You are on page 1of 13


Michael Sheedy
Prosep Technologies Inc. a subsidiary of Eco-Tec Ltd,
1145 Squires Beach Road, Pickering,
Ontario, Canada, L1W 3T9.


Recoflo® ion exchange technology utilizes fine mesh resin beads, a fully packed resin bed, and
counter-current regeneration. These unique features help to improve exchange kinetics, reduce
regenerant consumption, and increase the concentration of strip solutions. Commercially, Recoflo
technology has been extensively used in the following areas: the separation of strong mineral acids
from dissolved metal salts, the purification, removal and recycle of dissolved metals in the surface
finishing industries, and the production of high purity water.

In the mining and metallurgical industries Recoflo ion exchange systems have been installed to treat
a copper refinery bleed stream at Falconbridge’s Kidd Creek plant and to treat a nickel and cobalt
bearing ammonium sulfate effluent stream at another primary metal producer’s facility. In the first
application an APU® Recoflo system is used to separate the sulfuric acid at 200g/L from the
dissolved copper and nickel sulfate salts at 80 g/L. The absorbed sulfuric acid is recovered from
the resin by elution with water and is then returned to the refinery electrolyte circuit. In the second
application a chelating ion exchange resin is used to remove nickel and cobalt at 0.01 - 3.0 g/L from
process streams containing 120 - 240 g/L ammonium sulfate. This Recoflo system has been
designed to reduce the nickel and cobalt levels to 0.001 - 0.002 g/L while recovering cobalt and
nickel at concentrations up to 30 g/L and 15 g/L respectively. Case studies for both these
metallurgical applications and other Recoflo processes are presented in this paper.

Published in the Proceedings of the TMS Annual Meeting 1998 held in San Antonio, Texas

Synthetic ion exchange, IX resins are well suited to process applications where a high degree of
purity is required. Compared to precipitation or cementation processes IX does not involve difficult
and messy solids handling. Unlike solvent extraction most IX resins have no problems with solvent
loss, entrainment, emulsion formation, or fire hazard. The energy consumption of an IX process is
low when compared to electrowinning, electrodialysis, evaporation, or pressure driven membrane.
The use of IX resins for demineralizing and softening water is well established technology.
However, their use in hydrometallurgical applications is much less common.

Unfortunately, the nature of many hydrometallurgical applications makes separation by IX resins

difficult. Such streams typically require selective removal of a given element, they often contain
high concentrations of strong mineral acids, and frequently the element to be removed is present at
concentrations greater than a few grams per litre. Many specialty chelating resins have been
investigated for the selective removal of various metals. The unique chemistry of these resins and
the small production volumes relative to conventional water treatment resins increases their price
accordingly or in some cases prevents their commercial availability. In streams with high acid
concentration the competition from the hydrogen ion often prevents the uptake of the desired metal
or requires that such strong chelating chemistry be used on the resin that regeneration becomes
quite complex and costly. Finally, high concentrations of the ion being exchanged limit the volume
of solution that can be processed per operating cycle and tend to increase leakage into the barren

This paper discusses the novel Reciprocating Flow, Recoflo, ion exchange process and its
application to hyrometallurgical separations. Recoflo addresses some of the limitations of
conventional ion exchange technology and is particularly well suited to hydrometallurigical

RecofloTM Ion Exchange

The Recoflo short bed ion exchange process has been extensively used in the metal finishing
industries since the early 1970’s (1,2). This unique technology optimizes the ion exchange process
and offers a number of significant advantages over conventional ion exchange. The principal
features of this technology are presented below.


Fine Mesh Resins. Recoflo uses resin beads with much smaller diameters than conventional ion
exchangers. Reducing the bead size greatly improves the kinetics of the ion exchange process.
This allows the use of higher flowrates and reduces the length of the mass transfer zone. This is
particularly important for chelating resins, which have very slow exchange kinetics. In fact, the
model proposed by Price(3) indicates that the rate of ion exchange, above very low flowrates, is
inversely proportional to the square of the particle diameter. Thus, halving the particle size
increases the exchange rate by 400%. The higher flowrates such an increase permits significantly
reduces the volume of resin required. This is particularly important when using expensive chelating

Finer particles also aid in fluid displacement, for example rinsing after regeneration. The rinsing
process is improved by the higher diffusion rates associated with finer beads. This helps to
sharpen the rinse profile, which more closely approximates a plug flow pattern. Ultimately this
results in a reduction in rinse volume requirements.

