A revolution in mining and engineering

Laureate Professor Graeme Jameson is a globally renowned researcher in the field of mineral processing and the acclaimed inventor of the Jameson Cell, a froth flotation device that has delivered big wins for the environment and is considered Australia’s biggest-earning innovation for the past quarter century.

Graeme Jameson

Laureate Professor Graeme Jameson’s work has revolutionised the way valuable minerals, the bedrock of the Australian economy, are extracted from rocks. His most famous invention, the Jameson Cell, has netted Australia roughly $51 billion in exports.

Named after its inventor, the Jameson Cell has also led to significant savings in Australia’s energy consumption and reductions in greenhouse gas emissions — and earned Graeme almost legendary status in mining and engineering circles.

Graeme is now working to bring his latest award-winning invention, the NovaCell, to commercial reality.

Graeme’s remarkable achievements and enduring reputation as a prominent global expert attract high numbers of talented engineering students, researchers and academics to the University of Newcastle every year.

A billion-dollar idea

The Jameson Cell is an ingenious flotation device that changed the way minerals could be recovered. It has become a global industry gold standard and is now featured in undergraduate textbooks for aspiring engineers worldwide.

The process involves grinding mineral ores into small particles, suspending them in water and placing them into stirred tanks known as cells. The Jameson Cell blows air bubbles up through the liquid and uses reagents to make mineral particles stick to them. The bubbles form a mineral-rich froth on the surface, which is then scraped off.

A large mine can treat 10,000 tonnes an hour — that's similar to 10,000 small cars being reduced to dust every hour.

"I had been looking at ways to improve the flotation process for many years. I knew flotation was important to the Australian industry and felt the answer lay in the mechanics of fluids and particles,” explains Graeme.

The technology was developed for commercial application in partnership with Mount Isa Mines Limited, who Graeme says, “quickly identified the cell’s potential”.

These days, there are more than 300 Jameson Cells in operation across 25 countries, being used for copper, coal, zinc, nickel, lead, silver and platinum extraction worldwide.

The Cell has also been used for environmental applications, including extracting oil from tar sands in Canada, cleaning up industrial wastewaters in Newcastle and other locations in Australia, and removing blue-green algae from waterways in inland Australia.

The finely-ground particles that were once too small to recover and previously were dumped into rivers, or buried, can now be processed. Old mines now have a longer life, and the environmental damage caused by the need to open more new mines is reduced.

The NovaCell

Graeme now has his sights set on an exciting invention which he calls the NovaCell: a radical way of recovering coarse mineral particles as large as beach sand. The NovaCell uses a fluidised bed to collect coarse particles and a high shear aeration zone for ultra-fines separation.

Graeme likens his new technology to the landscape that Newcastle is famous for — the beach.

"Imagine a bed of sand. If you're well away from the water the sand will be pretty stable and if you stand on it, you don't sink. However, if you go a bit closer to the water you can make the sand fluidise just by moving your feet up and down.”

"The sand stays more or less in the same place but the water in the sand is pumped up and down and momentarily it lifts particles away from their neighbours, so the sand becomes liquid-like and you can sink down into it.

"The fluidised bed flotation device uses the same principles by pushing air bubbles through the sediment and this creates a quiet environment for the larger particles to attach to the bubbles."

Simply put, the Cell could eliminate the need to grind ore very finely, resulting in big savings — both financially, and for the environment through a reduction in greenhouse gas emissions, and energy and water consumption. The device shows a 40% reduction in comminution energy and a 10% reduction in overall site operating costs.

The NovaCell has already generated a buzz within the industry, and secured Graeme the prestigious 2019 CEEC Medal for Technical Research alongside his Research Associate Dr Cagri Emer.

Challenges of time and money

Graeme knows only too well how difficult it can be to take a fledging idea and turn it into a commercially viable product. Research oriented towards solving industrial problems takes a good deal of time, determination, and funding.

“Solutions can take a long time to bring to fruition. If one fails to solve a problem, the problem does not go away and you can’t pivot your research in another direction, you have to keep going.”

“But the biggest barrier is what is known as The Gap. This refers to the funding of the intermediate stage of commercial development.

“Once a prototype has been developed and tested, it is not so difficult to find an industrial partner to take up the idea. However, the inventor must find the costs for the prototype, and the funding for this step is very difficult to find.”

Creating a legacy

Graeme has clocked up countless achievements over his impressive career.

He received an Order of Australia Medal, AO, in 2005, the Antoine M. Gaudin Medal in 2013, the inaugural Prime Minister's Prize for Innovation in 2015 and the Peter Nicol Russell Memorial Medal from the Institution of Engineers Australia for outstanding service to his profession.

In 2018, Graeme was elected to the world’s oldest and highly prestigious scientific society, the Royal Society of London. The Society’s wall of fame includes names such as Newton, Darwin, Hawking and Einstein. Graeme describes the election as, “the most rewarding moment in my career”.

Ever humble despite his growing list of accolades and accomplishments, Graeme’s work is

underscored by his unyielding commitment to producing real-world solutions and creating a lasting legacy for communities and our nation.

"I see science and technology as agents for improving people's lives. I believe that if you're going to put your heart into something, you may as well tackle a problem that will make a difference and benefit the community.”

With a number of prospects still emerging from his latest research, Graeme continues to be a gold mine of innovation for Australian industry.

The University of Newcastle acknowledges the traditional custodians of the lands within our footprint areas: Awabakal, Darkinjung, Biripai, Worimi, Wonnarua, and Eora Nations. We also pay respect to the wisdom of our Elders past and present.