Twenty Five Years of Sonic Injection Plant Trials and Implementation — Let’s Take Stock

Additonal authors: . 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

Kapusta, Joël P. T.

Back in 1995, Air Liquide and Union Minière presented a joint paper at the Copper 95 – Cobre 95 Conference in Santiago, Chile, describing the first full scale plant trials of shrouded sonic injection in a Hoboken converter at the Hoboken smelter in Belgium. Almost a quarter of a century later, the technology known as ALSI, or Air Liquide Shrouded Injection, has been tested or commercially implemented in several copper and nickel smelters. Despite these successes, the copper industry did not adopt it widely in the same manner the steel industry adopted the Savard-Lee tuyere in the 1970s and beyond, not even in the way the lead industry adopted it with the Queneau-Schuhmann-Lurgi, or QSL, process. The development and implementation of bottom-blowing smelting and converting technologies in China in the last ten years, however, changed the industry’s perception that high- and ultra-high oxygen injection in copper smelting and converting was indeed possible under specific process conditions. In this paper, I retrace the key learnings of my journey with sonic injection over the twenty five years from my humble beginnings in my early years with Air Liquide, through plant trials and technology implementation in the late 1990s and into the first decade of the new millennium, and ultimately, to the most conclusive proof that the sonic injection design methodology I established is valid, and the calculation tools I developed are accurate. I conclude by sharing my thoughts about whether the deployment of the Savard and Lee legacy within the nonferrous industry was just a pipe dream or whether it will become a reality. INTRODUCTION In the context of lower quality ores and changing economic markets, copper smelters need to continuously innovate and improve to remain competitive and respect their corporate social responsibility engagements. One avenue towards this business, social, and environmental goal is to increase process intensity while lowering fossil fuel consumption to lower greenhouse gas emissions and reducing process off-gas volumes to better capture As and SO2–laden emissions. I believe high oxygen sonic injection for submerged tuyere copper bath smelting and converting is one technology that can help smelters achieve that goal of higher business, social, and environmental performance. Twenty five years ago, when I discovered that the Savard-Lee tuyere had revolutionized the steel industry (Savard & Lee, 1966; Knuppel, Brotzmann, Fassbieder, Savard, & Lee, 1972), I had a dream — or was it a vision? — that within the first decade of the new millennium, modern copper smelters operating submerged tuyere bath smelting and converting vessels will have implemented high oxygen sonic injection and will be reaping the financial and environmental benefits that the steel industry enjoyed in the 1970s. As we approach the end of the second decade of the new millennium, I have to admit that my dream has been all but shattered as the majority of copper bath smelting and converting vessels today continue to operate under bubbling regime conditions. This mode of operation is archaic, still requires tuyere punching and blows at inherently low enrichment levels, particularly in converting, producing large volumes of process off-gases. Under such operating conditions, regulations and emission quotas for As, SO2, and particulate matter oblige smelters to use not just primary or secondary hoods, but sometimes even tertiary hoods. I vividly recall being told, fifteen or twenty years ago when visiting smelters to promote the application of the Savard-Lee tuyere in nonferrous processes, that implementing sonic injection was not economically viable due to the high cost of compressing air and oxygen. Some of the smelters I visited back then have since mandated their engineering partners to design and build secondary or even tertiary hoods. I cannot fathom how secondary and particularly tertiary hoods, with all of their auxiliary equipment and a
Keywords: Copper 2019, COM2019