The Effect of Impurities on a Copper Starter Sheet Electrowinning Operation

Additonal authors: Brits, J.H.W.M.. 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

Voogt, K.

The effect of impurities; iron and selenium, on current efficiency and deposit quality in copper electrowinning was investigated using an at-line cell at the Rustenburg Base Metals Refiners’ Copper Tankhouse. The tankhouse is a direct leach, starter sheet electrowinning operation with a unique electrolyte composition. The effect of iron on the current efficiency in the at-line cell was found to be less severe than reported in literature. However, the distinction between the chemical impact of iron on current efficiency and the physical impact of iron on a starter sheet operation needs to be realised. The effect of selenium on current efficiency and deposit quality is also reported. INTRODUCTION Anglo American Platinum’s Rustenburg Base Metals Refiners’ (RBMR) Copper Tankhouse serves a unique function in the refinery flowsheet in that its primary functions are the removal of copper and production of acid for the leach circuit. This function needs to be performed to specification in order to keep the leach circuit operating optimally. Current efficiency is seen as an indicator of tankhouse performance and efficient energy use. The tankhouse plates starter sheets onto titanium blanks which, after stripping and preparation, return into the production cells for further plating. Approximately 78% of tankhouses surveyed (Robinson et al., 2013) use permanent cathode technology whereas older, smaller operations still use starter sheet technology. Drawbacks of the starter sheet technology are that the starters are thin and bend easily leading to increased shorts, they need to be removed after two days of plating to be manually straightened and are then returned to the cells. In addition, the electrolyte levels in the cells need to be adjusted during the plating cycle to improve loop adhesion to the cathode and reduce loop corrosion. The starter sheet technology is therefore very labour intensive and the final quality of the product is dependent on the quality of the starter sheets produced. In comparison, permanent cathode or direct plating technology lends itself to automation, allows for higher current densities and better cathode quality due to more robust geometric stability in the cell. The present barrier to implementation of permanent cathode plating at the RBMR Copper Tankhouse is the capital cost required to convert the tankhouse, i.e. blanks and stripping machine. At present, alternatives to titanium blanks, such as LDX 2101, are being investigated for the unique electrolyte composition of this tankhouse.
Keywords: Copper 2019, COM2019