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Journal of the Southern African Institute of Mining and Metallurgy

On-line version ISSN 2411-9717
Print version ISSN 0038-223X

J. S. Afr. Inst. Min. Metall. vol.111 n.2 Johannesburg  2011




Energy consumption for Kell hydrometallurgical refining versus conventional pyrometallurgical smelting and refining of PGM concentrates



K. LiddellI; T. NewtonII; M. AdamsIII; B. MullerII

ILifezone Ltd
IISimulus Pty Ltd
IIIMutis Liber Pty Ltd




Current practice for the recovery of platinum group metals (PGM) from flotation concentrates is by energy-intensive smelting processes followed by separation and refining of the base and precious metals. Energy costs are rapidly increasing in South Africa and this trend is forecast to continue in future years. Moreover, the smelting operations are highly susceptible to deleterious constituents, particularly chromite; and the increasing tonnages of UG2 chromititic ore being mined results in an increasing chromite content of smelter feeds. Hence there is a substantial incentive to assess and implement alternative processes to smelting for the treatment of PGM concentrates. The Kell process is a patented hydrometallurgical alternative to smelting that is totally insensitive to the chromite content of the feed concentrate and comprises three commercially proven unit operations (pressure oxidation leaching of base metals and sulfur, roasting and chlorination of precious metals).
The Kell process provides the opportunity for existing and new PGM producers to significantly reduce their energy consumption, and in particular their consumption of electricity, by removing the need to smelt PGM concentrates. Energy costs, greenhouse gas emissions and installed power requirements are also much reduced. Compared with smelting and refining these reductions are calculated as:
Total energy consumption-50% reduction
Electrical energy consumption-84% reduction
Energy consumption costs-76% reduction
CO2 emissions-70% reduction
Installed power requirement-92% reduction.
The data obtained from simple laboratory batch amenability testing can be readily applied to the Simulus mass and energy balance simulation procedure to determine energy and reagent consumptions, equipment selection and process optimization.
The applicability of Kell to treating low-grade 'dirty' concentrates with high UG2 content as well as to polymetallic concentrates containing base metals as the major payable metals with subordinate PGM means that these savings can also be expected when the process is used for treating a range of concentrate types and grades.

Keywords: PGM,UG2, Merensky, smelting, chromite, electricity, hydrometallurgy, Kell Process, Eskom



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