Additonal authors: Rosseland, E.. Book title: Proceedings of the 58th Conference of Metallurgists Hosting Copper 2019. Chapter: . Chapter title:
Glencore Nikkelverk is operating its Chlorine Leach Process in Kristiansand, Norway, producing nickel, copper and cobalt metals by electrowinning. The copper tankhouse, with an annual capacity of 40 000 tons, is based on traditional technology with copper starting sheets and cast lead anodes. Due to the integration of this copper sulphate process in a nickel chloride refinery, operating conditions are unique. In recent years, operating costs have escalated, and health, safety and environment are top priorities. Test work on a new copper process involving permanent cathodes was therefore initiated in 2007, and a pilot plant was started up in 2012. The objective was to introduce innovative technologies and tailor these to be robust in the Nikkelverk process, to form a basis for a new sustainable copper tankhouse with a high degree of automation. Key learnings from more than 10 years of R&D work is presented, focusing on cathode materials and copper metal deposition including product quality, robotic stripping, coated titanium anodes, electrode contacts and alignment, electrode current monitoring with Hatch HELM tracker technology and acid mist capture using cell hoods with off-gas scrubbing. The new copper tankhouse project was approved in December 2018, and commissioning is planned in 2022.
The Kristiansand nickel refinery was started up in 1910, processing nickel-copper matte originating from Norwegian mines. It was the first industrial plant in the world to produce nickel by electrolysis using the Hybinette electrorefining process. After roasting to burn off sulphur in the matte, copper was leached and recovered as cathodes by electrowinning with lead anodes. In the first years, the copper cathodes were fire- refined and cast into ingots for sale (Thonstad Sandvik, 2004).
The Nikkelverk refinery was acquired by Falconbridge Ltd. in 1929, and since then matte from Sudbury, Canada has been the main feed source. The Hybinette process was in operation until 1975 when conversion to the newly developed Chlorine Leach Process was started (Stensholt, Zachariasen, & Lund, 1986). In this process still used today, nickel and part of the copper in the matte is leached using chlorine gas generated on dimensionally stable anodes in the nickel and cobalt electrowinning tankhouses, as illustrated in Figure 1. The presence of dissolved copper ions in the strong chloride leach solution is essential for effective chlorine absorption and nickel dissolution. To improve copper-nickel separation, slurry from the atmospheric leach is pumped to autoclaves and then to cementation tanks for precipitation of copper as copper sulphide, which is collected in filter presses. The leach residue, also containing the precious metals, goes through a 3-stage wash to remove chlorides before being introduced as a slurry to fluid-bed roasters for sulphur removal. The resulting calcine is then leached in spent electrolyte from the copper electrowinning tankhouse, to dissolve most of the copper and also some nickel, cobalt and other elements. After separation of the leach residue, elements like Bi, Te, As and Ag are removed from the strong copper sulphate solution by reaction with metallic copper in three columns in series filled with cut copper cathodes. The purified solution then passes polishing filters before being mixed with spent electrolyte and returned to the electrowinning cells.