Additonal authors: Sugawara, T.. Book title: Proceedings of the 58th Conference of Metallurgists Hosting Copper 2019. Chapter: . Chapter title:
Electrorefining of low-grade copper alloys containing various amounts of nickel, lead, antimony, bismuth, arsenic, selenium, silver, and gold in sulfamic acid media was demonstrated. The copper concentration of the alloys used as an anode was 70–90 wt%. The electrolyte contained 100 g L-1 of free sulfamic acid and 40 g L-1 of cupric ion. Galvanostatic electrolysis was conducted at 200–300 A m-2 in the electrolyte using a low-grade copper alloy anode and a stainless steel cathode at 25C. The terminal voltage was approximately 0.8 V at the start of the electrolysis, although it increased periodically to approximately
2.0 V and then shortly returned to its initial value. Nickel, lead, and arsenic from the anode dissolved in the electrolyte and were removed. Antimony, bismuth, selenium, and silver were removed as solids. Consequently, a dense copper cathode was obtained, and the concentration of copper was evaluated by inductively coupled plasma – optical emission spectrometry to be 99.82–99.99 wt%.
Electrorefining of copper is conventionally carried out in a sulfuric acid electrolyte using crude copper assaying at 99.5 wt% Cu as the anode (Biswas & Davenport, 1994). Elements more noble than copper do not react anodically, and consequently, they are distributed in anode slimes. Elements less noble than copper dissolve from the anode. Nickel and arsenic are stabilized as aqueous species. Lead, antimony, and bismuth react with water, sulfuric acid, or arsenic acid to form barely soluble compounds; thus, they are distributed in anode slimes.
An emerging issue in the electrolytic refining of copper is an increase of impurities in crude copper used as the anode (Moats et al., 2013). This is due to an increase in the content of impurities in copper concentrates as well as an increase in the types of secondary copper feedstocks (e.g., E-Scraps, automotive shredder residues, and smelting residues) treated in the copper pyrometallurgical process. An extreme case is a copper smelter that does not use copper concentrates as feedstocks. In such a process, copper-bearing feedstocks are smelted in a top submerged lance furnace to prepare low-grade copper alloys assaying at 80– 90 wt% Cu (Sekimoto et al., 2013). Such low-grade copper is not acceptable as an anode in the conventional copper electrolytic refining process because it is easily passivated during electrolysis. Consequently, electrolytic copper is produced by leaching the atomized low-grade copper in a sulfuric acid solution with oxygen, followed by electrowinning. However, electrowinning should be avoided whenever possible because the electrical energy consumed in electrowinning is 5–10 times higher than that consumed in electrorefining. Therefore, the development of technologies for electrorefining of low-grade copper alloys is desirabl.