Short Depth Resin Beds. During the operation of a fixed bed process, ion exchange takes place
only in the fraction of the bed occupied by the mass transfer zone. Upstream of this zone the resin
has been exhausted and is saturated with the exchanged counter ion. Downstream, the resin has not
yet been exposed to the ion being removed from solution. Thus, in a conventional ion exchange
column, the majority of the resin is effectively inactive. The Recoflo process reduces the depths of
these inactive regions and makes more effective use of the remaining resin. It should also be noted
Published in the Proceedings of the TMS Annual Meeting 1998 held in San Antonio, Texas
that the increased kinetics associated with the smaller bead size reduces the depth of the mass
transfer zone. These two changes result in a typical Recoflo column that is only 0.15 m - 0.61 m
in depth.

Counter-Current Regeneration. Counter-current regeneration introduces the regenerant chemical

into the resin bed in the direction opposite to the feed solution. Counter-current operation is a well
known chemical engineering principle which in this case, helps to reduce the amount of regenerant
required, maximizes the concentration of the recovered element, and helps to ensure low barren

Fully Packed Bed. In a Recoflo column there is no freeboard or void space above the bed, since the
vessel is completely packed with resin. In a conventional column, mixing of the various solutions
being processed occurs in the freeboard space. The resulting dilution is very undesirable when
processing concentrated solutions. A fully packed bed eliminates this dilution and also helps to
maintain the concentration profiles developed within the resin bed. This ensures that the benefits of
counter-current regeneration are fully realized.


Smaller Equipment. Recoflo resin columns are shorter and the improved kinetics associated with
fine mesh resins allow operation at higher hydraulic flowrates which reduces column diameter.
The smaller size not only reduces the floor and head space requirements it also allows the units to
be skid mounted, pre-assembled, and wet tested before shipment to the plant site. This helps to
greatly reduce the installation cost and time.

Continuous Operation. The rapid exchange kinetics and short columns used with this technology
greatly reduces the regeneration time. Therefore it is not necessary to provide a back-up column
since only a small flow equalization tank is required to process a continuous feed supply.

Ability to Process Concentrated Solutions. Since Recoflo can process liquids with minimal dilution
and achieve high regeneration efficiency, it is ideally suited to many hydrometallurgical applications
where small volumes of concentrated solutions must be treated or produced.

Reduced Operating Cost. The use of counter-current regeneration reduces the cost of regenerant
chemicals. The smaller exchange column also reduces the cost of resin replacement.

Increased Resin Life. Resin life is affected by physical attrition, chemical attack, and fouling. In a
Recoflo system physical attrition is minimized since the resin is packed into the bed and is not free
to move. Chemical attack and fouling increase with exposure time. The short cycle time of a
Recoflo system minimizes the continuous contact time which helps to prolong resin life. Resin
shock tests have also confirmed that smaller beads are more mechanically stable.

While these features offer many benefits the following disadvantages should be noted. Unfiltered
feed solutions will quickly foul fine mesh resin and a packed bed does not allow fluidized
backwashing of the resin to remove any entrained solids. Thus it is necessary to properly prefilter
all solutions fed to a Recoflo bed. Also, fine mesh resins are not standard materials and as a result
are more expensive on a per unit basis and can be more difficult to obtain.

Published in the Proceedings of the TMS Annual Meeting 1998 held in San Antonio, Texas
Metal Exchange

Nickel and Cobalt Recovery from Ammonium Sulfate and Sodium Sulfate

Recently, two Recoflo systems have been delivered to a metals producer for the recovery of nickel
and cobalt from two ammonium sulfate byproduct streams. In order to utilize this ammonium
sulfate as feedstock for a fertilizer plant, it is necessary to remove these metals from solution.

The streams being treated were expected to have the compositions given in Table I.

