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MEI Online: People News: North America: February 16th 2010

 
 

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:: Felix A. Schaufelberger (1921-2009)

With great regret we announce the loss of a good friend Dr. Felix A. Schaufelberger a pioneer hydrometallurgist. Schaufelberger is well known for developing the process for the precipitation of copper, nickel, and cobalt from leach solutions by hydrogen under pressure - - a process initially studied on a laboratory scale in Saint Petersburg by Vladimir N. Ipatieff (1827-1911) at the beginning of the twentieth century. Schaufelberger studied thoroughly the chemistry of the process and demonstrated its economic viability to the point that Canadian nickel coins, in circulation from 1962 to 2002, used this process. He is best known for the paper jointly authored with his co-worker Tohin K. Roy, “Separation of Copper, Nickel, and Cobalt by Selective Reduction from Aqueous Solution”, Trans. Inst. Min. & Met. 64, 375-393 (1955).

Graduating in 1946 from the Federal Institute of Technology in Zürich, Switzerland, at the age of 25 with a doctor’s degree in chemical thermodynamics, Schaufelberger left for the United States with one goal in mind: to work in a large research organization and to participate in major chemical engineering projects. American Cyanamid Company offered him this opportunity.

When Edward S. Roberts (1904-1994), head of Cyanamid’s engineering subsidiary, Chemical Construction Corporation, Chemico, in New York City, requested an inorganic chemist for his ore extraction projects, Schaufelberger was transferred from his first assignment at Cyanamid’s Stamford Research Laboratories. In the business of building ammonia and nitric acid plants, Chemico had patents on the removal of CO impurity from synthesis gas, a mixture of hydrogen and nitrogen, using an ammoniacal copper formate solution. Occasionally, however, metallic copper precipitated in the gas absorption towers. Schaufelberger was to look into this problem.

Felix A. Schaufelberger
Felix A. Schaufelberger

Towards the end of 1948, Schaufelberger succeeded in precipitating pure copper from sulfate solution by reduction with hydrogen, in quantitative yield, liberating sulfuric acid for recycling in the leaching circuit. He had also prepared the first samples of nickel and of cobalt metal powder. The week afterwards, unaware of this work., Eldon Brown, President of Sherritt Gordon Limited, then a small Canadian nickel mining company, together with his consultant, Professor Frank Forward (1902-1972) from the University of British Columbia, came to Chemico to discuss the design and engineering of a nickel extraction process which Forward had proposed, an oxidative leach of nickel sulfide in ammonia solution. When Roberts inquired about the product end of the process, Forward suggested the recovery of nickel ammonium sulfate double salt and its subsequent calcination to nickel oxide. It was then that Roberts asked Schaufelberger to show his bottle containing nickel powder. Needless to say, that the nickel powder which was presented to the visitors convinced them immediately and led to a close cooperation between the two companies.

Through Forward, Sherritt started out with ammoniacal leaching. Chemico, on the other hand, preferred acid leaching for its wider range of applications. This meant, however, developing corrosion and erosion - resistant equipment for temperatures up to 250oC. To supply cobalt to the Korean War efforts in 1950-53, the initial two projects at Calera in Utah and at Fredericktown in Missouri were rushed unduly, without adequate piloting of process equipment. The final success, however, encouraged Maurice Dufour of Freeport Sulphur Company to contract for the development of an acid leach extraction process for laterite of Moa Bay in Cuba, with Schaufelberger’s flowsheet serving as model for other laterite operations since.

In April 1956 Chemico became part of Ebasco and the metals rights and more than fifty patents were transferred to Sherritt. Two thirds of these patents were by Schaufelberger including the basic reduction cases. Schaufelberger returned to Switzerland knowing that Sherritt would do an excellent job in developing a worldwide business. He himself was to direct a new Refractory Metals Division at Ciba, mainly in the area of tantalum, niobium, and tungsten by chlorination. He became one of the very few to master both hydrometallurgy and chloride metallurgy which took him further to coating of hard metal inserts, in close liaison with Sandvik, becoming the world’s most important hard metal enterprise.

Schaufelberger’s interests during retirement included lecturing at his Alma Mater in Zürich, also several private exploration ventures in the Swiss Alps, notably for molybdenum, tungsten, and platinum. Schaufelberger was born on February 1, 1921 and died April 28, 2009 at his home in Arlesheim, a suburb of Basel in Switzerland. He is survived by his wife Margret, son Christoph, daughters Dominique and Violette, and four grand children.

Fathi Habashi Laval University, Québec City, Canada Fathi.Habashi@arul.ulaval.ca

 

 

   

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