Cobalt Recovery from Southern African Copper Smelters

Additonal authors: Pawlik, C.. Book title: Proceedings of the 58th Conference of Metallurgists Hosting Copper 2019. Chapter: . Chapter title:

Proceedings, Vol. Proceedings of the 58th Conference of Metallurgists Hosting Copper 2019, 2019

Jones, R. T.

Cobalt occurs together with copper in the southern African copper belt, and a large portion of this cobalt ends up in copper smelting slags, mostly dissolved in oxide form. It is possible to achieve high recoveries of cobalt by reductive smelting of the copper slags, using some form of carbon as a reducing agent in an electric furnace. For example, a 40 MW DC arc furnace was operated at Chambishi Metals in Zambia from 2001 to 2008, and demonstrated cobalt recoveries of around 80% from slag to an iron-rich alloy containing copper and cobalt. The alloy was atomized prior to leaching. With the recent increase in demand for cobalt (and the resulting high metal prices), there has been increasing interest in this process route. There is also an alternative hydrometallurgical process for recovering the valuable metals from the slag. The choice between these process options requires a trade-off between capital and operating cost and environmental acceptability. This paper examines the potential for cobalt recovery from slags, and outlines various process options. INTRODUCTION Cobalt has had a number of important uses in society since antiquity, and its principal use has changed dramatically over time. Since at least 2250 BC, cobalt-based pigments (cobalt blue) have been widely used to colour manufactured goods such as glass and pottery. Later, cobalt became known for its magnetic and wear-resistant properties and high-strength alloys, and most of the cobalt produced was consumed in the production of cobalt-based superalloys. The greatest recent growth in cobalt demand is due to it being essential to the rechargeable lithium-ion batteries used in consumer electronic devices and increasingly to drive electric vehicles. Cobalt is usually produced as a by-product of copper or nickel. The copper belt in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) and Zambia supplies most of the world's cobalt production. In 2018, the DRC was expected to produce 90 000 tons of the world total of 140 000 tons of cobalt (Shedd, 2019). This paper focuses on the southern African copper industry, and specifically the cobalt that is able to be produced as a co-product from this. A BRIEF HISTORY OF SOUTHERN AFRICAN COPPER SMELTING Copper deposits in South Africa have been documented since at least 1685, when the Cape governor, Simon van der Stel, ‘discovered’ the 'Copper Mountain' at Springbok. South Africa's first public commercial mining company (imaginatively called the 'South African Mining Company') was established in Cape Town in 1846, to exploit the rich copper resources that were believed to exist in Namaqualand.
Keywords: Copper 2019, COM2019