Table I - Feed Stream Compositions

Stream 1 Stream 2

(NH 4)2SO 4 (g/L) 120 - 240 160 - 200

Ni (g/L) 0.2 - 0.6 0.01 - 0.02

Co (g/L) 0.1 - 0.2 1.5 - 3.0
Flowrate (L/h) 2,180 - 2,725 2,180 - 3,270
Temperature (C°) 60 60

The process objectives were to reduce the cobalt and nickel to ammonium sulfate ratio in the barren
streams to less than 0.011 mg-Co/g-(NH4)2SO 4 and 0.044 mg-Ni/g-(NH4)2SO 4. Additionally, the
cobalt from Stream 2 was to be recovered at a concentration of greater than 25 g/L, to facilitate its
recycle to the production process.

In this case, a chelating resin must be used because of the high ammonium salt background and the
low levels to which the nickel and cobalt must be reduced. A resin with an iminodiacetate
functional group was selected and tests with a Recoflo pilot plant were conducted to develop the
operating conditions for each of the feed streams.

Stream 1. For the first stream, a single bed system was designed. To optimize metal uptake, the
feed pH was adjusted to 7 and the feed temperature was maintained at 60°C. Pilot plant results are
shown in Table II.

Table II - Recoflo Pilot Plant Results for Stream 1

Relative Co Ni (NH 4 )2 SO 4 H2 SO 4
Stream Volume (g/L) (g/L) (g/L) (g/L)

Feed 22.7 0.21 0.60 269.9 pH 7

Recycle 2.3 0.012 0.05 159.1 pH 2.1
Barren 20.4 0.0008 0.0010 272.0 pH 2 - 3
Regenerant Void 1.2 0.35 1.17 179.7 pH 2.9
Product 1.0 4.50 12.00 49.1 8.80

During operation, feed was pumped through the column and the first portion of barren solution
was collected as a recycle stream. As the data show, the cobalt and nickel levels were quite high in
this stream. This may have been due to residual acid remaining in the resin after regeneration. In
the full scale system this stream is recycled back to the feed tank. The remaining solution is
collected as the purified barren stream. The barren Ni and Co target concentrations for this feed are
0.012 g/L and 0.003 g/L respectively. As the analysis shows both metal concentrations were well
below these levels.

Published in the Proceedings of the TMS Annual Meeting 1998 held in San Antonio, Texas
After loading, the resin is counter-currently regenerated with 100 g/L sulfuric acid. The initial strip
solution, or regenerant void, leaving the bed has very little recovered metal or acid. In order to
maximize the concentration of the recovered metals, this stream is separated from the product and
recycled back to the feed tank. As the regenerant continues to be pumped through the bed, the
concentrations of the recovered nickel and cobalt increase significantly, to average values of 12 and
4.5 g/L. This solution is recovered as the product. Upon completion of the regeneration, the
metals and the acid remaining in the resin bed void solution are washed with warm (60°C) water
back into the regenerant storage tank.

A Recoflo column 0.76 m in diameter, 0.3 m in depth with 140 L of resin was required to treat
Stream 1. This unit was commissioned in March of 1997. Initial field results for this unit are
given in Table III and show that the target performance levels are being achieved. The only
significant problem noted during start-up was the accumulation of solid material in the product line
resin trap. The trap is a small screen assembly located on the product discharge line. If a failure
occurs in the resin bed resulting in the loss of resin, the traps prevent the resin from being pumped
out of the bed. The solid material was identified as calcium sulfate. Ultimately, calcium will be
removed from the feed, thus eliminating the problem. As an interim measure, flushing the solution
from the trap, before the solids could form, should eliminate this plugging problem.

Table III - Field Results for a Recoflo Recovery Unit Treating Stream 1

Stream Co (g/L) Ni (g/L)

Feed 0.05 0.8

Barren 0.001 0.001
Product 1.01 15.7

Stream 2. A similar pilot program was followed in developing the operating conditions used to treat
stream 2. Here, given the high concentration of cobalt required in the product stream and the low
level required in the barren, a dual bed and dual pass system were both considered. In the dual bed
system two beds operate in series. The metals accumulate to a high level on the first bed and the
second bed is used to remove the residual metal to meet the barren target.

