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:: New Process Provides Potential for Untapped Copper Ore Deposits
A new process to extract value from Australia’s undeveloped copper ore deposits may be the most conomically and environmentally feasible option for using this untapped resource, a Minerals Down Under Flagship evaluation has found.
Although significant amounts of undeveloped copper ore deposits exist in Australia and overseas, many of these contain arsenic at levels smelters consider too high to use. However, a CSIRO developed process could change this, adding value to this resource and bringing environmental benefits.
The proposed flowsheet separates copper minerals that are high in arsenic from other copper minerals via a two-stage flotation process and an extra roasting stage. It has fewer environmental impacts - because of reduced arsenic emissions and dispersion to the biosphere - than existing processes, but requires new capital (a roaster and extra flotation units) and additional operating costs. However, these costs are offset by eliminating the arsenic penalty that would otherwise be imposed on the concentrate.
To gauge the economic viability of this new process, CSIRO research scientists Dr Nawshad Haque and Terry Norgate, working through the Cooperative Research Centre for Sustainable Resource Processing, undertook a techno-economic evaluation.
Techno-economic evaluation combines estimates for materials, energy inputs and outputs and capital, with variables - including labour - to determine the total cost of a production process.
Dr Haque says that it is important to undertake techno-economic evaluation at all stages of process development, that is, after initial laboratory test-work, then larger-scale tests and finally for commercial viability of the process.
By identifying where in a production chain technical innovation could bring a significant saving or return on investment, “techno-economic evaluation calculates the true cost of production processes," Dr Haque says.
Using information from CSIRO’s constantly updated database, he found that the new process was economically feasible with the potential to use underdeveloped copper deposits and significantly reduce the penalty for arsenic content in copper concentrates.
“Also, if a smelter cannot accept concentrates with arsenic levels above 5000 parts per million, the economics of the new process means it could be the only option for using this ore."
Being able to remove arsenic from the flotation circuit during processing, stabilising it and safely storing it, also brings additional environmental and operational benefits.
Dr Haque says it is important to consider new processing ideas using techno-economic evaluation and life cycle assessment tools. “It helps to compare new processes with existing ones to find out what the actual improvement is, in terms of technical, economic and environmental impacts and performance."
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