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USE OF HYDROMETALLURGY IN DIRECT PROCESSING OF BASE METAL PGM CONCENTRATS

USE OF HYDROMETALLURGY IN DIRECT PROCESSING OF BASE METAL PGM CONCENTRATS

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USE OF HYDROMETALLURGY IN DIRECT PROCESSING OF BASE METALPGM CONCENTRATES
USE OF HYDROMETALLURGY IN DIRECT PROCESSING OF BASE METALPGM CONCENTRATES

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07/18/2013

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USE OF HYDROMETALLURGY IN DIRECT PROCESSING OF BASEMETAL/PGM CONCENTRATES
Joe Milbourne, Marcus Tomlinson and Lynton Gormely
11
AMEC Mining and Metals Consulting111 Dunsmuir Street, Suite 400Vancouver, B.C. V6B 5W3
Abstract
The potential for treating copper-nickel-cobalt-platinum group metal concentrates by a fullyhydrometallurgical route is discussed. Processes specifically developed for treating these feedsand the potential application of the processes developed for the treatment of chalcopyrite copper concentrates are included in the evaluation. Block flowsheets are provided and the technicalcharacteristics of various processes are compared. The current state of development for each process is summarized and probable economic impacts of the technical features arequalitatively assessed. Perceived risks and rewards associated with each technical concept are provided in the conclusions.
Introduction
The AMEC Mining and Metals consulting group offers considerable expertise in pressurehydrometallurgy, and as such, is interested in finding new applications for the technology.Recently, AMEC has investigated the applicability of a direct hydrometallurgical approach torecovery of platinum, palladium and gold from base metal concentrates. Motivations for thisinvestigation include the cost of treatment for flotation concentrates at existing smelters andrefineries, and the length of time required to achieve payment in full. In this paper, we presentsome of the general conclusions of our work.Our investigations have focused on PGM occurrences with base metal sulfides, which can beconcentrated initially by flotation. By PGMs we mean platinum, palladium, and gold (notclassed as a platinum group metal) – which are most often sought in these concentrates, andmost susceptible to recovery by aqueous leaching. There are significant values in the basemetals that can be produced from the same concentrates, and the choice of process route mustaddress their recovery.Historically, primary separation and rejection of iron from these concentrates has taken place ina smelter. Iron is oxidized, combined with silica and lime, and separated as a slag, leaving the base and platinum group metals in a separate matte phase. These operations may have differentfocuses. They may be:
 
either a base metal smelter, where PGMs are produced as a by-product, for example, inanode slimes from a nickel refining process, or 
 
a PGM smelter, where the focus is on PGMs which are first concentrated in a base metalsulfide matte for subsequent additional concentration by aqueous oxidation.After the smelting step, hydrometallurgy often comes into play to separate and recover the basemetals (primarily copper, nickel, cobalt and any residual iron) associated with the PGMs.Further processing of the leach solutions to recover the base metals represents a significantconsideration by itself, but it is not the primary focus of this paper. Typically the base metals
617
 Edited by C.A. Young, A.M. Alfantazi, C.G. Anderson, D.B. Dreisinger, B. Harris and A. James
TMS (The Minerals, Metals & Materials Society), 2003
Hydrometallurgy 2003 – Fifth International Conference in Honor of Professor Ian Ritchie – 
Volume 1: Leaching and Solution Purification
 
