A reunion with Professor Alban Lynch

This week, while I was in Brisbane, I had the pleasure of catching up with Professor Alban Lynch. Alban doesn’t travel much anymore, but recently he went to Melbourne to celebrate his induction into the Australian Prospectors and Miners’ Hall of Fame, for his services to innovation and research in mineral processing globally.

I first met Alban in 1990 at University of Queensland, during a 1st year engineering function to promote the Minerals Process Engineering stream. Amongst students, he was notorious for asking, on meeting them, “Hi, I’m Professor Lynch, what’s your name? What’s your GPA?”. He had his reasons - Alban was looking for students who were capable and driven to solve technical challenges in the industry. I met the cut-off standard, signed up for minerals processing, and soon Alban organized a vacation job for me at Broken Hill. On arrival in this birthplace of Australian industry, me and two other 18-year-old UQ students checked into the unglamorous Tourist Lodge on Argent St. We were introduced to the Chief Metallurgist, Fran Burgess, and soon were sampling the grinding circuit in the lead-zinc-silver concentrator on the southern end of the lode. We got practiced at laboratory screen sizing and data analysis, and were commended for the quality of our work to characterise the circuit performance. Fran would later become my boss for several years, I also worked with her at Elura, Century and Rosebery mines in what became a serious dive into the lead-zinc-silver metallurgical industry. 

Alban had other influences over my career. He awarded me my industry scholarship with Mount Isa Mines, which launched my career as a graduate. At university, he insisted that multidisciplinary collaboration was critical for industry success. The message stuck, I bought into this approach on graduation. I worked for one of his esteemed students, Dr. Bill Johnson, in Mount Isa. I hired and supervised several university students for vacation work at mines in Australia, recalling the value these experiences gave me early in my career. 

This week, we talked about industry challenges, particularly declining ore grades and the brain drain of industry professionals and institutions. While Alban was troubled by directions in recent years, he seemed hopeful that students, if provided the right practical opportunities, could learn and rise to industry challenges. There was a story of hope of JKMRC students visiting Penoles base metals processing sites in Mexico to help solve real plant problems.

Alban was curious about my goals for Resourceful Paths, particularly regarding energy efficiency and effectiveness. He asked many questions. How long did I think SAG mills would be considered the preferred answer for breakage circuits? What were my views on dry grinding and how might this help reduce water use in processing? How much did I know about the cement industry? Had I heard about advanced air classifiers? Had I researched compression grinding? Was the deterioration in metallurgical schools as bad in Canada as it was in Australia? What were my thoughts on the eventual mining and processing of the low-grade copper halo ore at Mount Isa? What was Fran’s role there? How was I going to change the industry as a lone consultant?

Alban, as always, wanted thoughtful reflection, planning and results. I collated my action list. “You need to find a university to collaborate with, preferably with graduate students that need practical assistance. Learn about cement grinding and classification. Visit operating sites and report back on their practices. Get the resources from wherever you can to make your consultancy work.” It was clear that I had much to think about. I was expected to find my own resourceful path, sustain my future and make a significant and practical difference to industry. As a good student, I intend to deliver on my homework.