As base metals prices stagnate, many miners are looking to innovative methods to increase production.
One area that many operators are looking to for cost savings and efficiency increases is that of minerals processing.
OZ Minerals began trials to slash costs and boost productivity by implementing more efficient minerals processing at its Carrapatenna operation.
The miner developed a hydromet demonstration processing plant to verify scalability for its site late last year, and has now seen positive results from the trials.
“The first trial results from the hydromet demonstration plant indicate that the process is scalable and is already returning copper-in-concentrate levels of more than 55 per cent,” OZ Minerals stated.
“This compares favourably to globally produced concentrates with copper-in-concentrate grades that typically average less than 30 per cent,” OZ Minerals said.
It added that impurity elements were below penalisable levels.
“This is a great set of first results for OZ Minerals and the copper industry in South Australia,” OZ managing director Andrew Cole said.
He went on to state that “the successful completion of this demonstration trial will allow up sot produce some of the best and cleanest copper concentrate in the world, with virtually no impurities”.
The new pilot plant builds upon laboratory scale test work, where a final product exceeding 55 per cent copper-in-concentrate from a starting concentrate grade of 30 to 35 per cent.
According to OZ Minerals, the system involves processing copper concentrate containing chalcopyrite and bornite. It then converts these two minerals into chalcocite by leaching out the iron and other impurities.
“On the back of these promising results,” Cole said, ”we will continue to feed samples of concentrate through the plant over the next few months to build on our technical understanding and confidence in the process.”
The trials come as South Australia throws its support behind the copper industry in the state, launching a new strategy to ramp up production.
Speaking before members of the South Australian Chamber of Mines and Energy (SACOME), state treasurer and resources minister Tom Koutsantonis announced the next phase of consultation was underway.
“There is widespread agreement that South Australia’s geology and geography does put us in the box seat to supply copper to the world’s fast growing economies,” Koutsantonis said.
“The Directions Paper on the Copper Strategy seeks the views of industry, regional and Aboriginal communities, and other stakeholders on how we tackle some of the issues that could prevent South Australia from reaching its full potential as a copper producer.
“In the weeks ahead, we will be looking to the community, landowners, producers, explorers, researchers, innovators and suppliers to provide their guidance on the final design of this long-term strategy.”
As part of the strategy the South Australian Government has pledged $10 million to found a joint study of the hydromet process between OZ Minerals and Orway Mineral Consultants, with work carried out by Adelaide University.
OZ Minerals will contribute $8 million to the research.
Speaking on the this plan and the trial results, Cole added that “this is crucial research that could help maximise the value of South Australia’s copper resources for generations to come”.
“When considered in the context of the South Australian Copper Strategy, it is a very exciting time for the industry.”
With current cooper production around 300,000 tonnes per annum, the SA government wants to triple production by 2030 to become a major contributor to Australia positioning itself as the third largest copper producer in the world.
At present South Australia has three active copper mines; Olympic Dam (BHP), Prominent Hill (OZ Minerals) and Kanmantoo (Hillgrove Resources).