Electrolyte Soft Aeration System for Copper Electrowinning Plants

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Consistent Aeration, Quality Copper Cathode

ANCOR TECMIN has an innovative system that guarantees effective soft electrolyte aeration through air sparging in copper electrowinning (EW) plants, which enables the production of high-quality cathodes. The Chile-based, but globally focused company is keen on helping mining companies in Africa use the technology and get more value from their ore.

By Eric Peters

There are bright prospects for copper mining companies in Africa due to the envisaged rise in production of electric vehicles, as, increasingly, the world embraces green alternatives to fossil fuel-powered vehicles. Copper is a major component in electric vehicles used in electric motors, batteries, inverters, wiring and in charging stations.

For mining companies, this is the ideal time to ensure that the performance of critical equipment like electrowinning (EW) plants is optimum. For this reason, ideally, plant engineers have to see to it that vital elements that create perfect conditions for the recovery of high-quality copper on cathodes are in place. Unfortunately, in reality, the desired results are not always cast in stone.

The challenge

One of the challenges that is often encountered in EW plants is local fluctuations in electrolyte composition which have negative effects on copper deposit process, especially with high current densities. The ‘time-honored’ approach is homogenizing the electrolyte. Nevertheless, more often than not, most ‘conventional’ air distribution devices that have been developed to carry out the process, fail way short to produce the desired outcome. Poor homogenization hampers electrowinning, frequently, resulting in the following challenges:  Lower concentration of copper ion near cathode surface, due to reduced efficiency and uneven copper deposits; as well as nodules and other quality defects. Evidently, there has been a need for a practical and convenient process to homogenize the electrolyte.

Aeration system

An innovative alternative system

After noticing the potential losses copper mining companies had been incurring due to poor homogenization, Chile-based but globally focused, ANCOR TECMIN developed an innovative system that guarantees effective soft electrolyte aeration through air sparging. Thus far, the company’s system (Electrolyte Aeration System) has excelled in twenty projects where it has been deployed globally, improving the output of EW plants (through the quality and quantity of copper recovered). ANCOR TECMIN is keen to replicate the success of its soft electrolyte aeration system in other parts of the world with potential clientele in Zambia, the DRC and other parts of Africa. ANCOR TECMIN is the undisputed world leader in polymer concrete and other composite materials technologies, especially Supertank® electrolytic cells and their accessories.

Through an interview with First Mining DRC-Zambia, ANCOR TECMIN’s Commercial Manager, Mauricio Perretta C, guarantees that the adoption of the soft electrolyte aeration system can enable copper mining companies to get more value from the recovery process in their EV plants. Significantly, the system improves the quality and quantity of copper deposits on the cathode.

A turnkey polymer concrete electrolytic cell solution & quality capping boards from ANCOR TECMIN
Through a team of vastly experienced application engineers, ANCOR TECMIN offers a turnkey polymer concrete electrolytic cell solution that encompasses designing, manufacturing and commissioning. It has successfully delivered customised 35,000 polymer concrete electrolyte cells and capping boards in more than twenty countries.
One of ANCOR TECMIN’s most prominent clients is a mining conglomerate. Thus far, ANCOR TECMIN has installed over 3,500 units of Aeration systems in South America. Recently, it installed its system at an electrowinning plant in Belgium.
Interestingly, there has been an increase in demand for concrete electrolyte cells used in retrofitting older cells in existing plants, as well as capping boards.  

How the system improves cathode copper deposits

The ANCOR TECMIN’s electrolyte aeration system device generates millions of tiny air bubbles per minute that homogenize electrolyte composition. Perretta demonstrates how the system improves the quality of cathode copper deposit: “By gently diffusing low pressure air uniformly throughout the cell bottom, the electrolyte aeration system improves the physico-chemical properties of cathodic copper deposits maintaining sustained quality standards. The effect of air bubbles increases kinetic transfer and concentration of Cu++ in the liquid-cathode interface.”

Uniquely, the system’s patented innovative design overcomes shortcomings of other air distribution devices that have been tested in the past in the following ways:

  • Uniform air distribution across the entire cell, through isobaric distribution ring,
  • Selected Micro-perforated diffusers for consistent bubbling effect over time;
  • Auto-supported structure, for easy access for cell inspection and slime removal; and
  • Customized clamps, for quick hose replacement (no incremental cell downtime!)

Basically, by using the ANCOR TECMIN’s Electrolyte Aeration through Air Sparging System in their EW plants, as recommended, copper companies are guaranteed consistent results, specifically the following:

  • Increased current densities, continuously over high range 350 – 600 A/m2;
  • Superior cathodic copper quality using copper lean electrolytes; and
  • Decreased acid mist generation at electrolyte surface.

The article appeared in our Nov/Dec 2021 edition 

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