Journal of the Southern African Institute of Mining and Metallurgy
On-line version ISSN 2411-9717
Print version ISSN 0038-223X
NAUDE, C.P. and SHAPIRO, M.D.. Implementation of the first commercial scale DC smelter for ferronickel production from low grade laterite ores-technology building blocks and lessons learned. J. S. Afr. Inst. Min. Metall. [online]. 2010, vol.110, n.12, pp.725-732. ISSN 2411-9717.
Mechel, a large, integrated steel, stainless steel, and ferroalloy producer in Russia is committed to upgrading its facilities to world class pyrometallurgical process and environmental practice. Yuzhural Nickel currently uses shaft furnaces to produce a matte containing iron, nickel and traces of cobalt. This rather old technology is thermally inefficient and is characterized by high operating costs. Mechel has investigated suitable equipment and processes to upgrade the plant, and awarded a contract for the construction of a 12 MW DC smelter, located near the town of Orsk, to Bateman Engineering Projects in June 2008. The selection of DC furnace technology for laterite smelting can be considered as a strategic highlight for the pyrometallurgical treatment of low-grade lateritic ores, and could be the first industrial-scale implementation of this technology. This project has been designed to achieve multiple goals including the demonstration of the process and associated equipment technology at commercial scale, to confirm the scale-up design parameters of the forthcoming 2 x 90 MW, twin electrode DC furnaces, and to prove the environmental emission superiority of closed furnaces. It also provides a valuable operator training platform. This paper deals with the process design, key technology building blocks and design features which have been incorporated to produce a pyrometallurgical vessel capable of (i) resisting slag superheat and chemical aggressiveness, (ii) process fine material without pre-agglomeration, (iii) achieve high nickel recoveries and (iv) being tolerant to the variations in chemical composition of laterite ore. The approach to increasing campaign lives between partial and complete rebuilds, through the use of composite furnace module (CFM) technology originally developed and patented by the University of Melbourne, is also followed in more detail. Unfortunately, results from hot commissioning and lessons learned from initial operation are not available because the project completion has been delayed due to the worldwide downturn in demand for commodities.
Keywords : DC furnace; ferronickel laterite smelting; corrosive slag; copper cooler technology.