Hydrometallurgical Strategies for Higher Impurities in Copper Refining

Additonal authors: Fossenier, J.. 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

Adams, J. F.

With the cleanest and easiest to treat copper concentrates dwindling and becoming harder to find, electrorefineries must deal with the reality of higher impurity anodes. There are well-known strategies for managing nickel, bismuth, antimony, etc. using bleeds (Ni, Bi, Sb, As) or arsenic control (Bi, Sb) or hydrometallurgical add-on circuits (IX, MRT, SX for As, Bi, Sb). However, for integrated copper producers and those producing other base metals it is often worth considering a more holistic, global approach. This paper will discuss both the well-known strategies as well as some global strategies and the role that hydrometallurgy can play in them. Examples will include atmospheric and pressure leaching, selective precipitation and impurity recycling or fixation. INTRODUCTION In the electrorefining of copper, impure copper anodes are electrically corroded, and pure copper is deposited on cathodes by passing DC current through an acidic copper sulphate solution. The anode copper impurities either settle to the cell bottom as insoluble components (anode slimes) or remain in solution with minimal deposition at the cathodes when correct operating parameters are maintained. Consideration of impurities is important in all copper electrorefineries. A typical impure anode contains 98.5–99.5% copper (Schlesinger et al., 2011). Table 1 shows the range of impurities reported for all copper anodes in the 2007 survey of operating refineries (Moats et al., 2007). Also shown is an approximate “limit” of anode compositions within which the majority of refineries operate without additional impurity removal capacity (beyond conventional liberator/bleed circuits). The column is somewhat subjective and meant to be an approximation only since there are many factors that influence impurity deportments and refinery impurity tolerances. More recent world survey data from 2013 show the averages for all impurities trending upward from 2003 to 2013 (Moats et al., 2013). With a competitive market for good concentrate and more copper recycling from electronics (which contain high levels of impurities such as nickel, lead and antimony), this trend is expected to continue through the coming years. The traditional primary method of impurity control is refinery bleed through liberator cells which are employed in the vast majority of refineries (Moats et al., 2013). These are used to control copper (primary liberators), nickel, arsenic, antimony and bismuth (secondary and tertiary liberators). Other methods of impurity control include arsenic addition (upstream in the smelter deporting to anode or directly to electrolyte) to control antimony and bismuth (Kamath et al., 2003), ion exchange or molecular recognition technology (Hur et al., 2005; Navarro et al., 2012) for antimony and bismuth. Many refineries also operate nickel evaporators to remove nickel sulphate before recycling back acid. Some use, or are contemplating using, acid purification units to recycle acid and arsenic without nickel and making nickel carbonate (Kamath et al., 2003; Sheedy et al., 2006).
Keywords: Copper 2019, COM2019