Processing breakthrough

The CSIRO is conducting research to better understand ionic liquids, which could have major ramifications on minerals processing.

The CSIRO is conducting research to better understand the behaviour of ionic liquids, which could have major ramifications on minerals processing.

Ionic liquids are a form of molten salts that dissolve at room temperature.

Known as electrodeposition, minerals processing traditionally involves the use of either aqueous electrolytes or other molten salts that require very high temperatures to dissolve.

The CSIRO hopes to avoid these high temperatures.

“We wanted to try and apply ionic liquids in minerals processing, especially to dissolve metals,” CSIRO researcher Dr. Yansen Lauw told Australian Mining.

“That’s actually the angle of the whole thing, to try and use ionic liquids as a solvent to dissolve any metal oxides.”

The current process for electrodeposition uses cryolite, which requires a temperature of 900o C to 1000o C to dissolve.

The use of ionic liquids could mean that the need for such high temperatures is eliminated, which would make the process more environmentally friendly and more cost effective.

“It’s a really new and exciting material,” Lauw said.

But the practical use of ionic liquids in the minerals processing industry is still some time away.

“At the moment we are still dealing with fundamentals, which are somewhat unknown,” Lauw said.

“Once the fundamentals have been established, we will be able to use ionic liquids within certain mineral processing applications.

“Although research in ionic liquids is moving quickly, this could still take several years.”

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