Journal of the Southern African Institute of Mining and Metallurgy
On-line version ISSN 2411-9717
Skorpion Zinc is located 25 km north-west of the small settlement of Rosh Pinah in southern Namibia. Commissioned in early 2003, Skorpion Zinc became the first mine-to-metal operation to commercially apply a purely hydrometallurgical process route to exploit a zinc oxide orebody. The novel technology, known as The Modified ZincexTM Process patented by Tecnicas Reunidas, comprises sulphuric acid atmospheric leaching, zinc solvent extraction (SX) and electrowinning (EW) to produce London metal exchange (LME) Special high grade (SHG) zinc. Forming the core of the process, the SX step has thrived in its role as a barrier to impurities and also in the upgrading of the pregnant liquor solution (PLS), converting it into a loaded electrolyte (LE) sufficiently rich and pure for EW. Against this successful run, a number of challenges have, however, been encountered in SX due the emergence of upset conditions largely emanating from upstream processes. This paper outlines some of the major deviations that have beset the SX process in its first five years of continuous operation. Impurity excursions, temperature depressions, changes in phase continuity, excess aqueous entrainment, the effect of colloidal silica and the accumulation of rare earth elements on the organic phase will be discussed in detail.
Keywords : skorpion zinc; solvent extraction; the Modified ZincexTM Process (MZP) DE2HPA; aqueous entrainment (AE); loaded electrolyte (LE); standard liquid validation (SLV) test; organic continuity; aqueous continuity (AC); electrowinning; colloidal silica; phase disengagement time (PDT); rare earth elements (REE).