In the dual pass system the feed solution is passed through the column twice. The incoming feed is
processed through the column to build up the metal level on the resin. The effluent solution
produced during this step is stored in a tank and is processed through the same column again,
immediately after the resin has been regenerated. The effluent from this second pass becomes the
barren. A review of the capital costs associated with both approaches indicates that the single bed
dual pass system is preferable. The pilot plant results from treating this stream are shown in Table
IV. The operating steps are described in the previous section.

Table IV - Recoflo Pilot Plant Results for Stream 2

Stream Volume Co Ni (NH 4 )2 SO 4 H2 SO 4
(g/L) (g/L) (g/L) (g/L)

Feed 34.2 1.01 0.014 208 pH 7

Recycle 3.3 1.06 0.013 149.3 pH<2.4
Barren 30.9 0.0021 0.0006 216.6 pH 3.3
Regenerant Void 1.6 0.42 0.009 127.2
Product 1 30.25 0.345 17.4 7

Published in the Proceedings of the TMS Annual Meeting 1998 held in San Antonio, Texas
Figure 1 below is a photograph of the actual full scale system supplied. To treat Stream 2, a
Recoflo column 1.2 m in diameter, 0.3 m in depth with 355 L of resin was required. As the
photograph shows, the skid mounted unit is very compact. This allows the equipment to be
completely factory pre-assembled and wet tested before shipment. This helps to minimize
installation cost and start-up time.

Figure 1 - Stream 2 Ni and Co Recoflo Recovery Unit

This unit was also commissioned in March of 1997. Initial field results are given in Table V. The
data indicate that the barren target levels for nickel and cobalt are being achieved. However the
cobalt product is below the 25 g/L target. This is due to the low level of cobalt in the feed.

Table V - Stream 2 Field Results

Stream Co (g/L) Ni (g/L)

Feed 0.75 0.003

Barren 0.0005 0.0005
Product 20.7 0.072

Nickel Separation from Cobalt

At INCO’s Port Colborne refinery nickel is removed from cobalt electrowinning electrolyte using
conventional ion exchange columns filled with Dow XFS4195 chelating resin. In the early 1990’s
INCO decided to evaluate the use of Recoflo ion exchange technology as a potential method for
more efficient resin utilization.

Recoflo pilot plant tests were conducted with refinery solution to determine the volume of resin
required and to confirm that performance objectives could be met. The optimal process
configuration selected was two Recoflo beds, 0.3 m in depth, operating in series in a lead / lag
manner. The sulfate electrolyte feed being treated had a pH of 2.2. A 100 g/L sulfuric acid
solution was used to regenerate the resin. Typical performance data for this system are given in
Table VI.
Published in the Proceedings of the TMS Annual Meeting 1998 held in San Antonio, Texas
Table VI - Recoflo Pilot Plant Data for the Separation of Nickel
from Cobalt Using Dow XFS4195

Stream Relative Volume Ni (g/L) Co (g/L)

Feed 3.5 1.44 93.3

Barren 3.3 0.40 84.8
Void 0.27 1.03 73.6
Weak Cobalt Liquor 0.43 0.26 16.4
Ni Bleed 1 2.93 7.03

The feed solution with 1.44 g/L nickel was pumped through both beds producing a barren with a
residual nickel concentration of 0.40 g/L. The performance target for nickel reduction was a
concentration of 0.5 g/L in the barren. Upon completion of the barren step the lead bed was
exhausted. Before regeneration, the void of feed solution in this bed was displaced with water. In a
full scale system this void would be returned to the feed tank for processing during the next
operating cycle. To facilitate analysis, this stream was not recycled during the pilot study.

During regeneration, 100 g/L sulfuric acid was pumped counter-currently through the lead resin
bed. Due to its lower selectivity, cobalt was first eluted from the resin and separated in the weak
cobalt liquor stream. As regeneration continues, the nickel is eluted from the resin. This nickel rich
stream is combined with the rinse water that is used to displace the void of regenerant solution and
leaves the unit as the nickel bleed stream. Both the nickel and cobalt streams would be directed
back to existing plant operations for metal recovery.

Using these operating conditions, developed during the pilot plant tests, a full scale system was
sized to treat the 3,600 L/h feed flowrate. For this application, two Recoflo columns 1.5 m in
diameter and 0.3 m in depth would be required. The resin volume for this system would be 1,110
L. The existing conventional system operates with a total resin volume of 12,800 L. Thus a
reduction of more than 90% is possible. Furthermore, when compared to the conventional system,
water and sulfuric acid (95% w/w) consumption per kg of nickel separated were reduced by 30% to
550 L and 8.4 L respectively.

