As copper reserves deepen, they are becoming increasingly less pure. Penalty elements such as arsenic, antimony and bismuth are occurring in increasing concentrations. Environmental issues with smelters are leading to increases in penalty rates for these elements such that some concentrates may become difficult to sell.
Arsenic concentration in Rosebery copper concentrates during 2010 varied between 3000 and 8500 ppm. Arsenic levels above 5000 ppm can preclude import to some customer countries. Optical mineralogy has indicated that arsenic in Rosebery copper concentrates is most commonly associated with tennantite (Cu12As4S13) in solid
solution with tetrahedrite (Cu12As4S13). In
addition, silver reports to concentrate as freibergite
(Cu12As4S13 ). A reduction in arsenic content will therefore lead to a concurrent reduction in the silver content.
A literature review by Long, Peng and Bradshaw (2012) indicated that arsenic bearing minerals could be removed using potential controlled flotation. Some success in reducing the amount of arsenic had also been reported using either roasting or chemical depression using reagents such as lime and cyanide. Due to the location of the Rosebery concentrator adjacent to world heritage listed temperate rainforest, the use of a roaster or cyanide was immediately discounted. Lime is already used as a reagent in the Rosebery flow sheet, so could be considered as a potential arsenic depressant.
In order to determine a method of separating out the high arsenic bearing minerals, two series of flotation tests were conducted. The first series investigated the effect of pulp potential on the recovery of copper, silver and arsenic minerals; a second series investigated the effect of pH, froth depth and regrind.
Long, G, Peng, Y and Bradshaw, D J, 2012.
Production of a low arsenic copper concentrate at MMG Rosebery, in
Proceedings 11th AusIMM Mill Operators’ Conference, pp 347-354 (The Australasian Institute of Mining and Metallurgy: Melbourne).