Professor Graeme Jameson, who was named scientist of the year in 2013, has had the effectiveness of his mining invention queried.A REPORT by ’s top coal research body claims a world-famous Newcastle mining invention is no more effective than other technology in its field.
The Jameson Cell, used to separate coal and valuable minerals from rock through a flotation technique, is widely promoted as having ‘‘revolutionised’’ the mining industry.
But the n Coal Association Research Program (ACARP) report found other coal-flotation technologies offered ‘‘similar technical performance’’.
University of Newcastle professor Graeme Jameson invented the cell in the late 1980s, and the patent is held by the university affiliate Newcastle Innovation.
Professor Jameson told the Newcastle Herald there was ‘‘no evidence’’ to justify the report’s findings, other than an opinion survey where the ‘‘response rate was very poor’’.
He said the ‘‘demonstrable advantages’’ of the Jameson Cell made it a ‘‘market leader’’ and he questioned the author of the report, Dr Bruce Firth.
‘‘The paper you refer to is an unrefereed project report from a contractor to an industry body,’’ he said.
Dr Firth declined to comment.
The Jameson Cell is owned and marketed worldwide by Glencore Technology, a subsidiary of mining giant Glencore Xstrata.
More than 330 Jameson Cells are in operation worldwide, with the majority used for coal preparation in .
Professor Jameson, after being named NSW Scientist of the Year in 2013, detailed an almost $30 billion ‘‘cumulative value of export coal recovered by the Jameson Cell’’.
NSW Chief Scientist and Engineer, Professor Mary O’Kane, said the Jameson Cell ‘‘could well be the most financially successful n invention in the past three decades’’.
But the ACARP research, by retired CSIRO scientist Dr Firth, found little difference between the three leading coal-flotation technologies used in .
Dr Firth, who is a life member of the n Coal Preparation Society, said from the 1990s the Jameson Cell and a rival technology, known as column flotation, became ‘‘fashionable’’, while existing mechanical flotation machines were considered ‘‘old’’ technology.
His research challenges the previously held view that the Jameson Cell and column flotation devices are ‘‘more efficient’’.
‘‘All three flotation machine technologies can provide similar technical performance given optimal operation,’’ the report states.
The research was presented in July at an ACARP symposium in Pokolbin.
According to the University of Newcastle, the Jameson Cell contributes billions annually to the n economy.
But claims that the Jameson Cell is one of our biggest export earners have been met with cynicism by some in the coal industry who agree with Dr Firth that there are other technologies – including older technology – that does a similar job.
Former n Coal Preparation Society national chairman Wayne Barnett said he was ‘‘unsure’’ how the figures were calculated.
‘‘It’s hard to say exactly what the benefit of one piece of equipment is when there are several pieces of equipment that can be used. The Jameson Cell is just one of the tools we use,’’ he said.
Curragh Mine coal handling preparation plant process superintendent Stephen Zhang described determining how much any technology contributes in dollars as ‘‘problematic’’.
Mr Zhang’s Queensland mine has 12 Jameson Cells and is widely regarded as one of Glencore Technology’s flagship coal mines.
He said there were older technologies that in some cases could do a better job for a fraction of the initial outlay.
‘‘There are other cells and other technology out there and how they compare to the Jameson Cell should be looked at when making those calculations,’’ Mr Zhang said.
Professor Jameson heavily criticised the view of needing to factor in if competing technologies could do the same job when determining the value of the Jameson Cell.
He said the University of Newcastle had earlier this year asked an ‘‘independent auditor’’ to calculate the value of the Jameson Cell to the n economy and it was $36billion.
Ross Garling, a mine engineer who has spent 20 years recovering saleable coal from mine-tailings dams, rates the Jameson Cells as ‘‘very good in some applications’’.
Mr Garling said exact figures ‘‘would be hard to quantify’’ because if mines weren’t using a Jameson Cell they would be using something else.
‘‘If a certain technology is getting a better result than any other technique, that’s the benefit of it,’’ he said.
‘‘To make a claim that one particular device has contributed billions, I really don’t know how they’re doing it.’’
A spokeswoman for the university said the audit report, completed by coal technology consultant Manford, was commissioned to determine the impact of the Jameson Cell on the n economy.
It looked at rate of production of coal using Jameson Cells, value of coal and currency conversions. She said the university ‘‘does not believe there is a conflict of interest’’ because the report’s lead author, Dave Osborne, used to work for Xstrata Technology – now Glencore Technology – that markets and sells the Jameson Cell.
‘‘Independent consultants Manford were chosen to complete the report for their expert knowledge – which is necessary to evaluate the Jameson Cell due to its highly specialised nature – as well as their niche understanding of the industry and standing in the sector,’’ she said.
‘‘The University of Newcastle stands behind the report and does not believe there is a conflict of interest.’’
Dr Osborne did not respond to the Herald’s questions.