Additonal authors: Free, Michael L.. Book title: Proceedings of the 58th Conference of Metallurgists Hosting Copper 2019. Chapter: . Chapter title:
In the copper electrowinning process, short-circuiting between the anodes and the cathodes is a critical problem that changes the current allocation among local electrodes and reduces the current efficiency significantly. Possible reasons for the short-circuiting include the improper alignment of the electrode, bent electrode, and nodules on the cathode surface. In typical tankhouses, there is often a time between shorting and harvesting as well as between shorting and clearing. Therefore, it is inevitable to have short-circuiting affect the operation performance in practical electrowinning operations. However, one key piece of missing data is the actual measurements of the current efficiency as short-circuiting is approached and allowed to continue. Consequently, short-circuiting tests that allow tracking of electrowinning parameters before and after short-circuiting were performed in a laboratory scale Cu electrowinning cell. In the tests, the electrode spacing change, the mass of electrodeposited Cu, the deposition morphology, and the current allocation as well as the current efficiency before and after short-circuiting were studied. Results show that the short- circuiting affects the current allocation and the current efficiency significantly. Moreover, it changes the Cu deposition on the short-circuited cathode and therefore causes problems for Cu electrowinning.
Electrowinning (EW) is commonly used for copper production around the world, with a rated production from 120,000 to 200,000 tons per year per operation (Wiechmann, Aqueveque, Henríquez, Muñoz, & Morales, 2014). In Cu electrowinning, Cu ions in the electrolyte are reduced on the cathode surface as metallic copper with a DC current, while on the anode, a counter anodic reaction occurs with oxygen gas generation (Werner, Zeng, Free, Zhang, & Cho, 2018; Zhang, Werner, & Free, 2018; Zhang, Werner, & Free, 2018). In copper electrowinning, an average current density of 200 to 400 A/m2 is applied to the electrowinning cell (Wiechmann et al., 2014). As the Cu deposits on the cathode, the distance between anode and cathode reduces and most of the time, short-circuiting forms between some anodes and cathodes in a large tankhouse containing thousands of electrodes, reducing the current efficiency and increasing the energy consumption significantly. The current efficiency in well-run copper EW operations is typically above 90 %. Most of the unused current is wasted through short circuits, stray currents, and by-byproduct formation (Davenport, King, Schlesinger, & Biswas, 2002; Wiechmann, Vidal, Pagliero, & Gonzalez, 2002; Wiechmann, Morales, & Aqueveque, 2010). Usually, in the tankhouse, the short-circuiting increases the current in the involved cathode by up to 1500 A (Wiechmann et al., 2010). Multiple reasons can cause the short-circuiting in the cell, and the most common reasons include the uneven current distribution among cathodes, tilted electrodes, bent electrodes, and nodules formed due to the large deposition roughness. Recognition of this challenge in the Cu electrowinning process has led researchers to perform many investigations on approaches to avoid and reduce the short-circuiting in the cell. A series of research investigations have been conducted to develop and improve a new type of intercell bar for Cu electrowinning (Wiechmann et al., 2002; Wiechmann, Morales, Aqueveque, & Burgos, 2007; Wiechmann, Morales, & Aqueveque, 2009; Wiechmann et al., 2010; Wiechmann et al., 2014). The associated test results show that this new design limits the occurrence and magnitude of short circuits and allows operation at higher current densities. Sandoval, Clayton, Dominguez, Unger, and Robinson (2010) stated several keys to control short circuits, such as maintaining the straightness of the cathode, removing “edge hair” from the cathode starter, and maintaining electrode alignment in the cell. Prengaman and Siegmund (1999) from RSR technologies developed a new