SEG – Students into Mining Meeting 2018

March 17, 2018

17th March 2018 – 

Starting at the wonderful Royal School of Mines belonging to Imperial College London, a vibrant and sunny day in South Kensington, with fascinating scenes for attendees who do not reside in the capital. We had the privilege of strolling past several iconic science facilities along the way – Natural History Museum London & The Science Museum. Tourist attractions aside, the event which kicked off in room 1.51 became a centre bearing incredible insights and heartfelt advice. Professionals who cared about the next generation. Professionals who cared for collaborating and sharing knowledge.

The day presented the opportunity to hear from people active in industry and research; facing the issues that exist at present. Their trials, tribulations and the advice solicited they kindly prepared the next generation for some of what will be our responsibility. This article shall reflect on some key points from speakers. But firstly, I shall mention the absence of Rio Tinto’s Sandy Walker, and apologise for not including Hatch. Ltd in the text due to my absence.

Royal School of Mines, London
Royal School of Mines, London, England

First up – Kurt Budge – director of Beowulf Mining. He quickly set the tone with punchy, up-front advice. Making it clear that factors outside of your own performance that will affect our working careers; the impact a new CEO can have on the company’s strategy, how it can alter your job role and the expectations waiting on you. Not to mention the financial markets effects on working life. A volatile, uncertain global economy impacts exploration companies more than most.

Pitkäjärvi lake, Finland where Beowulf are exploring for graphite
Pitkäjärvi lake, Finland where Beowulf are exploring for graphite

Kurt’s talk was not all doom and gloom. He expressed very well there is not one single path in your career. Kurt himself diverged into private equity in the mining sector, investment banking, back to exploration geology, before deciding it was the right time to create the company which he would want to work for – “The birth of Beowulf.” Prior to, he experienced poor working conditions in Sierra Leone. Lack of infrastructure, poorly trained workforce and poor health and safety regulations. It proved to be a vital experience to push him forward to set up Beowulf Mining who are so far focusing on iron-ore deposits in the Nordic region. Sweden and Finland already have an established mining sector. Trained work forces. Local plant and machinery. Combined with some interesting geological structures and mineralisation zones. Factors like these should be considered by the young geologist. Adventurous locations have difficulties which at worst can match the wonder of being emerged in beautiful and remote environments.

-An exciting project to keep an eye on– a 4-5Mt Graphite plot in Finland, resources which will contribute to European based battery production.

“For Juniors taking a role at a small company – be prepared with technical skills. Be prepared to get less attention than you will get at a major” (Rio, BHP or Anglo)

Kurt Budge – Beowulf Mining Ltd.

Alex Allen – Hannam and Partners LLP

The relatively young Alex graced the stage with no less composure and direction. His story was touching. Completing his undergraduate MSci with some exploration experience under his belt; he was incredibly well qualified. But, he graduated and entered the job market during economic instability. Unknowing; he took a job as a Uranium Exploration geologist. The company and resource market did not appear to be heading into safe sailing territory and Alex picked up on the signals; making a commendable decision to leave exploration – returning to study the Metals and Mining Finance MSc course at Imperial College London.

When things go wrong – instinct is to figure out the cause. Better understanding the sector which dictates an exploration projects potential, longevity and profitability –is significant. His career story another great example of a bad situation made good, and the importance of being proactive; keeping track of the global economy and how it may affect you and your operation.

Apart from educating the technical geoscience people in the room on the finance side of things; Alex put forward a great point. As geoscientists, business men and women in the sector; we are all responsible for making the effort to understand all aspects of industry. That includes finance, not purely the technical geoscience.

“Markets are cyclical – be prepared for change. Be Versatile. Expose yourself to different sectors.  Ensure you express your views in interviews. Being passive is not enough.”

Alex Allan – Hannam and Partners LLP (Advisory).

Tom Wesby – First Quantum Minerals ltd.

First Quantum Minerals operation at Kansanshi, Zambia
First Quantum Minerals operation at Kansanshi, Zambia

As Tom kicked off it was exciting to witness another relatively young man in the room sharing wisdom. Young but proactive; already metamorphically sporting a series of exploration medals on his jacket.

Tom gave very in-depth advice as it was yesterday that he had faced the situations. Issues such as selecting the right company to work for. One that you are well-equip skill-wise to work for. A location you feel comfortable working in. A team you will communicate well with. Tom in the end accepting a 24hr explosive offer at Quantum. Ironic lesson from this – often big decisions need to be dwelled on less. What feels right – is right. Other valuable points he expressed: Communicate. Prove you can communicate. Situations in remote places – you must be able explain to locals near the outcrop you are looking at what you are doing so they are no alarms. Learn to build databases because a lot of fieldwork is lost. Data leads to accuracy. Lost all of your fieldwork data? – well; I hope neither you or I, are never placed in that situation.

