Purchase of Copper Concentrates and Cement Copper

Kroha, A. J. ; Wesis, N.
Organization: Society for Mining, Metallurgy & Exploration
Pages: 3
Publication Date: Jan 1, 1985
Most copper mines produce both ore and low-grade "leach" rock or acid waters that contain recoverable copper. The sulfide ores pre¬dominate, and a portion that is too low grade for milling to produce concentrates for smelting, but has to be mined and trucked away anyhow, may be leached successfully with acid in dumps. Most of this leach material consists of sulfides and silicates or carbonates, and if the gangue is such that it consumes a high quantity of acid, this factor may rule out a leach operation. There are also valuable deposits that contain mostly acid-soluble copper, or occasional sulfide ores from which a sulfide concentrate can be roasted and acid-leached to produce a copper-bearing solution. Finally, there are milling ores in which the lesser part of the copper is acid-soluble and can be precipitated with iron or synthetic inorganic precipitants that produce metallic copper or copper sulfides that will float with the sulfides. Ordinarily, ores that contain copper associated with the sulfur ion, such as in the minerals chalcopyrite, chalcocite, bornite (and others), are milled to produce a 25-30% Cu concentrate for smelting, while a lesser amount of acid-soluble copper may be converted from solution to cement copper on iron scrap. A fast-growing percentage of such copper, however, is removed from solution with exchange resins or organic compounds in organic carriers such as kerosene (solvent extraction), then eluted with strong acid and subjected to electrolytic precipitation either in marketable form or as anodes that can be refined further. From the point of view of conventional copper smelting, copper flotation concentrates and cement copper are of chief interest in this chapter. Table I is a condensed open schedule for concentrates that generally run between 25 and 35% copper, and much less frequently as low as 12-15% or as high as 65-75% copper, the former being due to intimate relationship with pyrite (like the former United Verde Extension), and the latter representing such ores as the Bolivian Coro¬coro ore in which the copper is in the form of chalcocite in sandstone. These extremes are no longer common. When they occur, a special purchase schedule has to be negotiated. Included in Table 1, copper precipitates (cement copper) generally run from 70-85%a copper, and the same basic purchase schedule is used as with flotation concentrates. Sulfide Flotation Concentrates The sulfide copper concentrate produced in the mill as a flotation froth, with water then added for transportation of the heavy mineral particles from the flotation cells to thickeners, may run 60-80% water by weight, and the removal of water down to 25-50% by weight by means of thickeners, followed by further dewatering by continuous vacuum filters to 7-18% moisture by weight (depending on size of solids by screen analysis and also by content of clay) is a critical operation. Mill operators would like to produce a filter cake with 7-9% moisture content, but even with the help of steam on the filter this desirable condition is seldom realized when the concentrate is as fine as 80% -325 mesh. More commonly, the final concentrate is reground in pro- to produce best copper recovery and grade of concentrate (or molybdenite separation). In those cases, increasingly frequent, the filter product may not be a cake at all, but a mud that is hard to handle-even requiring a thermal dryer. Greater difficulty of form¬ing a manageable cake often comes from the copper-molybdenum separation by flotation, because the alkaline sulfides and hydrosulfides, or cyanide, or other similar reagents used for the separation, may leave the now relatively molybdenite-free copper concentrate even more difficult to filter. Handling a wet filter cake is difficult enough when its destination is only a short distance away-a matter of yards rather than miles. In those cases the filter cake may be thermally dried near the point of production, using rotary or multiple hearth, or fluidized-bed dryers. Alternatively, the concentrate may be pumped or carried in slurry form to the smelter and filtered there, or it may be spray-dried and compacted. For transportation to a smelter just a few miles to a few thousand miles away by ship or railroad other factors may be important, such as: in shipping by sea, avoidance of spontaneous combustion; in shipping by rail, losses by leakage if too wet or by wind and sun if too dry. It is the responsibility of the millman-usually the mill superinten¬dent-to make sure that his concentrates are in satisfactory condition when they leave the mill so that they meet these requirements: 1) They must have been accurately sampled and dry-weighed, the latter meaning that a moisture determination and gross weight must have been taken. 2) They must be dried sufficiently when necessary to prepare them for safe transportation. 3) They must arrive at the smelter with reasonable likelihood that they can be check-weighed and sampled fairly and equitably,
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