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December: Lucas Pereira (HZDR-HIF)

Lucas Pereira is head of the Geometallurgy and particle-based process modelling research group at the Helmholtz Institute Freiberg for Resource Technology (HIF) that is part of the Helmholtz-Zentrum Dresden-Rossendorf. He received the Helmholtz PhD Award in 2023 for his doctoral thesis on particle-based separation models: machine learning applied to enable the understanding and prediction of mineral processing with high detail. We spoke to Lucas Pereira about his work and his motivation in the following interview.


What are you currently working on?

Lucas Pereira: During my PhD I worked on methods for understanding and predicting the mechanical concentration of mineral particles at the resolution of individual complex particles. Currently, my group is working to extend the application of these modelling approaches to the concentration of recycling materials (e.g. Li-ion batteries), where particles tend to be even more complex, and to minimise the uncertainties and number of experiments required to assess the concentration potential of mineral deposits - a field typically referred to as predictive geometallurgy. Despite the empirical nature of these modelling approaches, we aim to use the knowledge they generate to better understand and potentially contribute to the deterministic description of particle concentration technologies (e.g. froth flotation). Finally, with a focus on continuously improving the efficiency of particle concentration technologies, we have dedicated efforts to the digitisation of these operations.

What is your personal motivation?

Lucas Pereira: Our energy supply is currently heavily dependent on fossil fuels, which motivates our society's efforts to transition to a renewable and less CO2-intensive energy system. The new system will be based on metals, and I am driven by the need to produce these metals efficiently, overcoming the challenges posed by nature while forming mineral deposits, as well as those posed by engineering while producing goods that we can now recycle to recover metals.

What kind of challenges are you facing in the near future?

Lucas Pereira: I will use a Lego analogy to answer this question. If we wanted to separate the Lego blocks that make up a colourful house into colour-specific bags, we would first need to break the connections between the blocks to ensure that the colours within a piece are not mixed, and only then would we separate these blocks according to their colour. While we are already able to predict the latter, modelling the breakage of Lego blocks in terms of their colour is one of the main challenges we will be facing and tackling at HIF in the coming years.

If you could make a wish for something for your research, what would you wish for?

Lucas Pereira: I would like to have a system for characterising individual particles in 3D, capable of thoroughly quantifying the composition of these particles. Fortunately, the HIF has made an active contribution to this field, but further development is needed to use this information comprehensively for modelling particle breakage and concentration.

Where do you see your discipline in 5-10 years?

Lucas Pereira: In 5 years, I would like to see a wider application of particle-based separation models as a diagnostic tool for particle concentration processes, which should also allow improvements in the deterministic prediction of these processes. In 10 years, I could see significant developments in detailed particle breakage models that take into account particle composition. I would also foresee a wider use of particle-based separation models for the optimisation and control of industrial processes.

ORCID: 0000-0001-8041-5406