“Now you have much less time out in the field with rocks. You need to protect that time to make the most important observations.”
“Be versatile. Rocks don’t always occur as you expect in the textbook. Treat everything as new.”

Tom Wesby – First Quantum Minerals Ltd.

Dr. Kathryn Hadler – Imperial College London and private consultant in mineral processing.

Froth flotation circuit design - Image: CA Mining
Froth flotation circuit design – Image: CA Mining

Kathryn started by explaining her academic approach to solving a critical problem in the mining industry. Reducing mine waste and improving recovery rates. I like to think that globally, information exchange is relatively fluid (thanks smartphones. WIFI & 4G) and because of this – there is extra incentive for companies to be on their toes with regards to managing and mitigating mine wastes.

It’s critical for companies to separate waste from the resource; economically, environmentally and with minimal social disruption. This means the most scientifically back-upped separation methods and facilities on major mine sites (reducing CO2 footprint of transporting tonnes of rock to the facilities). Without devoted academics like Kathryn researching the optimal conditions and facilities to do so – we would be working backwards as an industry.

THE SCIENCE OF SEPARATION: The Froth Flotation method. Hydrophobic minerals are repelled in solution from waste. The most stable froths have the highest recovery. But controlling the stability is very challenging – a fine art. Understanding the bubbles physical characteristics, understanding the particles. Understanding where they report to (when they burst) we collectively struggle to predict.

By looking at it at ultra-low speed, velocity and turbulence values can be measured. Ideally at optimal flotation method will be created and implemented at major mining facilities – allowing maximum recovery with minimal waste – but the pathway to this point will require many more dedicated researched like Kathryn – to work with differing base metals, REE’s and Alkali Metals.

CSM are reinitiating their MSC program in Mineral Engineering – for any aspiring technicians.

Sarah Gordon – Satarla ltd. – Risk Management.

Sarah’s story was a great one to showcase that staying true to yourself, persisting and pursuing your passion does for you. She turned down what is many graduates dream scheme –at major exploration Anglo-American – to pursue a PHD in Meteoritics. Yes, maybe she had a bit of help along the way (a meteorite crashing down in the region she was exploring before deciding on the PHD), but she committed to something she cared about. That interest kept her going throughout her PHD, the hardest parts. Her links with RioTinto did not vanish. She kept in touch, persisted and reaped the rewards of hard work by securing work post-doctorate.

Like many others in the room, Sarah had worked during the 2007-8 recession; but she faced it from Brazil’s territory. Being one of few English speakers on site, she became the link between the Brazilian mining team and the bankers and lawyers back in the UK, as they converged to keep the projects from subsiding. As uncertainty and job insecurity flashed crossed the Brazilian operations; Sarah stepped up to become a key figure in holding it all together.

Both mining operations she dealt with managed to continue operation throughout the global economic crisis. It became clear that Sarah’s skillset was applicable to far more than the technical science aspect. She expanded her influence further by contributing to the business’s risk evaluations, health & safety operations, ethics, sustainability, media, finance, technical, almost all facets of the business. She moved on to start up Satarla Ltd – specialising in risk management. The beauty of this story is that she carved her own career path, section by section to this point. Commendable to all aspiring professionals stuck in limbo between academia and employment. She mentioned her appearance and the reactions that has caused on site. Turning up as an auditor to people who did not believe her, having to prove herself; turning sceptics into professional colleagues.

Sarah now director of Satarla, is also an influential member of the Geological Society of London and is driving forward key ideas in areas such as:

  • Zero waste mines (no tailings). Autonomous mines with no communities living on site. Reducing mining for just profit that may occur when markets pick up –  and skipping social and environmental impact assessment and considerations
  • Using terrabotics and satellites to gather data to form Environmental/Social aspects to make impact assessments more financially possible for small companies as well as large.
  • Promoting – and encouraging engagement from all genders at meetings – March 14th, London, Environmental and Societal Impacts of mining.

“In Geology we constantly work with uncertainty. Modelling the unknown (sub – surfaces). Learn how to deal with that. Use it to your advantage.”

“Take responsibility of your actions and be active – volunteer if you cannot secure paid work.”

Sarah Gordon – Satarla Ltd.

Fiona Castleford – SRK Consulting Ltd. Environmental and Due Diligence.