It should be noted that when the Recoflo system was being evaluated it was assumed that it would
be necessary to mill INCO’s existing resin to reduce the particle size. Losses incurred during the
milling operation would probably double the resin requirement for the Recoflo system. For new
installations, resin milling would not be necessary since the resin would be purchased in whole bead
fine mesh form.

Copper Recovery

A study was conducted in 1984 to evaluate the use of Recoflo for copper recovery from dilute leach
liquors. The leach liquor contained a high concentration of ferric ion and had a pH of 2.0. A
standard iminodiacetate chelating resin will not selectively remove copper from this solution due to
the low pH and the higher preference these resins have for the ferric ion. To overcome these
limitations Dow’s XFS43084 chelating resin was evaluated. Table VII shows the results of this

Published in the Proceedings of the TMS Annual Meeting 1998 held in San Antonio, Texas
Table VII - Recoflo Pilot Plant Data for the Separation of copper
from dilute leach solution

Stream Cu (g/L) Fe (g/L) pH

Leach 2.5 4.6 2.0

Barren 0.03 3.39 1.5
Spent Electrolyte 30.0 3.0 1.0
Pregnant Electrolyte 40.1 2.06 1.0
Recycle 1.68 0.06 1.7

Acid Separation

APU®, acid purification unit, technology provides a cost effective means for separating acids, such
as sulfuric, from dissolved metal salts. In this process the acid bearing stream is fed to the APU
where the acid is separated and recovered in a product stream and the dissolved metals leave the unit
in a byproduct stream. The volumetric flowrates of all these streams, feed, product, and byproduct
are approximately equal. Typically greater than 90% of the acid is recovered in the product stream
which can be recycled directly to the tankhouse if desired. The process driving force is based on
concentration differences and does not require high energy input. The only chemical or reagent
needed is water.

APU technology is based on the application of Recoflo ion exchange to the acid retardation
process. This process uses ion exchange resins that selectively absorb free acid but reject dissolved
metal salts. The absorbed acid can be removed by passing water over the resin. While the use of a
specific type of ion exchange resin is required the process is strictly speaking not ion exchange.
The acid is not exchanged onto a specific site and the process capacity is not limited by the resins
ion exchange capacity.

In 1979 the first APU’s were installed in the aluminum industry to recover sulfuric acid used in
anodizing operations(2). Since then, the APU has been used for the recovery of many different
acids in many different industries, including the recovery of nitric and hydrofluoric acids used in
the pickling of stainless steel(4). To date, over 300 units have been installed world wide. The
majority of these units have been installed in the metal finishing industries. A number of pilot plant
trials and field studies have been conducted for primary metal producers and a large full scale
system was installed at the Falconbridge Kidd Creek plant in Timmins, Ontario in 1995.

The APU operating cycle, which normally lasts about 5 minutes, is divided into an upstroke and
downstroke shown in figure 2. During the upstroke, feed solution is pumped up through the APU
resin bed. Initially the interstitial void volume in the resin bed is filled with water from the previous
cycle. The incoming filtered feed displaces this water which is then collected as the water void
which is transferred to the water tank and used along with additional make-up water during the
downstroke. As the feed continues to pass over the resin, the acid is absorbed into the bead and
thus its passage through the resin bed is “retarded”. The metal salts are rejected by the resin and
breakthrough into the effluent or byproduct stream ahead of the acid. The upstroke is completed
just as the acid begins to breakthrough into the byproduct.

Published in the Proceedings of the TMS Annual Meeting 1998 held in San Antonio, Texas





Feed Void Acid Feed

Acid Product


Figure 2 - APU Opererating Cycle

During the downstroke, water is pumped downward through the bed. Initially the bed void is filled
with unseparated feed solution. This feed void is displaced by the incoming water back into the
feed tank for processing during the next cycle. As the water continues to pass through the bed, the
majority of the metal is displaced and the purified acid removed during the upstroke is de-sorbed
and collect as the product. The purified acid product concentration may range anywhere from 50 -
110% of the feed value depending on the operating conditions and the feed concentration. By
adjusting the volumes and flowrates of these various process steps it is possible to optimize APU
performance depending on the process objectives. Typical process capabilities range from 70 -
95% acid recovery and 50 - 90% metal removal.

