loss-in-weight screw feeder to meter the product accurately.

The flights and shafts were treated with tungsten carbide.

The data helped determine the best angles and openings for the bin wall to achieve reliable flow.

Additionally, engineering experience nominated the need to maintain a low speed for the screws to combat product aeration and reduce wear.

Specialised Twin Screw Feeder after testing. Image: Bulk Handling Technologies

Ingleson said this testing helped assess important criteria that determined the best equipment for the graphite, vanadium and spodumene solutions.

“An important criterion for screw feeders is often the need to ensure uniform draw-down from the storage hopper above,” he said.

“Bridging, hang-up on sloped walls or ledges and insufficient extraction along the length of the outlet need to be avoided.”

The customer-focused approach of BHT has been rewarded with a strong reputation in the design and Australian manufacturing of customised machinery for the critical minerals sector.

“We can also assist with site audits and troubleshooting and, where practical, provide refurbishment and upgrade options,” Ingleson said. 

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