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MEI Online: Hydrometallurgy: Latest News: March 7th 2012


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:: Kell Process for Extraction of PGMs and Base Metals from Flotation Concentrates

The Kell Process has been developed for the extraction of platinum group metals (PGMs) and base metals from sulphide flotation concentrates. The process has been successfully tested on several different sulphide flotation concentrates, including those from the UG2 chromitite horizon and the Platreef mafic/ultramafic layer. It has been shown to provide high (>95 per cent) and selective extraction efficiencies for the key valuable metals, i.e. Pt, Pd, Rh, Au, Ni, Co, and Cu.

The Kell Process consists of several commercially proven unit operations. S, Ni, Co, and Cu are first selectively removed by use of a pressure oxidation step during which the dissolution of PGMs is minimized. The residue from pressure oxidation is subjected to a thermal treatment to ensure efficient PGM recovery by subsequent chlorination. All the core steps are very similar to well-proven conventional unit operations in common use, as are the subsequent metal recovery steps to provide marketable end products.

Kell presents a potentially substantial improvement in PGM concentrate processing technology, in terms of economics via much reduced power costs, ease of processing, and various environmental benefits. It allows for the treatment of high-chromium low-grade dirty concentrates, such as secondary concentrates from the platinum industrys mill-float-mill-float (MF2) flotation circuits and concentrates from retreatment of tailings. It allows greater concentrate mass pulls, has higher tolerance to gangue intergrowths in concentrates, and its use can provide substantial increases in overall PGM recovery. Its adoption would be a step change in the platinum industry, and given the commercially proven unit operations embodied in the Kell Process, at much-reduced risk compared with other more experimental technologies. Since the initial process development work, significant improvements and refinements have been introduced as a result of further comprehensive testing and process modelling. Pilot-scale testing and engineering study work is in progress for several selected sites.

Typical metallurgical responses of flotation concentrates from UG2 and Platreef to the Kell Process are provided in a paper by Keith Liddell and Mike Adams, in the January 2012 issue of The Journal of The Southern African Institute of Mining and Metallurgy (Vol. 112, pps. 31-36), and key outcomes of an energy comparison study with smelting are summarized.




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