A new partnership between DRDGold and the Wits School of Chemical and Metallurgical Engineering will boost the research and development of new gold recovery technology.

With the global economic downturn putting pressure on the profits of mining companies, the industry is expected to increasingly partner with universities to assist with the research and development of new technologies.

While most mining companies used to have their own research and development units in-house, cost- cutting measures have led to these units being closed, and they are looking at outsourcing this work to research facilities at universities.

A new partnership between DRDGold and the Wits School of Chemical and Metallurgical Engineering is one of the first big steps in this direction.

GOLD RECOVERY
Wits University Deputy Vice-Chancellor Research, Professor Zeblon Vilakazi and DRDGOLD CEO Niel Pretorius. Photo supplied by Wits University

The company announced a five-year partnership with the School on Tuesday, 29 November, with the signing of an agreement to commit funding of R1.2 million per year over the next five years to the school.

In turn, DRDGold will receive the research and development expertise of the school, helping it to further enhance gold recovery and to research new technologies for its gold recovery business, as well as advice and consultancy services.

“We will help DRDGold with both short-term and long-term research projects. In the short term, we plan to assist in finding solutions for operational problems on their plant, and improving gold recovery without spending too much capital. In the long term, we will assist the company with research new ways of treating lower grade material and still be profitable,” says Marek Dworzanowski, adjunct professor and director of research at the School.

The Wits School of Chemical and Metallurgical Engineering has vast research and industry experience in the field of metallurgical extraction, and Professor Herman Potgieter, head of the School of Chemical and Metallurgical Engineering, says this partnership is only the first step, with other similar arrangements expected to follow in the near future.

DRDGold CEO Niël Pretorius says the company’s current resource is around 12 Moz, which affords the company a potential life of mine of more than 20 years. “Improved gold recovery from the mine dump material we treat is one of the key enablers for us to grow our reserves and extend the life of mine,” he says.

“Internal research and development in this area has been ongoing for some years, and it made good sense for us to now forge this important new relationship with Wits to expand our search for ways to recover more gold.”

Potgieter says the school has already identified several post-graduate researchers to work on some of the ideas discussed with DRDGold, and that they will be starting on some of the projects soon.

“These are real-world research problems, aimed at finding practical solutions. As engineers, we don’t just try to prove theories, we want to develop technologies and solve practical problems.”

While some of the work directly related to challenges that DRDGold faces, might be protected, most of the research will be on open projects, and will made available to the whole gold industry.