Dec '07/Jan '08

Engineering Exchange

Hatch Maritime — making its mark on Newfoundland and Labrador

By H. Weldon

Hatch designed and installed the hydromet equipment in Voisey's Bay Nickel's demonstration plant in Argentia, Newfoundland.


It’s just another day at the office for engineering consultants to network and seek out contracts, but once in a while, if you really know your stuff, the tables are turned. When CVRD Inco (then Inco) took the innovative decision to use hydromet technology on the sulphite deposits at their Voisey’s Bay project, they turned to Hatch for guidance. Hatch is renowned for its experience in hydromet technology on laterite deposits and was ready and willing to take on the challenge of developing a way to process sulphide deposits using hydromet — something that had never before been attempted.

CVRD Inco signed an agreement with Newfoundland and Labrador to test hydromet technology on sulphide deposits via a demonstration plant. If successful, the company can then go ahead and build a commercial processing plant by 2011. If unsuccessful, CVRD Inco will resort to using an existing technology. So why spend millions of dollars on an unknown? Al Green, project manager for the pre-feasibility study for the commercial plant, explained: “Hydromet is a more environmentally benign process compared to traditional smelting and is less costly in the long run.”

Inco began testing the possibility of hydromet technology on sulphide deposits at a mini-plant in Mississauga, Ontario. Built on a 1:10 000 scale, they quickly proved that hydromet technology could successfully be used to process the ore from the Voisey’s Bay site.

In the meantime, Hatch engineers, headed by project manager John Pearson, began planning and designing the 1:100 scale demonstration plant in Argentia, Newfoundland. Construction of the demo plant was completed in October 2005, and it is well into the feasibility stage. Pearson is optimistic that a full-fledged hydromet plant will become a reality. “We have until 2008 to make a decision,” he explained, “but this looks like a winner.”

“Everything was a challenge,” Pearson remarked, referring to the complexity of designing and building a 1:100 scale facility. Everything is the same, from pumps and pipes to instrumentation and controls, but in a much smaller version. “The perception versus the reality was a bit of a surprise.” Another challenge was getting the demo plant up and running as quickly as possible.

As part of the agreement with the province, CVRD Inco was unable to ship anything from the mine/mill out of the province until the demo plant was finished. On top of that, they had to make their first shipment before first ice, or wait until spring. Hatch met that challenge head-on, completing the project eight months ahead of schedule and under budget. “It’s important to spend money where you have to and not where you don’t,” Pearson stated. “If you walk around the demo plant, in some places you’ll see extremely expensive equipment, like the autoclave; in other areas, the construction looks pretty economical.”

By focusing efforts on certain key areas and technology, it allowed the flexibility for the engineers to make changes more easily during the tweaking period of the testing process. Hatch awarded the team the Roy Curtis Project Excellence Award for their efforts, proving that you can achieve a world-class safety record and get it done on time and under budget.

Working closely with the people of Newfoundland was a new experience for Pearson. “One evening I met the group that I would be working with in Newfoundland. They disarm you with humour, jokes, and an open attitude, but the next day, boy, do they deliver.” Pearson was surprised and very happy to find himself working with a group of the most talented people he’s ever worked with, and pointed out that 25 per cent of the team were women. “The Newfoundland team was young, well trained, and had a great work ethic,” Pearson concluded. “They were a joy to work with.”

Good working relationships, partnering with the right company, and trying a new technology led to the successful completion of the project. Finishing ahead of time and under budget was just icing on the cake.

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