Options and Challenges in Processing Cobalt from Copper-Cobalt Ores

Additonal authors: Knights, B.D.H.. 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

Crundwell, F.K.

The recovery of the economy of the Democratic Republic of Congo has allowed for the rapid increase in production of copper from this region, while the increased price of cobalt continues to support the recovery of that country’s economy. This has enabled the modernization of the process technology used, particularly the change from direct electrowinning of copper to solvent extraction-electrowinning. With this change has come a variety of technical challenges in optimizing the recovery of cobalt from these sources. In this paper, we discuss aspects of the flowsheets for the production of cobalt from the ores of the DRC and Zambia, highlighting the technological improvements that have been made. Following this description of the practice, we assess the challenges of further improving the recovery and purity of cobalt from these sources. INTRODUCTION The African Copperbelt (Figure 1) is by far the biggest producer and holds the greatest reserves of cobalt (Sheed, 2015). However, the ores of this great mining region are extracted primarily for their copper content, and cobalt is a by-product. The ratio of copper-to-cobalt is between 6 and 20 to 1, with the ores from the DRC richer in cobalt than those from Zambia. The overall supply of cobalt, shown in Figure 2, is increasing due to an increase in demand for its use as a battery material. Cobalt is used in superalloys, hard metals, pigments, catalysts magnets, tyre adhesives, lithium-ion rechargeable batteries, and wear-resistant coatings, amongst others. Although these generic categories persist, Figure 3 shows how the relative usage of cobalt is changing due to the uptake of electric vehicles in China and Europe. Cobalt is a key element in lithium-ion batteries, and because it is widely anticipated that electric vehicles will be legislatively encouraged, it is anticipated that the demand for cobalt will rise. This anticipated increase in demand resulted in an increase in the price for cobalt, to which suppliers responded over-eagerly, and the price has dropped dramatically in the first few months of 2019, as shown in Figure 4. However, there is a clear cycle of price peaks in cobalt’s history.
Keywords: Copper 2019, COM2019