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Process Evaluation and Design Project
From Minerals to Materials: Adding Value to Our Solid Mineral Resources Through Aqueous Processing
Your country’s new Minister of Science and Technology just returned from an African Union Ministerial Forum on Science and Technology where she participated in a panel discussion on using Africa’s natural resource base as a springboard for technological advancement. She was disturbed to learn of the manner in which African governments (including her own) have historically failed to come up with science and technology policies that seriously seek to add value to their countries’ solid mineral resources. She also heard presentations that pushed the idea of “resource curse” as well as those that vehemently challenged this idea. (See, for example, J. D. Sachs and A. M. Warner, “Natural Resources and Economic Development. The Curse of Natural Resources,” European Econ. Rev., 45, 827-838 (2001), G. Wright and J. Czelusta, “Mineral Resources and Economic Development”, 2003.)
Upon her return from the forum, the Minister instructed the Director General (DG) of your country’s Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) to provide her with a comprehensive report on the state of the minerals and materials industry in the country. In connection with this, your boss, the Director of the Center for Materials Research in Aqueous Systems (CMRAS) has asked you to contribute to an initial study to provide management with critical baseline data and assessment. Your work is to focus on aqueous-based chemical processing technologies.
Prepare a report for management in response to this request. Your report should:
(a) Identify two important (and different) solid mineral resources (deposits) in your country that are amenable to aqueous processing - either in the extraction or engineered materials synthesis and processing stages. Indicate the location and extent of these resources. What are the important ore minerals associated with the deposits and what are the valuable metals therein?
(b) What are these metals and minerals used for? What are some commercial products which are based on the metals and/or minerals?
(c) Select one of the deposits. Describe the current nature and level of industrial activity (e.g., is the deposit being mined? Is there any mineral processing? Is there any hydrometallurgical processing? Are there known serious mining/processing environmental problems?)
(d) What are the opportunities you see for adding further value to these resources? What specific contributions do you see for aqueous processing techniques (e.g., in connection with the metal extraction, engineered materials synthesis and processing stages, or environmental aspects).
(e) Select one of the “opportunities” identified in (d) above and describe, as quantitatively as possible, the relevant aqueous processing schemes.
(f) In view of your research findings pertaining to items (a) to (e) above, what is your reaction to the “resource curse” debate?
The technical content of your report should be based on the principles and tools discussed in MS 603. In particular, your report should demonstrate your familiarity with the following process design tools:
(a) Reaction quotients and equilibrium constants
(b) Aqueous stability diagrams
(c) Speciation diagrams
(d) Dissolution, precipitation, and selectivity windows
(e) Reaction paths
(f) Conceptual flow diagrams
The professional-quality report should not be more than 15 pages long (double-spaced) total. Format: Title, Author’s Name and Affiliation, Abstract, Introduction, Other Relevant Headings/Subheadings, Summary and Conclusions, Acknowledgments, References.
At least two-thirds of the report should focus on aqueous processing proper. You should take advantage of relevant information in textbooks, the patent literature, the Internet, technical journals, conference proceedings, company brochures, and personal contacts (e.g., phone calls, e-mails). Be sure to consult more than one type of information source. Your report should clearly indicate some serious thinking on your part.
At a mini-symposium at the end of the course each student will make a 20-minute presentation to report his/her findings. There will be peer review of the presentations. The relevant evaluation forms will be provided. Attire: Business casual.
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NOTE: Again, this assignment was designed to challenge the students to reflect on and think broadly about their work as scientists and engineers. I wanted them to be aware of and appreciate the wider context and the policy implications of their science and engineering activities. It was also to nudge them towards viewing themselves as active participants in tackling Africa's science and technology challenges.