Barbara Arnold headshot
Wednesday, February 24, 2021

The Energy Institute recently sat down with new EI affiliate Barbara Arnold to get to know her a little bit better.

Can you tell me about your area of expertise?

I'm a coal preparation engineer with a focus on flowsheet design (including the application of mathematical models) and fine coal processing–gravity, froth flotation, and dewatering. That is the expertise that I'll bring to the beneficiation/concentration piece of the work being done in Penn State's Center for Critical Minerals.


How does your work impact society?

Coal preparation for thermal coal can be used to reduce sulfur in coal and, therefore, sulfur emissions. Ensuring that the proper quality of coal is used in power plants increases their efficiency and decreases carbon dioxide emissions. The new focus on critical minerals will impact the availability of domestically produced renewable energy technologies. And I'd like to make an impact on the reduction of materials going into tailings disposal sites and, perhaps, putting those materials to beneficial use.


What various positions did you hold in industry? What did you do in these positions?

My first industrial experience came as a summer student with U.S. Steel research. That's where I learned how to do coal froth flotation tests and fine coal washability analysis. The Electric Power Research Institute sponsored my Ph.D. research, and I went to work at their Coal Cleaning Test Facility before I finished my dissertation. I managed projects in our 20-tph test facility that looked at coal quality impacts on power plant efficiency and conducted research on coal handling, blending, and trace element removal. I also helped to develop a coal cleaning simulator using the Aspen platform. I was there for 10 years and then started PrepTech, Inc. in 1997. My business partner, John Munjack, and I started out doing engineering projects for coal companies and engineering contractors, mostly looking at flowsheets for new coal preparation plants as well as retrofits. In 1999, we were approached by Multotec Process Equipment from South Africa to become their U.S. representative. We sold their cyclones and spirals and also picked up a few other product lines along the way. I also continued doing consulting, mostly developing flowsheets, though also doing some plant audits and the odd bid specification package.


Can you describe one or two standout projects you’re most proud of?

One of my earliest projects was for my master’s degree—the effect of clay on coal froth flotation. That work is referenced widely and has applications in other areas of mineral processing and dewatering of solids. Then there are the projects for which I've developed a flowsheet that went on to become an operating plant. Getting the flowsheet to balance; ensuring that equipment sizing is correct. Those aspects are always satisfying. I had one director of coal preparation tell me that my numbers were always good! That was a proud moment.


Have you had any involvement in the field outside of your career?

I still wrote papers and volunteered with the Coal Preparation Society of America (CPSA) and the Society for Mining, Metallurgy and Exploration, Inc. (SME). I serve as the CPSA Board Secretary and as the representative to the International Organizing Committee for the International Coal Preparation Congress. I have also had the opportunity to help organize several conferences, and I served as the SME Foundation President in the early 2010s and as the 2018 SME President. Those are all roles in which I have had the opportunity to meet mining professionals nationally and internationally.


What brought you back as a professor of practice at Penn State?

I was asked! And the timing worked out well as Multotec decided to do their North American sales through their Canadian office. But, additionally, I have always had an interest in academia. I can share my experiences in the classroom and can also do research in some very interesting areas related to coal and mineral processing.


Why are you so passionate about your work?

I've generally been able to do something different every day! It's interesting! There have been some days when I started my morning interacting with South Africa or Spain and ended the day interacting with Australia, China, or India. And now, with the emphasis on critical minerals for batteries and renewable energy, someone has to figure out how to keep up with the demand with domestic sources. More mining and more mineral processing. It's cool stuff!


Are there any other additional achievements you’d like to mention?

My recent selection as an honorary member of the American Institute of Mining, Metallurgical, and Petroleum Engineers (AIME) was certainly a capstone to my career as an SME volunteer! Receiving the Frank F. Aplan Award given by SME/AIME and the Percy Nicholl's Award given by SME's Coal & Energy Division and ASME's Power Division have been highlights as well as becoming a Penn State Alumni Fellow. And I'm honored to present the Arthur Le Page Lecture to the Australian Coal Processing Society (virtually) in March 2021.


What do you like to do outside of work for fun?

I sing at church--both in the choir and as a cantor. I volunteer with my "local" Penn State Alumni Society at the New Kensington Campus. I knit, crochet, etc. And there are a few TV shows that I never miss: The Curse of Oak Island, The Walking Dead, and, when it was on, Game of Thrones (go Arya!). And I have been known to be an avid reader--just need a bit more time to get back to fiction--I've been reading too many technical books to prep for classes!