Global engineering company FLSmidth has filed a patent for its new leaching technology for mine operators.
Named FLSmidth Rapid Oxidative Leach, the hydrometallurgy process is said to increase copper output by 3%.
The technology is claimed to allow mine operators to generate additional revenues for an average copper mine with primary sulphide ore.
Designed to operate at atmospheric pressure and a temperature of 80°C, the leach process helps remove the pacification layer of primary sulphides thereby allowing the extraction of copper. It can leach more than 98% of copper from concentrates containing as low as 8% of the mineral in less than six hours.
FLSmidth R&D head Jens Almdal said: "For a copper mine with remaining low-quality copper deposits producing around 200,000t copper per year, our 3% output increase would mean an extra $40m per year with a copper price around $6,600 per tonne.
"That is indeed a significant contribution to profitability in an industry that normally chases 0.1% to 0.2% increase in copper recovery by design modifications of flotation machinery."
Using FLSmidth Rapid Oxidative Leach, mining companies can develop mineral deposits containing arsenic to recover copper, gold and silver.
The ability to operate at atmospheric pressure makes the technology suitable for treating concentrate on-site with control over the arsenic-bearing residues generated after leaching.
"A lot of existing mines have piles of copper concentrate with more than 0.5% arsenic concentrations which is too high for smelting," Almdal added.
"Our technology can be used to process these piles of high arsenic concentrate or even make it possible to develop new mineral deposits high in arsenic."
FLSmidth has initiated partnership with two customers for the technology, which is expected to be implemented in large scale in 2017.
Image: FLSmidth headquarters in Copenhagen, Denmark. Photo: courtesy of FLSmidth Group.