are dissolved in a simple sulfate system, in which the PGMs have a very low solubility. Thisfactor is used advantageously in a number of plants processing smelter matte where PGMs arequantitatively concentrated into an insoluble leach residue by selective oxidation of the basemetals. This is somewhat analogous to the oxidation stage in refractory gold ore processing,where it is also intended to leave gold quantitatively in the residue.Although hydrometallurgy is already used extensively in PGM processing plants, the objectiveof this paper is to discuss the possibility of providing a purely hydrometallurgical alternative tothe smelt/matte leach process that is less expensive, less complex (fewer and less capitalintensive operations), and less subject to losses. As well, by adopting an entirelyhydrometallurgical route, environmental/workplace benefits are possible, and smaller mine site plants may be economic.
Hydrometallurgy for PGMS
In PGM processes, hydrometallurgy is not viewed as effective for PGM/iron separation becauseof the large volume and high surface area of iron precipitates relative to quantities of PGMstypically involved. As well, complete dissolution of PGMs is not attainable in a simple sulfatesystem (for example, refractory gold processes are intended to leave gold quantitatively in theresidue). The same concept is used to recover base metals from smelter matte. Careful controlof matte leaching conditions quantitatively concentrates PGMs in an insoluble residue.On the other hand, hydrometallurgy is used in refineries to dissolve the PGMs for final purification. Refinery feeds may come from a variety of sources, e.g.:
 
anode slimes
 
matte leach residue
 
secondary scrap
 
recycled catalyst but sulfide concentrates are not usually processed directly.Pressure Leach/Oxidation for Sulfide DestructionGiven that autoclave technology is now a proven, low risk processing tool, we want to examinehow it might be applied to direct treatment of sulfide flotation concentrates for PGM recovery.Its role would be the destruction of the sulfide matrix that holds the base and PG metals.Strategies that could be adopted include using pressure oxidation to:
 
Dissolve the base metals and PGMs together, with subsequent separation of each metalin a sequence of hydrometallurgical operations.
 
Dissolve the base metals and leave the PGMs in a highly concentrated residue suitablefor refining.
 
Dissolve the base metals and leave the PGMs in an intermediate residue for further concentration and then refining.The conditions commonly employed for sulfide oxidation are:
 
High temperature (above 200
o
C)to give complete sulfur oxidation to sulfate.
 
Intermediate temperatures (150-160
o
C) to give oxidation primarily to elemental sulfur,require finer feed.
618
 
 
Low temperatures (below 120
o
C) to give oxidation primarily to solid elemental sulfur,require fine grinding and/or alternate chemistry. Atmospheric leaching processes fallinto this category.Other than sulfate systems, nitrate with oxygen, chloride/bromide with chlorine/bromine asoxidant, and iodide with iodate as an oxidant have been developed for sulfide oxidation, either at ambient conditions or under pressure.Chemistry for PGM DissolutionWhile oxidation in the sulfate system works for gold (the values largely report to the oxidationresidue), matte leaching experience suggests that PGMs may partially leach, increasing themetal recovery effort required, and also the potential for losses. Obviously it is desirable tohave the PGMs either fully leach or remain fully inert. The most desirable process for PGMconcentrate processing would dissolve all the values sought (both base metals and PGMs),eliminate the residue, and then separate each with high efficiency and low losses (the firststrategy outlined above). To achieve this, we first need to look for a suitable chelating agent tohold the metals in solution, which might include, for example:
 
chloride
 
other halides
 
cyanide
 
thiocyanate
 
thiosulfate
 
thiourea
 
ammoniaOf these, cyanide, thiocyanate, thiosulfate, and thiourea would not likely survive the pressureoxidation conditions. Undesirably, they might survive long enough to provide some initialmobility to the PGMs, with possible redeposition in a more refractory form.At the same time, the selected chemistry and conditions should produce a residue that does notcontain substances reactive towards dissolved PGMs. Key products to avoid would becarbonaceous materials, elemental sulfur, or hydrated ferric iron precipitates.PGMs in Leach ResiduesIf the second or third strategies are pursued, then chelating ions should be avoided, and theconstraints on the chemical nature of the residue are set mostly by the nature of further  processing for PGM recovery. It will be desirable to produce a low mass, highly concentratedPGM residue as a product.
Developed Process Technology
Over the last 20 years or so a number of processes have been developed for dissolving basemetal concentrates and these provide a number of potentially applicable hydrometallurgical processes for processing PGM concentrates. In order to avoid undertaking a major research anddevelopment program, before pursuing this list of chemical environments, we should survey thetechnology already available.
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