Fiona absolutely did not want to be involved with mining. Both her parents were geologists – her father Geologist for De Beers and her mother held a research position at Imperial. Fiona grew up wanting to be involved with ecology, conservation and environmental issues; dreaming of having a sustainable fish farm. She spoke of a fruitful career, full of extraordinary travel and experiences.

Sadly, career progression in her company had been restricted by limited opportunities for promotion, expansion and change. Restrictions which perhaps do not exist as universally in the mining sector. Only in later years did she return to Geology against all things she had been convinced to be true. She became a senior authority in Environmental and Due Diligence Assessments for mine sites, managing to apply her passion for conservation, sustainability and environmental protection – with the mining industry. Almost getting her own back on industry: targeting aspects which were negative (wastes, environmental damage, social disruption) and being the force, which curtails them.

Gareth Morgan – Terrabotics Ltd.

Gareth followed suit, impressing virtually every person in the room. Gareth went from Undergraduate student, to MSc, to employment with Shell, to PHD to Post-Doctorate to employment again with Shell; before having enough substance to create the platform for his start-up -Terrabotics. Stunning everyone in the room as he mentioned the word “luck” after showing the ups and downs of his pathway to developing the company and secure the extensive client listed below:

It seemed clear that luck had played a fractional role in the success of the company. Along that timeline between education, compiling dataset after dataset, to PHD, to personally developing algorithms to autonomously sort the datasets, to developing a service which will play an enormous role in global environmental monitoring, risk management, security, intelligence and project management. A huge achievement and result of serious hard work.

In lemans terms – the company uses swathes of satellite imagery data which is compiled and sorted using algorithms, to create high precision 3D and 4D terrain models which can be turned around to a client. Particularly useful to monitor ongoing mining operations and Oil/Gas Fields. Tailings waste can be tracked. Resources on site can be easily monitored remotely from head offices, as can progress of the construction sites and mining activity.

Exploration targets can be surveyed in politically and financially difficult regions to access – furthering opportunity for new high-yielding mine operations. At the same time minimal harm to the environment is induced – no physical site access is required; no deforestation or community displacement. Terrabotics really are leading the way in advancing how we operate efficiently and effectively as both industry and a collective, conscious society.

Domonic Roberts – Mineco Ltd.

Mineco Underground Operations
Mineco Underground Operations

Dominic was the last speaker of the day and in very few instances can someone revive an audience after watching 6 hours of talks; but his cut-throat delivery and charisma did exactly that, hitting like a post-meal expresso. The down to earth speech started with an inspiring personal account. Dominic had completed a Geology degree whilst his mind drifted elsewhere – adventure and the British Army. He ditched the science and maths to join the forces after graduation, spending months in cold, wet and miserable conditions. It taught him persistence, endurance and how to motivate people to complete tasks they are reluctant to do. Hard to not think – “Wow imagine having someone like this in every office – the productivity increases?”.

When he left the army in 2007 he began civilian life during the 2007-08 financial crash. Struck by unemployment, uncertainty and typical characteristics global recession. But like many geologists beforehim, he found the diamond in the dirt. Quite literally; as he developed a keen interest in creating energy from waste and began working on recycling plantations. To quote him: “This year’s waste is the next generations fuel”. A delightful concept and one which relates to efforts throughout the geological society. Sarah Gordon’s aspirations for “Zero Waste Mines” and Kathern Hadlers Mineral Processing research – to maximise resource recovery with minimal waste.

Monitoring by advanced imagery datasets formulated by intellects like Gareth Morgan & co. from Terrabotics – to keep track of waste; whilst professionals like Fiona Castleford monitor closely on the ground. A great example of how industry wide collaboration could get the ball rolling. The next steps – incentives must be created for companies who reduce tailing wastes down. Perhaps government awards/subsidies to companies which achieve the lowest waste. We look forward to seeing this develop.

“Our generations waste is the next generations fuel.”

“Hard work, persistence, tenacity & determination. That’s all that matters. “

Dominic Roberts – Mineco Ltd.

Imperial College London – Science SU Bar

The evening terminated for many, at Imperial Science Student Union – home to an array of beer tankards with engraved names of students who have risen to a challenge. A night cap to remember.

Thank you everyone for attending.

Markus Skelton (mjskelton94 [at] gmail [dot] com) is a geology student from the UK with an active interest in metalliferous mining and processing technology.

The ‘SEG Students into Mining’ event is organised annually by the Imperial College London chapter of the Society of Economic Geologists. Click HERE to find out more.

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