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The Intec copper process: A detailed environmental analysis

Sammut, D. and Welham, N.J. (2002) The Intec copper process: A detailed environmental analysis. In: Green Processing 2002, 29 - 31 May 2002, Cairns, QLD

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The Intec Copper Process is an environmentally advantageous hydrometallurgical process for the production of high purity copper and associated precious metals from copper sulphide concentrates.

The process uses a mixed chloride-bromide lixiviant in an elegant cyclic circuit to leach the copper into solution, rejecting the iron as stable hematite rather than as unstable jarosite. After purification of the pregnant liquor, copper is electrowon at London Metal Exchange Grade A purity, while the anodic energy of the cell is stored as the soluble species, Halex TM , for recycle as the regenerated lixiviant to the leach circuit. Both gold and silver are leached and recovered directly from this cyclic process without resorting to cyanide leaching of the residue.

No liquid emissions result from the Intec Copper Process, whilst spent air and water vapour from the leach are released to the atmosphere. The sulphur in the minerals reports to the solids residue in elemental form, without the need for expensive handling of voluminous gaseous sulphur dioxide streams found in smelters. A significant difference to competing smelting and hydrometallurgical processes is that any mercury entering the process from the sulphide concentrate feed is recovered rather than reporting directly to waste or polluting the environment.

Outside the process circuit itself, the Intec Copper Process has several notable environmental advantages over competing technologies:

1. Flexibility of scale with low capital and operating costs allow operation directly at the mill head at production rates as low as 15 000 tpa, significantly reducing environmental impacts from concentrates transport.

2. The ability to handle low-grade and dirty concentrates often allows greater recoveries in the mill, improving both the economics and environmental acceptability of a mine by reducing metal losses to tailings.

3. A comparison of the total energy requirements of the Intec Copper Process with those of competing technologies shows that the Intec Copper Process has the lowest energy consumption of any of the known hydrometallurgical processes, as well as improving upon pyrometallurgy under appropriate conditions.

Item Type: Conference Paper
Murdoch Affiliation(s): School of Engineering
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