Separation of Nickel and Copper Sulphate From Sulfuric Acid At Kidd Creek

Falconbridge operates a copper refinery at its Kidd Creek Division in Timmins, Ontario.
Electrolyte control is important to ensure the consistent production of high quality cathode product.
Of particular concern is the accumulation of nickel. A bleed stream is used to control this build-up.
In the past this bleed was ultimately sent to the concentrator where a limited portion of the stream
was used in a zinc floatation operation and the balance was neutralized with lime and sent to a
tailings pond.

Published in the Proceedings of the TMS Annual Meeting 1998 held in San Antonio, Texas
The bleed to control nickel build-up and its subsequent loss into the tailings pond limited the
amount of concentrates richer in nickel that could be economically processed. This situation was
forcing the Kidd refinery to use higher priced low nickel custom materials and to send their excess
nickel rich concentrates to the Falconbridge operation in Sudbury. Consequently a program to
allow nickel recovery from the bleed stream was initiated, thus permitting the use of these

The estimated refinery circuit nickel build-up rate using these concentrates is 1000 kg per day. At
the desired nickel solution concentration of 15 g/L this requires a bleed flowrate of 67 m3 per day.
The bulk of the bleed stream copper would be recovered in the liberator cells. The remaining nickel
and residual copper could be precipitated with soda ash and sent to the nickel smelter in Sudbury.
However, operating the process in this manner would necessitate using expensive soda ash to
neutralize all the free acid in the bleed stream in addition to the metals.

Falconbridge contacted Eco-Tec to evaluate the use of an APU to separate the free sulfuric acid
from the copper and nickel sulphate salts contained in the bleed streams from the liberator cells.
The advantages in using the APU to separate this acid included the recovery and recycle of acid
back to the refining circuit, a reduction in make-up acid requirements, a reduction in soda ash
consumption, and a reduction in sulphate discharge into the tailing pond.

Initially a treatability study was conducted at Prosep Technologies, the research and development
subsidiary of Eco-Tec. This test was run on a small scale automated laboratory pilot plant using
plant electrolyte samples provided by Falconbridge. These tests were used to optimize the
operating conditions with regards to unit performance and size. Using a feed that was 60%
secondary and 40% primary liberator bleed solution the results shown in table I were obtained.

Table VIII

Relative H2SO 4 Cu Ni
Volume (g/L) (g/L) (g/L)

Feed 1.0 173 28.8 13.2

Product 1.0 158 7.9 3.3
Byproduct 1.0 4.4 19 8.9
Loss or 3% 71% 73%

The data in table VIII indicate that for each litre of feed processed, one litre of de-acidified
byproduct and one litre of recovered acid product are produced. The byproduct stream, which
would be bled from the refining circuit, contains 3% of the sulfuric acid, 71% of the copper, and
73% of the nickel passed to the unit in the feed stream. The product stream, containing the balance
of the acid, copper, and nickel, would be returned to the refining circuit.

After developing these conditions, the pilot unit was operated for an extended period. During this
run a white precipitate formed in the top of the resin bed. Accumulation of these solids within the
bed began to degrade the units performance. The solids increased the resistance to flow which
reduced the flowrate and increased the cycle time, causing a drop in capacity. At the same time, a
steady increase in the acid loss to the byproduct was also noted. The solid was analyzed by
Falconbridge and found to contain As, Sb, Bi, and Fe. It appeared that when the acid was removed
these elements hydrolyzed producing insoluble hydroxides or oxides. Fortunately, the solid was
readily dissolved in dilute sulfuric acid.

To overcome this problem, the APU operating conditions were altered to allow a slightly higher acid
loss into the byproduct, thus increasing the acid concentration in the top portion of the resin bed.
This was accomplished by extending the byproduct and product steps. It was found that by

Published in the Proceedings of the TMS Annual Meeting 1998 held in San Antonio, Texas
increasing the byproduct acid concentration to approximately 9 g/L, precipitation could be avoided.
With these operating conditions, the results shown in table IX were obtained.

