Chuquicamata: Quality Challenges throughout 100 Years of Copper Electrorefining and Electrowinning

Additonal authors: Weishaupt, A.. 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

Salas, J. C.

The origins of the electrorefining process date back to 1869, when the first ER cathodes were produced at Pembrey, South Wales. By the time that Pembrey was closing, Chuquicamata tank house was under construction, initiating in 1915 a long history of electrolytic cathodes production. Initially electrowon cathodes and later electrorefined cathodes were produced. During the history of Chuquicamata tank house, there have been several challenges associated with the quality demanded for electrolytic copper. Among them, the transformation from electrowinning to electrorefining in 1952, the onset of the direct commercialization of ER cathodes and the phase out of wire bars in the 80s, several technological changes including the implementation of permanent cathodes, and certainly the constant increase in complexity of the anodes refined. This paper explores the manner in which Chuquicamata has addressed these challenges and examines its links to process characteristics, which have been necessary to maintain a product quality according to market requirements and a brand, “CCC”, that is widely recognized worldwide. INTRODUCTION Located in the north of Chile, in the Atacama Desert, Chuquicamata is an open pit copper mine that for many years has played a relevant role in the global and local mining industry. Known from prehispanic times, the Chuquicamata deposit was initially developed between 1912 and 1915 by the Chile Exploration Company, the operating company of the Chile Copper Company controlled by the Guggenheim Brothers in the USA (Yeatman, 1916). Officially inaugurated on May 18th, 1915, by the President of Chile who pressed a button in Santiago sending a telegraph signal to the power generation plant specially built in Tocopilla, 1500 km north. It signaled the beginning of generating energy, sending it to Chuquicamata, another 140 km east (“El mineral de Chuquicamata”, 1915), marking the beginning of its industrial operation.
Mots Clés: Copper 2019, COM2019