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Integrated innovative metallurgical system to benefit efficiently polymetallic, complex and low grade ores and concentrates

Periodic Reporting for period 1 - INTMET (Integrated innovative metallurgical system to benefit efficiently polymetallic, complex and low grade ores and concentrates)

Reporting period: 2016-02-01 to 2017-07-31

INTMET represents a unique technological breakthrough to overcome the limitations related to difficult low grade and complex ores to achieve efficient recovery of valuable metals (Cu, Zn, Pb, Ag) and CRM (Co, In, Sb). Main objective is applying on-site mine-to-metal hydroprocessing of concentrates enhancing substantially raw materials efficiency thanks to increase Cu+Zn+Pb recovery over 60% vs existing selective flotation. Three innovative hydrometallurgical processes (i.e. atmospheric, pressure and bioleaching), and novel more effective metals extraction techniques (e.g. Cu/Zn-SX-EW, chloride media, MSA, etc.) will be developed and tested at relevant environment aiming to maximise metal recovery yield and minimising energy consumption and environmental footprint. Additionally secondary materials, including tailings and metallurgical wastes, will be also tested for metals recovery and sulphur valorisation. Technical, environmental and economic feasibility of the different approaches will be evaluated to ensure viability and competitiveness of the proposed business solution.

INTMET economically viability will rely on (1) products diversification (Cu, Zn, Pb), (2) high-profitable solution (producing commodities not concentrates), (3) lower operation and environmental costs (on-site hydroprocessing will avoid transport to smelters). All these will allow the mine-life extension through the development of a new business-model concept based on high efficient recovery of complex ores.

INTMET is fully aligned with EIP-RM validated in the PolymetOre Commitment. The market up-take are guaranteed by exploitation from industrially-driven consortia, including 4 Mines and tech providers.
Raw materials sampling and characterization (WP1): Material from 4 different mines has been sampled, characterised and concentrated: CLC, KGHM, BOR and Somincor. Additional pyrite tailings samples has been collected and analysed from CLC and Somincor. Initial flotation laboratory test work for production of tailings has been performed. Main characteristics of the tails are high presence of pyrite with low levels of Sphalerite, Chalcopyrite and galena that have been detected using the metallographic microscope. CLC obtained solid from preliminary laboratory atmospheric leaching tests of CLC lab bulk concentrates, which have been also chemically characterised.

Enhanced performance flotation process (WP2): enhanced flotation techniques have been studies, including energy efficient comminution and more specific reagents. Microwave radiation and high intensity grinding tests have been done to study their influence on efficiency of comminution processes, mineral liberation and metal recoveries. Conventional and new generation commercial collectors have been checked to maximize metal separation and recovery from polymetallic and complex ores in the flotation process. Process flowsheets and flotation protocols have been developed. Flotation Pilot Plant has been built and operated to produce concentrate samples. Research has been conducted to maximize valuable metals recovery.

Development of integrative atmospferic leaching process (WP3), pressure leaching (WP4) and bioleaching (WP5): the three new processes have been defined and tested at lab scale, using the concentrates from WP2. Pilot scale testing is in progress: a new pilot has been designed and constructed for the ATM leaching at the CLC premises; BOR INST is developing new pilot equipment for the BIO leaching. Piloting of atmospheric leaching technology has been advanced due to the synergy of producing bulk concentrate on site in CLC flotation pilot plant facilities. Very promising results have been obtained, in terms of metals recovery, in the different technologies that confirms the expectations created by the INTMET Project.

Valorisation of tailings and effluents purification and reuse (WP6): Physic-chemical analysis of delivered material (tailings) has been performed. Produced polymetallic concentrate fulfilled quality requirements and may be used in further hydro-processing. Samples have been received from BOR and CLC, and have been analysed to find the best conditions for oxidation. Main process parameters have been determined. Different methodologies have been tested for the iron recovery and gypsum purification. Also, different types of effluents from Cu extraction and processing have been characterised to determine physic-chemical parameters, total elemental composition and ions content. Different methods have been tested to allow for the purification of those effluents.

Technologies assessment and project evaluation (WP7) are being performed in parallel, based on the results from WP2-WP6. Life Cycle Analysis definition for the different technologies have been started by definition of boundary conditions and the process blocks including inputs and outputs. Process and economic data are being collecting for the different technologies including conventional metals recovery process stages as solvent extraction, electrowinning, etc.

The project communication and exploitation plans have been developed and released during PERIOD 1 with the aim of fostering the project impacts during and after the project.
Currently there is no economical and viable process for on-site metal extraction from Low Grade, Complex or Poly-metallic deposits, and even more, there is no industrial process or technology able to deal with polymetallic (Cu+Zn+Pb) concentrates, compelling the sale of concentrates of increasingly lower quality and incurring increasing penalties in prices. Recovery of the valuable metals from these Polymetallic and Complex or Low Grade ores could then be maximised by producing bulk concentrates or middling flotation products to feed novel hydrometallurgical processes, like the integral metallurgical system to be developed within INTMET project.

The INTMET approach represents a radical solution and a unique technological breakthrough to overcome definitively the limitations related to difficult, low grade and complex ores to achieve high efficient recovery of valuable metals such as Cu, Zn, Pb, Ag, and also critical metals like Co, In, Sb. The project will allow applying on-site mineral to metal (M2M) and integrated treatment of the produced concentrates, combining innovative hydrometallurgical processes (atmospheric, pressure and bioleaching), and novel more effective metals extraction techniques (e.g. Cu/Zn-SX-EW, chloride media, MSA, etc). Additionally, secondary materials like mining (tailings) and metallurgical wastes will be added to the process for valorisation and metal recovery.

Preliminary results support the expectation of achieving an integrated plant on site, M2M, able to produce refined and highest quality final products and by-products, and ensuring its economic viability.

The technical, environmental and economic feasibility of the different approaches are being integrated to offer a real business solution. The new M2M business model will enhance the collaboration of companies along the whole value chain of metals and other minerals extraction, from the ores extraction in mines, treatment, metals and critical minerals recovery and wastes management (including valorisation and recycling). It would also contribute to develop new business opportunities for metals related companies through the valorisation of secondary materials as an alternative to the management of hazardous waste.
INTMET WP structure
Development degree of the technologies involved