Interview with Albert du Preez, SVP and Head of TOMRA Mining

Albert du Preez
  1. Tell us more about TOMRA

TOMRA Mining is a pioneer in sensor-based sorting technologies and a leader in the resource revolution. Its solutions contribute significantly to a more environmentally sustainable approach to mining, as well as improving the efficiency and profitability of mining operations.

It is part of the TOMRA Group, which was founded in 1972, when it revolutionized the recycling sector with its reverse vending machines. Today it continues to innovate and work at the cutting-edge of the recycling, food and mining industries. Its solutions enable a circular economy with advanced collection and sorting systems that optimize resource recovery and minimize waste.

TOMRA Mining brings this expertise and know-how to the the global mineral processing and mining industries.

We are the world market leader in sensor-based ore sorting and provide our customers with equipment made to withstand the harsh mining environment.  Our solutions range from industrial mineral processes to sorting diamonds, ferrous and non-ferrous metals. Our technology optimises the efficiency and recovery of valuable ores while minimizing waste. It has the further advantage of significantly reducing the amount of energy and water required compared to traditional methods such as grinding and Dense Media Separation (DMS), with a consequent reduction in operating costs and environmental impact.

While we are a global company, we pursue a strategy of locating our experts as close as possible to our customers’ operations in order to work in close collaboration with them throughout the development and installation process. We maintain this close relationship once the equipment is commissioned to ensure it continues to perform efficiently and to help our customers to address the evolving requirements of their operation.

For the African markets, we have recently made a significant investment in new regional Headquarters in Johannesburg. The new site houses the group’s three business streams, so our TOMRA Mining team is working side by side with our colleagues in the Food and Recycling sectors. In addition to our offices, the new facilities include a warehouse, training rooms and a dedicated space for demonstrating our sensor-based technologies. We have also extended our team, so that now we have 26 people based here to support our customers in all Sub-Saharan African countries.

  1. What are some of TOMRA’s future plans for the African market?

The African continent has one of the largest mineral industries in the world. With more than 30 million km2, it is the second largest continent and covers 20% of the Earth’s total land area – and, most importantly, it is extremely rich in mineral resources. It is believed to hold 90% of the world’s platinum and 80% of its chromium, just to mention a couple of examples. It is a huge market with enormous potential.

Tomra – Operations Hub Johannesburg

TOMRA Mining has a lot to offer: with our sensor-based ore sorting technologies we can help mining operations unlock this great potential, adding value to their mines. TOMRA has developed its proprietary X-Ray Transmission (XRT) technology for metal recycling and minerals two decades ago, and it has since proved to be a reliable and robust solution in the mining industry.

TOMRA’s sensor-based XRT ore sorting is a truly disruptive technology. This dry separation technology can replace effectively traditional methods such as Dense Media Separation (DMS), delivering excellent results with lower utility and energy consumption. With this technology we can determine the average atomic density of each finite element of a rock.  Then we use image processing and mathematical algorithms to make a binary sorting decision on a rock-by-rock basis, with 10,000 particles a second, and sort from 20 tonnes to 400 tonnes of mined raw material an hour, depending on the size of the sorter and the type of mineral.

Our XRT solution can eliminate several concentration stages, and this reduction in complexity results in significantly lower capital expenses and operational costs. Also, it is a 100% dry process that doesn’t require water, pumps, thickeners or chemical reagents, unlike other traditional methods. It is a process with a low environmental impact, which reduces the need for additional environmental analysis and impact studies.

We have been working with diamond mines in Africa for the past eight years with success. We have achieved outstanding results with our tailor-made solutions that combine our ground-breaking XRT technology with our Near Infrared (NIR) and Laser technologies as required. Our customers have dramatically improved their recovery rates as well as the quality of the gems – and they have recovered some of the biggest diamonds in history.

Now we have also taken this technology to the Chrome market and today we have three sorters commissioned in South Africa. The most recent installation was commissioned last November by project management company P2E Consulting for an Eastern chrome mine to replace an existing DMS plant, which was used to produce saleable Small Lumpy product from LG6 Chromite ROM and dumps. The sorter is achieving grades in excess of 40% Cr2O3 and mass recoveries of 25 to 30% from scalped waste resulting in chrome-in-tails as low as 8%. With our solution, the plant is producing saleable Small Lumpy at around 50% of the cost compared to a DMS plant.

