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Copper Mining

Copper Mining

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Published by Feni Alvionita

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Published by: Feni Alvionita on May 15, 2014
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The above flowsheet shows a basic copper mine process, from mine to

metal. There are two distinct types of copper ore, the sulfide ore and the
oxide ore. The sulfide ores are beneficiated in flotation cells, while the
oxide ores are generally leached. First the copper ore from a open pit mine
is blasted, loaded and transported to the primary crushers. Then the ore is
crushed and screened, with the fine sulfide ore (~-0.5 mm) going to froth
flotation cells for recovery of copper. The coarser ore goes to the heap
leach, where the copper is subjected to a dilute sulfuric acid solution to
dissolve the copper. Then the leach solution containing the dissolved
copper is subjected to a process called solvent extraction (SX). The SX
process concentrates and purifies the copper leach solution so the copper
can be recovered at a high electrical current efficiency by the
electrowinning cells. It does this by adding a chemical reagent to the SX
tanks which selectively binds with and extracts the copper, is easily
separated from the copper (stripped), recovering as much of the reagent as
possible for re-use. The concentrated copper solution is dissolved in
sulfuric acid and sent to the electrolytic cells for recovery as copper plates
(cathodes). From the copper cathodes, it is manufactured into wire,
appliances, etc. that are used in every day life. Below are some photos of
the process equipment at an Arizona Copper Mine.

Copper Ore being loaded into a 300 ton truck for transport to the crusher.

The primary crusher at a copper mine. The truck dumps ore into the
crusher which crushes the ore. Screens size and distribute the classified
ore to a series of conveyors, like those above, for transportation to the mill
for further processing.

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Conveyors and trucks deposit coarse ore on a heap leach pad, which has a
series of pipes and hoses dispensing a diluted sulfuric acid solution to the
ore. Copper is dissolved and flows to a pond at the bottom of the pad. This
process can take several months. The leached solution is pumped to the
SX (Solvent Extraction) circuit, which looks like a series of agitation tanks
or cells. The fine sulfide ore is sent to froth flotation cells like those below
for recovery.

The froth flotation cells recover the copper from sulfide ores by chemically
attaching the copper to a chemical bubble and overflowing the froth
(bubbles with copper).
The concentrates from the flotation cells are sent to the smelter for
processing to a copper plate. The copper plate is then dissolved in sulfuric
acid and sent to the electrowinning cells for plating onto cathodes, along
with the concentrated copper from the SX circuits. The copper leach
solution typically consists of 40 gm of copper and 200 gm sulfuric acid per
liter. Current densities on the electrowinning cells can be 300 amperes per
square foot, or more.

Banks of electrowinning cells with cathodes. Copper on the annodes
ranges from 99.0 to 99.5 percent pure. Power consumed in electroplating
copper ranges from 0.08 to 0.20 KWH per pound of copper. Any gold or
silver in the copper does not plate out and drops to the bottom of the cell
with the sludge to be recovered later.

Machine transporting and handling the copper cathodes that were removed
from the electrowinning cells. That's it, the rest is manufacturing products
from the pure copper!

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