none

ALL-NATURAL COPPER EXTRACTION

18-04-2017
by 
in 

A natural extraction technique for low-grade copper is being tested for its potential to maximise recovery rates and extend mine life.

The research project from Flinders University in South Australia is focused on exploiting a normal ore body procedure known as supergene enrichment.

Supergene enrichment is a natural process that occurs at copper deposits close to the surface where the circulation of groundwater takes the primary sulphide minerals and redistributes it into copper metal.

Lead researcher and Flinders University Professor of Chemical Mineralogy Allan Pring said low-grade ore was often ignored because it was not seen as economically viable.

He said his research aimed to optimise the amount of minerals recovered at a mine site and reduce waste.

“What tends to happen is a small amount of ore, about 10 to 15 per cent, ends up in the tailings and waste piles and you don’t get all the metal out of the copper ore,” he said.

“If you could get that material out in a cost effective way then you would not only maximise the amount of copper but the extra copper could be worth millions and millions.”

This process has been seen at the historically important copper deposits in South Australia, including Burra, Kapunda and Moonta, which helped to establish the state’s economy in the 19th century.

The research project will test the effectiveness of supergene enrichment at Flinders’ laboratories using special flow-through equipment developed at the university.

Professor Pring said he hoped to scale up to real-world tests within three years.

“We have been doing these experiments on other systems, making primary sulphide for the last decade and my research group is the world leader in this area. This seemed like a good way forward to see if we could apply it to ore deposits as well,” he said.

The Flinders researchers, including Associate Professor Sarah Harmer, Dr Christopher Gibson and postdoctoral researchers, will collaborate with leading mineralogy researchers Professor Joel Brugger (Monash University) and Dr Benjamin Grguric (South Australian Museum), along with BHP Billiton principal geometallurgist Dr Kathy Ehrig.

“We are not setting out to improve the recovery of copper by a few percentage points. We are aiming to provide a new and innovative approach to the problem,” said ARC Future Fellow Associate Professor Harmer, who is studying the interaction between bacteria and mineral surfaces using advanced synchrotron spectromicroscopy techniques.   

“Mild oxidizing reactions take place causing the primary ore minerals, such as chalcopyrite, to be replaced by more copper-rich, less refractory minerals,” she said.

“These processes are driven by coupled dissolution-reprecipitation (CDR) reactions and in many CDR reactions, the reaction mechanism, rather than intensive properties such as pressure and temperature, control the nature of the products and the overall reaction process.

The success of this project would not only extend the life of jobs and infrastructure at remote mine sites but reduce spending on the development of new mine sites.

The Australian Government has provided $485,000 in funding for the project through the Australian Research Council’s Linkage Projects scheme with an additional $300,000 being provided by BHP Billiton.

Flinders University researchers are also involved in the 2016-2020 ARC Research Hub for Australian Copper-Uranium project.

Related news & editorials

  1. 24.09.2018
    24.09.2018
    by      In
    CSIRO is shooting for the Moon this week at 18th Australian Space Research Conference on the Gold Coast with the launch of an industry roadmap designed to encourage the development of the technological expertise to help to establish a human base on the Moon.
    The report, “Space: A roadmap for... Read More
  2. 20.09.2018
    20.09.2018
    by      In
    Control Logic has set its sights on expansion, with a new leadership team incorporating key roles in products and marketing, sales and development, and operations and services. The move aims to increase the company’s skill set and focus to drive innovation and expand the company’s expertise and... Read More
  3. 19.09.2018
    19.09.2018
    by      In
    The Australian Made Campaign is providing some valuable support for the nation’s furniture manufacturers with its latest initiative, which urges local buyers to ‘take comfort in their purchase’ and choose genuine Aussie furniture, bedding and furnishings this spring.
    According to Australian Made... Read More
  4. 12.09.2018
    12.09.2018
    by      In
    Siemens has unveiled its new manufacturing facility in Yatala (Queensland), which has been set up to support the growing global demand for the locally developed Fusesaver medium-voltage circuit breaker.
    The new factory is part of an ongoing $25 million investment in manufacturing and research of... Read More