Major advances in metallurgical engineering and metals processing can be traced to the intellectual prowess of a few giants, and Keith Brimacombe is unquestionably one of them. As a researcher, he pioneered the application of computerized mathematical modeling to analyze and design processes to extract metals from their ores and convert them into useful products. His efforts led to the development of new metallurgical processes and processing advancements that allowed the materials industry to lower costs, engineer new products, and improve productivity and quality control.
Brimacombe was a strong advocate of cooperation between universities and industry and his vision helped make Canada a leader in value-added metals processing. As an educator and lecturer, he inspired a new generation of professionals to embrace the materials revolution and manage the technological change needed to sustain it.
Brimacombe was born in Nova Scotia, raised in Alberta, and earned a B.A.Sc. degree in metallurgical engineering from the University of British Columbia (UBC) in 1966. He returned to UBC as an assistant professor in 1970, after completing his Doctorate at Imperial College in London, England. He became a full professor in 1979.
At UBC, Brimacombe established a research program that combined mathematical modeling with pilot-plant measurements and in-plant testing of metals and materials processes with remarkable success. Aided by computers and information technology, his research roamed the broad flow sheets of metal production and shed light on complex metallurgical processes spanning both ferrous and non-ferrous industries.
Brimacombe became a world leader in the field of continuous casting. His innovative research, initiated in the early 1970s, improved the design and energy-efficiency of continuous-casting machines and the quality of metal produced. His work has been applied in steel plants in North America and abroad. In 1975, he collaborated on the development of a new process for the roasting of molybdenite to produce molybdenum oxide, used as an alloying agent for steel.
Brimacombe developed methods to enhance the productivity and lower the operating costs of Pierce-Smith convertors used worldwide to convert copper/iron sulphide to copper. Other notable achievements include improvements to the reduction of metal oxides from slags to recover metal values such as zinc, optimizing the operation of rotary kilns used globally for many purposes, and development of remedial measures for the direct-chill casting of zinc that significantly improved cast quality.
Brimacombe’s dream of building a world-class research facility was realized with the opening of the $21-million Advanced Materials and Process Engineering Laboratory at UBC in 1995. In 1997, he became the founding CEO of the Canada Foundation for Innovation, which provides funding for Canadian science and engineering research. He also advanced industry knowledge through research papers, lectures delivered in Canada and around the world, and involvement in numerous industry associations.
Brimacombe received global recognition for his pioneering efforts and tangible achievements, including the Canada Gold Medal in Science and Engineering. He was also an Officer of the Order of Canada and a Fellow of the Royal Society of Canada.