Our experiences with diamonds and chrome are great examples of how we can enter a new market and add significant value to our customers’ operations from day one, making a positive impact on these commodities.

We have been able to add value to projects in ferrous metals, industrial minerals and diamonds in South Africa, Lesotho, Botswana, Angola and Sierra Leone, and we are looking forward to expanding into other markets where we know we can add value – Mozambique, Zimbabwe, Namibia, Kenya and Tanzania in particular.

Past practices in the mining industry have led to increasing pressure for mines to be environmentally and socially sustainable. TOMRA can make a real difference, adding value to the sector in a sustainable and cost-efficient way, helping create employment and wealth that will ultimately result in the mining industry having a positive socio-economic impact across the continent.

  1. What are the challenges experienced so far? 

Africa is a continent with huge potential, both in economic and human terms.  The challenge is to realise this potential. For us at TOMRA, it is to unlock the value that our sensor-based ore sorting solutions can bring to African mining operations. It is about taking a disruptive technology to the market and showing our customers what it can achieve for their operations and their businesses.

In this respect, we have a very strong selling proposition with our technologies – the initial cost is similar to a DMS plant, but the operating costs are far lower and the benefits in terms of efficiency, quality of the product, profitability and environmental impact are far superior – and the process requires no water. The complex approval process in large mining houses can be a challenge, but we are finding that our results speak for themselves and the interest for our sensor-based ore sorting solutions is translating into a growing number of installations.

  1. What do you think can be done to overcome these challenges? 

At TOMRA we approach our relationship with customers as a true partnership: we are constantly at their side to get an in-depth understanding of their needs. We look at the whole picture; we take our analysis beyond the technical aspects to include their business as a whole and the social responsibilities. We are close to them throughout the process. We discuss the project in detail and work through the solution that is the best match for their mine and their operation. We maintain this constant contact right through completion – and beyond.

We know that there is no better way to understand the benefits of a disruptive technology than seeing it first-hand. We have a training centre at our new regional headquarters where we can demonstrate our sensor-based sorters and our experts can explain how our technologies can add value to their mine.

  1. What do you see as the emerging trends in the industry? 

An important trend we are seeing is a growing awareness of the environmental impact of mining and the need to move to green processes in the industry. This is an area where TOMRA can make a real difference, as our sensor-base ore sorting solutions have a low impact of the environment due to the reduction in waste, and the lower use of energy and water use.

We are also seeing a shift in mindset, as new generations who have grown up in the computer age come through the ranks. As a result, the industry is more open to new technologies and to a greater use of automation in the plants. Disruptive technologies such as TOMRA’s sensor-based sorting solutions are more easily considered, and their advantages understood and appreciated.

Any new technology breakthroughs? 

At TOMRA we are continuously developing new technologies. Every year we introduce new improvements and upgrades that increase the level of performance of our sorters. We are constantly in discussion with our customers; as their requirements evolve, we develop solutions to address them. Where we see opportunities to extend these new solutions to other types of operations or commodities, we add them to our portfolio to make them available to other customers.

Among our development projects, one that we are particularly excited about will take our solution for diamonds even further, extending our XRT technology to the final recovery stage, adding even more value for our customers. This product, which will enter the market later this year, will be a real game changer. We operate in an industry that is in constant evolution, and so are we at TOMRA.

About TOMRA

TOMRA was founded on an innovation in 1972 that began with the design, manufacture and sale of reverse vending machines (RVMs) for automated collection of used beverage containers. Today TOMRA provides technology-led solutions that enable the circular economy with advanced collection and sorting systems that optimize resource recovery and minimize waste in the food, recycling and mining industries.

TOMRA has approximately 100,000 installations in over 80 markets worldwide and had total revenues of ~8.6 billion NOK (€880m) in 2018. The Group employs ~4,000 globally and is publicly listed on the Oslo Stock Exchange (OSE: TOM).

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