Research Capabilities

Circuit Analysis and Simulation

Mineral processing and other physical separations often employ complex multi-unit circuits to overcome the inherent inefficiencies of single unit operations.  The design of these circuits is an open-ended engineering challenge that often produces sub-optimal solutions.  Poor circuit designs in turn lead to poor product quality and wasted capital resources.  Process simulation is a powerful tool that can assist the circuit designer, and our research attempts to supplement standard process  simulation  with advanced optimization and analytical tools.  Specifically,  research in this area addresses three concerns: (1) investigating valid objective functions that reflect the circuit designer's multiple concerns; (2) developing optimization approaches that properly integrate those objective functions; and (3) producing software and other tools that provide access to these advanced methodologies.

Specific Outcomes/Contributions:
  • Development of a flowsheet to recovery Rare Earth Elements from coal preparation byproducts (forthcoming publication)
  • Development of a standard approach to develop LCA solutions from circuits of arbitrary complexity (Noble and Luttrell, 2014).
  • Development of novel techno-economic performance indicators to measure separation performance (Noble and Luttrell, 2015; Noble and Luttrell, 2016).
  • Development of a methodology to predict circuit uncertainty from LCA solutions (Amini and Noble, 2017)

Process Economics

Mineral economics and valuation have critical significance in processing and blending operations. Our work in this area seeks utilize state-of-the-art valuation concepts, such as commodity micropricing, stochastic differential equations, and real options valuation, to develop techno-economic objective functions for processing operations. In the case of micropricing, these mathematically-derived objective functions tend to lead to simple heuristics that can be easily implemented by plant personnel.

In addition to these advanced engineering concepts, our group also updates and maintains a production and trade data visualization site based on public commodity supply information provided by the USGS and the EIA. Use this link to access the interactive visualizations.

Specific Outcomes/Contributions:
  • Dynamic optimization of mineral asset valuation under economic uncertainty (Silveira Thesis, forthcoming publication).
  • Implementation of the "micro-price" principle in the valuation of Rare Earth Elements in coal material (Noble and Luttrell, 2016).
  • Development and application of "micro-price" principle in copper, coal and international coal markets (Luttrell et al., 2014, 2015; Luttrell and Noble 2017; Gupta et al., 2017).
  • Database of mineral prices and production statistics (Link).

Physical Separations

In addition to the work in circuit analysis, we also heavily focus on the modeling and simulation of physical separations for the purpose of improved equipment design. We have an extensive expertise in froth flotation and have completed several projects related to laboratory testing procedures, novel equipment design, reagent evaluations, fundamental modeling, and process scale-up.

Specific Outcomes/Contributions:
  • Measured the interaction of rising bubbles at the pulp-froth interface with high-speed video  (Huang et al, 2017).
  • Assessment of alternative media in dense-medium cyclones for ultra-clean coal production (Amini et al., 2016, 2017).