Global chemical company BASF and Moleaer, a developer of industrial-scale nanobubble technology, announced an exclusive partnership. This partnership will combine expertise in mineral processing, hydrometallurgy, gas transfer, and nanobubble technology to develop innovative processes for mining.
The initial aim is to target the copper leaching process and improve extraction rates of copper ores containing high levels of chalcopyrite, which have historically been difficult to leach.
The demand for copper is expected to increase significantly, as it is an essential raw material for driving the electric revolution. This will play a key role as an enabler to decarbonizing the global economy. According to a report released in July by S&P Global Market Intelligence, the annual demand for copper is projected to reach 50 million metric tons by 2035, from the current 25 million metric tons today. The study also finds a potential copper deficit of as much as 10 million metric tons.
As existing mines deplete their resources, higher demand will require new mines. In addition, ore grades are declining, ore mineralogy is becoming more complex, and ESG (Environmental, Social and Governance) responsibilities are increasing. The result is that new mines are taking longer and longer to come to fruition. Therefore, maximizing the recovery of copper from existing reserves has never been more crucial.
Copper is extracted from primary sulfide ores through a flotation process and low-grade ores are traditionally discarded because they are too costly to process. Currently, an alternative hydrometallurgical heap leach process is employed for low grade oxide and secondary sulfide ores. It is, however, very difficult to leach primary sulfide ores, such as chalcopyrite, which leads to low recovery efficiencies.
Chalcopyrite (CuFeS2) is one of the most abundant copper-bearing minerals, and accounts for approximately 70% of the world’s known copper reserves, according to a 2005 paper by Shijie Wang at Kennecott Copper.
Based on test work conducted by BASF, Moleaer’s nanobubble technology improves the extraction process of valuable metals such as copper. When combined with BASF’s LixTRA reagent (earlier post), the mineral recovery rates and efficiencies are compounded, especially in sulfide-based ores such as chalcopyrite, which have historically been challenging to leach effectively.