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PPM Global director Steve Potter handing over to operations after the successful harvesting of first copper cathode via the electrowinning process at an operation in Zambia.

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Copper in solution in the solvent extraction process.

Heap leaching to SX/EW

Recovery of copper by solvent extraction.

PPM Global core business was based around (SX / EW) Solvent extraction.

The majority of PPM global focus was around study reviews and commissioning predominately Copper SX EW in a number of counties including Africa, before moving into other processes within the Mineral industry.

What is Solvent Extraction?

The purpose of Solvent Extraction (SX) is to receive an impure solution (from heap leach) containing dissolved copper and remove (extract) that copper to transfer it to a synthetic and relatively pure solution from which the metal can be electrowon with minimal contamination by other metals.

Mixer Settlers

Solvent extraction equipment consists of a series of mixers and settlers, where the mixers receive the solvent from a previous settler in the process and an aqueous solution, either leach solution or electrolyte from the electrowinning process. The two solutions are mixed then discharged by overflow to the adjoining settler. The two solutions are immiscible (will not remain mixed) and separate naturally by coalescence. The aqueous solutions are denser than the organic solution and gravitate to the bottom layer of the settler while the organic accumulates on the surface. Settlers require no active components, the solution feeding into the settler causes the settler to overflow at the discharge end. Organic overflows a weir from the surface of the settler into a launder which drains to the next tank or mixer in the process. Aqueous solution passes under a baffle then over a weir before passing to the next tank or stage. As a result of the density differential between the organic and aqueous the height of the overflow weirs differs to establish a stable depth of the two components within the settler, the difference in weir heights controls the depth of the phases and is usually controlled by an adjustable aqueous weir.
Organic/solvent

The key component of the SX process is the Solvent which is a combination of a kerosene product and an extractant product. The Kerosene used has a narrow range of molecular chain lengths and consequently is sometimes referred to or marketed as ‘Narrow Cut Kerosene’, the preferred name is ‘Diluent’ as the role of the kerosene is to dilute the extractant and consequently reduce the viscosity of the mixture. Diluent does not participate in the SX chemical reactions. The Extractant used at WCP is a modified aldoxime with the following chemical name, 2-hydroxy-5-nonlybenzaldoxime. The extractant is capable of extracting Cu selectively over other Cations (metal elements). Following copper the next metal which is susceptible to extraction is Ferric Iron (Fe3+), under typical conditions the extractant will collect copper preferentially over ferric at a ratio of better than 2000:1.

Extraction-Stripping

There are two essential stages to the SX process, Extraction and Stripping, a further washing or scrubbing stage is included in the WCP SX plant. Extraction includes two mixer settler units (E1,E2), the solution process flows through extraction are counter-current, that is the aqueous moves from E1 to E2, while the Organic flows from E2 to E1. Stripping also includes two mixer settler units (S1,S2) and is also a counter-current arrangement. The circuit is completed by a Wash Mixer Settler (W1) which serves to clean the Organic solution of contaminants before the stripping stage.

Solvent Extraction

Extractant is a very mild organic acid which will exchange Hydrogen Ions for Copper Ions when contacted with the relatively low acidity leach solution according to the following basic reaction;

SX Process Reaction – 2RH(ORG) + CuSO4 ↔ R2Cu + H2SO4

The Pregnant Leach Solution (PLS) is fed to the extraction mixer settlers (2 stages, E1 – E2), after the extraction process the leach solution, now depleted in Cu concentration is discharged from the SX to a settling pond and referred to as Raffinate.

Wash/Scrub

The Organic discharged from the extraction stage is referred to as ‘Loaded Organic’ as the extractant molecules are ‘loaded’ with Copper. Entrainment or contamination of the loaded organic must be minimised to optimize the efficiency of the Electrowinning process. The Wash stage dilutes and displaces physical entrainment by mixing the Organic with a recycled cleaning solution. The cleaning solution is composed of Raw Water and spent electrolyte. The wash solution recycles in a closed circuit within the mixer settler, additional water and electrolyte which are added in small continuous quantities displace surplus wash solution to maintain the level of impurities in the Wash.

Stripping

The Organic solution from the Wash stage (Loaded Organic) is passed to the stripping stage first mixer and contacted with lean electrolyte (Spent Electrolyte). The reaction in the strip mixers is the reverse of the extraction reaction, the reversal of the reaction is driven by the high acid concentration maintained in the electrolyte solution. There are two mixer settlers in the stripping stage (S1 – S2). The electrolyte discharging from the stripping stage is now referred to as ‘Strong Electrolyte’ or ‘Advanced Electrolyte.

PPM Global can assist the client with:

  • Design of new Solvent extraction circuits
  • Test work scope development
  • Process Optimisation/ trouble shooting
  • Commissioning, assistance
  • Process Personnel training requirements.

Contact us today to see how PPM Global can assist you with SX /EX plant