FLSmidth and BASF have signed a joint development agreement to expedite the commercialization of the FLSmidth Rapid Oxidative Leach process targeting difficult-to-process copper concentrates, such as primary sulphides and concentrates containing high levels of arsenic.

In May, FLSmidth announced a technological breakthrough with the FLSmidth Rapid Oxidative Leach process that will enable the copper industry to dissolve copper from low to mid-grade concentrates at 80°C. This will maximize the use of existing capacity during the transition from oxide to sulphide ore. The technology allows extraction of copper as an alternative to selling concentrate to smelters and metal production at the mine site.

With the joint development agreement, BASF, one of the world’s leading chemical companies, will bring additional funding, resources and new novel chemical reagents and processes to more rapidly commercialize FLSmidth’s leaching technology. In particular, BASF will incorporate innovative solvent extraction reagents, which exhibit high resistance to degradation and a step change in copper selectivity.

The decline of copper ore grades in Chile and Peru, home to the world’s largest copper reserves, has driven companies toward new higher-copper-grade ore deposits containing arsenic. This requires costly cleaning, as arsenic is a health and safety risk for copper smelters with smelters limiting arsenic content to a maximum of 0.5% arsenic in the concentrate.

According to BASF, the hydrometallurgical processing of primary copper sulphide concentrates and concentrates containing high levels of arsenic, offers an exciting opportunity. “Several years ago, we focused on developing chemicals that would support the industry’s inevitable move toward mine more complex ores, chemicals that required a new leaching technology. We believe the FLSmidth Rapid Oxidative Leach process combined with BASF’s novel reagents is the game changer that will enable the copper industry to process such ores,” said Christian Lach, vice president of strategic marketing and innovation for water, oilfield and mining solutions at BASF.

Vice president of research and development for FLSmidth Minerals Division, Gary Roy, described the partnership as a way to economically sustain copper production and maintain profitability. He added, “This is a powerful development-partnership; BASF is the industry leader within chemical inventions for the copper industry and we have the leading equipment and process technology. By combining our strengths, we can more rapidly commercialize the Rapid Oxidative Leach technology to make it possible for the industry to economically process arsenic-laden high-grade copper ore in the future.”

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