Environmentally Responsible Processing of Copper-Arsenic Concentrates

Additonal authors: Buban, K. R.. 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

Smit, J. T.

Historically, there has been little incentive to process copper-arsenic concentrates by leaching, rather than via established smelting operations. However, with ever tightening environmental emission standards and more arseniferous concentrates being produced, increasingly sophisticated and upgraded off- gas handling facilities are required in smelting operations, generating greater quantities of challenging metallurgical dust. In this context, oxidative pressure leaching offers distinct advantages. The current state of pressure leach technology delivers high extractions from copper concentrates, while producing an environmentally stable process residue, without atmospheric emissions of sulphur dioxide or arsenic. However, as was shown in an earlier study, copper extractions and environmental leach residue stability are impacted negatively by arsenic levels above 2.5 to 3.0 wt%. In further studies on pressure leaching of copper concentrates, Sherritt has developed process conditions that allow even highly arseniferous (> 7 wt% As) feed materials to be converted into environmentally stable residues, with excellent copper extractions. At the same time, pressure leach residues can be generated that are amenable to silver recovery via direct cyanidation, without pre-treatment by lime boiling or hot curing. The results of pilot plant test work are discussed. INTRODUCTION As the production of copper has expanded over the years, resource exploitation has extended beyond relatively clean, high grade and easily accessible ores, and copper sulphide concentrates increasingly come with higher levels of contaminants, such as As, Hg, Sb and Bi, and lower copper and sulphide sulphur concentrations. However, as concerns on the impact of the emission of such contaminants into the natural environment have mounted, import/export restrictions have made the trading of copper concentrate more difficult, and, in particular, the export of concentrates with greater than 0.5 wt% As; under ever tightening environmental emission standards, these lower quality concentrates can be a significant strain on the off-gas handling facilities in smelting operations. The processing of arsenic bearing copper concentrates is, therefore, an increasing challenge as copper producers seek to exploit more complex mineralization and to extend the life of their operations. In this environment, processing arsenical copper concentrates with high temperature pressure leaching (>200°C) must be considered as an alternative to pyrometallurgical processing. Leaching kinetics for copper minerals at these temperatures are rapid and acid is generated for potential use in heap leach operations. Pressure leaching of copper concentrates eliminates gaseous emissions of arsenic and sulphur, while generating environmentally stable residues, as measured by the Toxicity Characteristic Leach Procedure (TCLP) (Kalanchey et al., 2007). Both medium and high temperature pressure leaching of copper concentrates have also proven themselves technically on an industrial scale (Marsden et al., 2004) with high copper recoveries.
Keywords: Copper 2019, COM2019