The Phu Kham Copper-Gold Operation (Phu Kham Operation) is located in the Lao People's Democratic Republic and is owned and operated by the Lao-registered company, Phu Bia Mining Limited (PBM). Australian-headquartered copper and gold producer, PanAust Limited holds a 90 per cent interest in PBM; the Government of Laos owns the remaining 10 per cent.
The Phu Kham Operation was commissioned in 2008 with an initial concentrator nameplate throughput of 12 million tonnes per annum (Mt/a). Subsequent improvement projects, including the Phu Kham Upgrade Project (PKU), completed in 2012, and the Phu Kham Increased Recovery Project (IRP), completed in 2013, increased the design throughput to 18 Mt/yr. In 2016, the actual mill throughput exceeded 19 Mt/a, this throughput is budgeted to be maintained until the end of 2020.
The concentrator flotation circuit upgrade, completed during the IRP, called for a non-selective bulk sulphide concentrate to be generated from the rougher circuit. This in turn caused the mechanical flotation cells in the cleaner circuit, particularly those in the second cleaner bank, to become volumetrically overload. The overload reduced the cleaner circuit performance to approximately 92 per cent copper recovery at a 23 per cent copper concentrate grade, below the expected 95 per cent recovery. This bottleneck restricted copper units entering the plant to approximately 14.5 tonnes per hour (t/h) due to uncontrolled recirculating load build-up in the mechanical cleaning circuit.
Maintaining the operating methodologies would have led to a copper production shortfall beyond 2016, to address this shortfall the Phu Kham Operation looked to optimise the Jameson Cell and mechanical cleaner circuit performance. The work included fundamental application of flotation practice and modelling, mineralogical analysis, bubble size analysis, plant surveys and test work. The results were used to develop and implement an innovative automated control system strategy incorporating flotation theory and operating strategies. The automation has the ability to quickly adapt to disturbances in the circuit and maintain optimised performance with little or no intervention by flotation operators.
Upon completion, cleaner recovery increased to 95 per cent at a final concentrate grade of 23 per cent copper, and copper units entering the plant increased to 17.5 t/h.
Baas, D and Mikhael Gurieff, L, 2018. Developing flotation circuit control and automation for the Phu Kham Copper-Gold Operation concentrator, in Proceedings 14th AusIMM Mill Operators' Conference 2018, pp 37–58 (The Australasian Institute of Mining and Metallurgy: Melbourne).