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LU's new research facility.

New mining extraction processes to be developed at engineering lab

A new engineering research facility is set to open this spring at Laurentian University to develop leading-edge technologies in mining extracting processes.

Headed by Akram Alfantazi, a specialist in hydrometallurgical technologies, the lab work will concentrate on developing new advances in hydrometallurgy, pressure leaching processes and other extraction processes for clients like Inco, Falconbridge and Noranda.

Hydrometallurgy, particularly pressure leaching, is the use of water with pressure and high temperature to more efficiently extract minerals from an ore body. It's a practice being used by both of Sudbury's nickel giants and is considered state-of-the-art technology for nickel processing.

"If these two companies: (Inco and Falconbridge) want to maintain their advantage in the nickel industry, they need to develop this technology to maintain their dominant role in the world," says Alfantazi.

With his team of three graduate students, Alfantazi hopes to generate new knowledge to reduce costs and improve recovery in extraction techniques to develop laterite and sulfide ore bodies, the former being the most abundant sources of nickel deposits in the world. With the newest hydrometallurgical technologies, these sources of nickel can now be developed and mined.

One particular project Laurentian researchers will be focussing on is corrosion issues associated with this process and hydrometallurgic implications in general, including the possible use of incorporating titanium-based alloys for the construction of the autoclaves, vessels used in pressure leaching.

"Because this technology is a very aggressive process with high heat and pressure, these operations need to be able to sustain (themselves) under these conditions," Alfantazi says.

Alfantazi believes any developments in the extraction of non-ferrous and precious metals will ultimately benefit other Northern Ontario companies in the extraction of nickel, copper, cobalt, gold and zinc.

Any new products or processes spawned from their research will remain the intellectual property of the university.

Besides creating possible new revenues for the university, Alfantazi intends to put graduates into the field with a more practical working knowledge of the needs of the mining industry.

Alfantazi, a Laurentian alumnus who spent four years at Falconbridge as a research specialist working with high acid pressure leaching technologies, says insight gained from within the industry, "allows you to clearly identify important and priority technical issues, and it really focuses and orients your research directions."

The lab, to be located in the Fraser building on the Ramsey Lake Road campus, received a financial boost in December with a $50,000 grant from the Canadian Foundation for Innovation under their New Opportunities Fund. Thus far Alfantazi has raised about $125,000, about half of what's needed to equip the lab. The project was also recently awarded a National Science and Engineering Research Council of Canada project grant worth about $496,000 over three years for ongoing research.
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Title Annotation:Laurentian University
Author:Ross, Ian
Publication:Northern Ontario Business
Article Type:Brief Article
Geographic Code:1CONT
Date:Feb 1, 2001
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