Comparison of Smelting Technologies
Additonal authors: Walters, Gary. 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
Gonzales, Thomas W.
The copper smelting industry has transitioned into the 21st century compliant with environmental regulations, new smelter installations and brown field expansions. The industry faces new challenges as copper in concentrate grades have decreased while contained impurities have increased. A new benchmarking survey was undertaken to update the last survey of 2016 for operating copper smelters in the world. The information collected was separated based on primary smelting technology rather than by geographical location and supplemented from published literature. Each smelting technology’s unique use of specialized process equipment, concentrate smelting capacity, and impurity flexibility are discussed
The 20th century was a remarkable time for the growth of copper smelting. Electric, blast and reverberator furnaces dominated the smelting technology well past WWII. In the 1970s, SO2 regulations and high energy cost drove the development of new primary smelting technology. Technological advancements decreased energy consumption and enriched sulfur dioxide concentrations of the process off-gas to levels where sulfur capture in sulfuric acid plants was economically viable. The new smelting technologies began to replace reverberatory and electric furnaces starting in the late 1940s. A new paradigm in copper smelting was established and the enabler was then Outkumpu’s® flash smelting technology from the 1940s through to today. Now, Outotec had become the dominant primary smelting technology with over 44 copper flash smelting furnace installations world-wide.
Figure 1 shows the historical installation statistics of primary smelting technologies over the last 70 years (ICSG 2018). The dominance and acceptance of the Outotec® smelting technology from the 1940s to current can be seen. Isasmelt® technology for copper was introduced in the 1970s and did not see advancement in new installations until the 1990s through today. Isasmelt® has 12 world-wide copper furnace installations to date. Mitsubishi® also introduced continuous smelting and converting technology in the 1970s, but had no new installations until the 1990s with a total of 5 copper smelters. Outotec Ausmelt® smelting technology had 3 installations in the 1990s and totals 10 furnaces. Most recently the Chinese technology of Bottom Blown and Submerged Lance Smelting began commercial operations in 2005 for total installations of 11, mostly in China. Other technologies, such as, El Teniente, Noranda, Inco, and Vanyukov furnaces have contributed to the overall global smelting capacity, but have not penetrated the smelting industry to challenge the existing dominant smelting technologies. The technology distribution in Figure 1 also shows flash smelting technology for sulfide concentrate domination untill 2000, bottom blow technology has become the preference in China. Currently, China is the only country building new smelting capacity. Isasmelt® technology also seen a large increase in installations in the current decade.
Copper 2019, COM2019