Australia’s leading scientific body the CSIRO is putting the “power of a tornado” in tanks at Australian, African and Chinese mines in order to boost efficiency and safety.

CSIRO has developed a technology called Swirl Flow, which creates a tornado-like vortex motion in slurry mixing tanks to provide better-performing agitation and mixing systems for processing.

It is currently being used at the Fosterville gold mine in Victoria, with technical process superintendent Susan Mills saying it has greatly improved health and safety.

The mine had been looking for a solution to improve safety for workers maintaining the slurry mixing tanks, as conventional agitators can create dead zones in which there is little movement in the mixture, resulting in the precipitation and build-up of unwanted scale.

It was dealing with that build-up by cleaning and draining tanks, but the possibility of pieces of scale breaking off and falling when the tank is drained, or when the agitator was removed for maintenance, was creating safety issues for cleaners.

No longer, now that Swirl Flow has been introduced. It looks like a giant kitchen appliance:

Picture: CSIRO

“For us, the driving benefit of Swirl Flow was the health and safety aspect,” Mills says. “The safety of our people is paramount and the benefit of reducing the hazards of falling scale during maintenance made the decision simple.”

“The actual conversion process is very straightforward and not costly to retrofit from a maintenance perspective, plus the reduction in scale build-up is anticipated to reduce operational costs incurred for cleaning.”

CSIRO lead scientist Jie Wu estimates it could save mines hundreds of thousands of dollars.

“In one example in the alumina industry, the technology made a saving of $100,000-$200,000 per mixing tank, per year,” he told Stockhead.

The Swirl Flow technology got its start in the alumina industry and Wu hopes it will be rolled out across a range of industries in the near future.

“We are trialling the technology at mine sites in Africa and China in the gold and alumina industries,” he said.

“We’re exploring commercialisation pathways at the moment, and hope to offer it more broadly in coming years. We hope that Swirl Flow will become a mainstream alternative mixing technology for a number of applications in the minerals sector.”