Table IX

Relative H2SO 4 Cu Ni
Volume (g/L) (g/L) (g/L)

Feed 1.0 182 23.1 13.7

Product 1.0 167 6.3 3.3
Byproduct 1.0 9.3 17.5 10.0
Loss or 5% 74% 75%

Upon completion of this treatability study, Falconbridge rented a pilot plant unit which was then
run at the refinery for a two month period to further confirm performance. After evaluating these
results and considering various other options, a purchase order for a full scale APU was released in
December of 1994.

The installation of the APU was economically justified by the plant’s increased ability to use less
expensive nickel rich concentrates, the recovery of nickel and copper, and the minimization of the
sodium carbonate required for neutralizing the bleed stream. Based on these savings, Falconbridge
has determined the simple payback on the APU capital equipment alone as less than 1 year.

To remove the 1000 kg/day of nickel from the refinery circuit using the APU operating conditions
described above requires a bleed flowrate, feeding the APU, of 100 m3 per day (18.3 USgpm).
Changes were made to the refinery process that allowed the complete bleed stream to be drawn
from the secondary liberator cells. To treat this flowrate an APU with a resin bed 1.52 m (60”) in
diameter was supplied. The complete scope of supply included a feed transfer pump, a multi-media
filter, APU feed and water tanks, and the skid mounted APU. The skid mounted unit includes the
resin bed, cartridge filters, all necessary control valves, piping, and control panel with PLC I/O
control rack.

Due to the compact size of the APU, 2.04m x 3.61m x 2.04m, it was completely factory pre-
assembled and wet tested before shipment. The footprint size for the complete installation
including media filter, all tanks and walkways is approximately 80 m2. The pre-assembly of the
process components and the relatively small footprint greatly reduced installation cost and time.
Installation consisted of positioning the equipment, supplying electricity and compressed air to the
control panel, and providing the interconnecting piping between the process components. The
make-up water supplied to the APU water tank is the same water used in the electrorefining circuit.
Tap water was not recommended since Falconbridge wanted to minimize the transfer of chloride
into the refinery circuit. The cost of installation was 15% of the total APU system capital cost and
took less than two weeks to complete.

Start-up of the APU took place during the last week of July 1995. Eco-Tec personnel were onsite
for a total of three days. During this time tests were conducted to confirm that the unit met the pre-
defined performance specification. Since the end of August 1995 the unit has been operating

During the first few months of operation minor problems were noted with the byproduct resin trap
and cartridge filters. The resin trap is a small screen assembly located on the product and
byproduct discharge lines. If a failure occurs in the resin bed resulting in the loss of resin, the
traps prevent the resin from being pumped out of the unit. A small amount of solid material was
accumulating in the byproduct trap and blinding the screen. This reduced the upstroke flowrate,
increased the cycle time, and reduced the unit’s capacity.
Published in the Proceedings of the TMS Annual Meeting 1998 held in San Antonio, Texas
The solid material appeared to be the same solid identified during the treatability study. A small
adjustment was made to increase the byproduct volume, which then increased the acid level in the
byproduct. The slightly higher acid concentration prevented any further solids formation in the
trap. In addition it was noted that increased pressure drop across the cartridge filters was restricting
feed flow to the unit. Regular change-out of the cartridges eliminates this problem. After making
these changes no degradation in performance has since been noted.

Performance of the APU is monitored regularly by Falconbridge and weekly log sheets are
completed and forwarded to Eco-Tec’s service department. Table X contains representative data
collected in August of 1996.

Table X

Relative H2SO 4 Cu Ni
Volume (g/L) (g/L) (g/L)

Feed 1.0 190 14.6 15.8

Product 1.0 175 2.7 2.9
Byproduct 1.0 12 10.4 12.2
Loss or Removal 6.4% 71% 77%

Removal of Magnesium and Manganese from a Sulfuric Acid Zinc Electrolyte

At the CEZinc plant in Valleyfield, Quebec zinc is electrowon from sulfuric acid. A bleed stream is
necessary to control the build-up of various contaminants including manganese and magnesium.
This bleed stream was normally treated with lime. This created large quantities of gypsum. CEZinc
was interested in evaluating the use of an APU to remove the acid from this steam, thereby
reducing the amount of gypsum produced and reducing the consumption of neutralizing chemicals.

