Additonal authors: . Book title: Proceedings of the 58th Conference of Metallurgists Hosting Copper 2019. Chapter: . Chapter title:
Arsenic extraction from Chilean copper concentrates up to nearly 99% was achieved, using hydrothermal reactions. Arsenic appears in nature in more than 200 mineral species, being arsenopyrite (FeAsS), enargite (Cu3AsS4), and tennantite (Cu12As4S13) the most common species. In addition, arsenic is present in a large amount of copper concentrates, produced in northern Chile. Medical statistics show that in northern Chile, the amount of cancer to the lung, skin and bladder are the highest in the country. The latter situation, demonstrates the importance of studying metallurgical processes that do not generate atmospheric pollution. The hydrometallurgical processes such as hydrothermal treatment in autoclave reactors, do not produce gaseous emissions. On the other hand, the arsenic remains in solution from where it can be transformed in scorodite by widely known methods. Previous works about hydrothermal treatment of enargite have shown the feasibility of transforming the enargite of the copper concentrates into chalcocite or mineral species of the chalcocite family such as djurleite, digenite and for this reason enrich the concentrate in copper and pass the arsenic to solution.
For this research, two Chilean copper concentrates were used, concentrate 1 with 5.5% arsenic and concentrate 3 with 1.8% arsenic. These concentrates were subjected to a complete chemical and mineralogical characterization. Later these concentrates were carry out to batch tests of hydrothermal treatment. Also, these concentrates were subjected to grinding to have different particle sizes. For the hydrothermal tests, a liter capacity Autoclave Engineer reactor was used. Characteristic of this reactor was the maximum temperature 350°C, 5000 PSI pressure, and 900 rpm agitation speed.
Kinetic tests were carried out with the two concentrates maintaining the same solid: liquid relationship, the same agitation velocity and the variables studied were treatment temperature, time of reaction, concentration of copper in the solution and grain size of the concentrates. The conclusions of the study indicated arsenic extraction of the order of 93.98% from the concentrate 1 and arsenic extraction of the order of 98.74% from concentrate 3.
After the hydrothermal treatment, the solids and solutions were characterized chemically, by electron microscopy and X ray diffraction. Also the solids were characterized by grainsize through a particle size analyzer (MICROTRAC). Results of batch treatment shows that arsenic can be release almost completely from real copper concentrates using this hydrothermal process and the next stage will be a scale up process in order obtain results for pilot plant design.
Arsenic is an impurity that appears associated with copper minerals forming enargite, tennantite, tetrahedrite, and that due to the pyrometallurgical treatment either in conversion or roasting furnaces, it goes into the atmosphere together with the sulfur dioxide. A great quantity of literature can be found to eliminate arsenic or try to separate arsenic from copper. The methods used are mainly leaching processes with or without pressure (Padilla, Jerez & Ruiz, 2015) with different reagents like chloride media (Herreros, Fuentes, Quiroz & Viñals, 2003) or chloride media with sulphuric acid (Riveros & Dutrizac, 2008) or sodium hypochlorite (Mihajlovic, Strbac, Zivkovic, Kovacevic & Stehernik, 2007). It is known too that Chile is the first copper producer in the world and a great quantity of its minerals are in the north of the country, in Antofagasta.