Reduction of arsenic in copper concentrates

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The world market demands copper, but good quality ore is in short supply. This is why more and more mining companies have started mining arsenic-contaminated copper - a considerable health hazard for miners and the environment, who come into contact with arsenic dust every day.

Copper is needed in a wide range all over the world. Electrical systems of all kinds are characterised by a high copper content. And the same applies to water pipes in residential buildings in many parts of the world. Although copper is not yet in short supply overall, high-quality copper is. Mining companies are therefore having to mine more and more inferior copper. In South America, the most copper-rich region in the world, this already applies to copper with a high arsenic content. Mining companies and copper buyers are equally dissatisfied with this. And the effects on people and the environment are immense

With 27 % of global production, Chile is the largest copper producer and the largest copper exporter in the world, ahead of Indonesia and the USA. Chile also has the world's largest economically exploitable deposits of copper ores. More than 50 % of Chile's export revenues are attributable to copper mining. This figure illustrates to a large extent Chile's dependence on copper mining. However, mining has considerable ecological drawbacks. During the processing of the mostly sulphidic ores in Chile, large quantities of arsenic, antimony and bismuth are produced. Arsenic in particular is a highly toxic inorganic pollutant that poses a threat not only to human health but to the entire ecosystem. Within the framework of this project, a way for the handling of arsenic from its removal from the ore/concentrate via stabilisation to landfill is to be found.

So the objective of the project is to develop or improve solutions for the handling of arsenic from its removal from the various intermediate products and residues of the copper smelters, through fixation in the most stable compounds possible to safe disposal where they already exist.

The primary objective of the project is to relieve the burden on the environment. However, it also aims to provide decision guidance to industries and governments (not only Chilean) on the selection of technologies and disposal policies. In addition, the chances of German technology suppliers and plant constructors in awarding contracts are to be increased by innovation lead. The networking for scientific exchange between universities and research institutes beyond the mining sector should also be emphasised, with a view to generating joint follow-up projects.