A treatability study was conducted at Prosep with solution sent from Valleyfield. A small scale
pilot plant using a resin column 0.05 m (2") in diameter and 0.60 m (24") in depth was used.
Initially when the unit was run a dark band at the top of the resin column was observed. It
appeared that the resin was being converted into the permanganate form. Previous experience has
shown that changing the form of the resin in this manner can degrade the performance of the APU.
In subsequent tests the feed solution was treated with hydrogen peroxide to reduce the
permanganate. After pretreatment with hydrogen peroxide the dark band did not reappear. Other
reducing agents such as bisulphite or sulphur dioxide could also be used. The test data using the
Valleyfield solution are shown in table XI below.

Table XI

Relative H2SO 4 Zn Mg Mn Cl
Volume (g/L) (g/L) (g/L) (g/L) (g/L)

Feed 1.0 163 55 9.4 5.6 0.14

Product 1.0 156 18 2.7 2.0 0.13
Byproduct 1.0 3.9 32.5 5.4 3.2 0.03
Loss or 2.4% 64% 66.7% 61.5% 18.8%

Published in the Proceedings of the TMS Annual Meeting 1998 held in San Antonio, Texas
CEZinc was also concerned about chloride removal. However, as the results show the majority of
the chloride is contained in the product stream suggesting that it exists as hydrochloric acid and
may not be effectively separated by the APU. Although not reported in any of these case studies
arsenic behaves in a similar fashion with removal efficiencies in the order of 20 - 30%.

Field trials were then conducted in Valleyfield. A pilot plant unit capable of processing about 5 L/h
was operated onsite for one month. During this period more than 4,000 APU cycles were run
using regular electrolyte that was pretreated to reduce permanganate and prefiltered to remove
suspended solids. The overall average acid loss was 5% and Zn, Mn, and Mg removal efficiencies
were 73%, 72%, and 74% respectively. With the exception of replacing one valve diaphragm the
unit operated without any problems. Table XII contains field data collected during operating cycle
number 3355.

Table XII

Relative H2SO 4 Zn Mg Mn
Volume (g/L) (g/L) (g/L) (g/L)

Feed 1.0 184 49.3 14.2 5.49

Product 1.0 173.2 13.1 3.56 1.47
Byproduct 1.0 10.0 36.6 10.2 3.92
Loss or 5% 74% 74% 73%

The acid loss and metal removals in the field were slightly higher than the values obtained during
the treatability study. To reduce the acid loss a small adjustment could be made to reduce the
upstroke and downstroke volumes. Based on these results, using the APU reduces the amount of
neutralizing chemical (lime or soda ash), the effluent sulfate, and the resulting gypsum by 65%
compared to simply bleeding the electrolyte to waste.


Through the use of fine mesh resins, short depth fully packed ion exchange columns, and counter-
current regeneration, Recoflo technology allows significant improvements over conventional ion
exchange equipment. The ability to process more concentrated feed solutions, the recovery of
concentrated metal product streams and the much smaller volume of ion exchange resin required by
Recoflo systems, are of particular advantage to hydrometallurgical applications.


1. C.J. Brown, D. Davy and P.J. Simmons, “Nickel Salt Recovery By Reciprocating Flow Ion
Exchange”, Paper presented at the Annual Technical Conference of the American Electroplaters
Society, USA, June 1975.

2. C.J. Brown, D. Davey and P.J. Simmons, “Purification of Sulphuric Acid Anodizing
Solutions” Plating and Surface Finishing, 66 (54), January 1979.

3. S.G. Price and D.J. Hebditch “Diffusion or Chemical Kinetic Control in a Chelating ion
Exchange Resin System” Ion Exchange for Industry, M. Streat Ed., Ellis Horwood Ltd.,
Chichester, West Sussex, England, 1988, 275.

4. K. Munns, Iron Control in Hydrometallurgy, ed. J.E. Dutrizac, Ellis Horwood Limited,
Chichester, 1986, 537 - 548.

Published in the Proceedings of the TMS Annual Meeting 1998 held in San Antonio, Texas