The World Bank

The World Bank

Copper Smelting Industry - Pollution Prevention Guidelines


Courtesy of The World Bank


Pollution Prevention Guidelines to provide technical advice and guidance to staff and consultants involved in pollution-related projects. The guidelines represent state-of-the-art thinking on how to reduce pollution emissions from the production process. In many cases, the guidelines provide numerical targets for reducing pollution, as well as maximum emissions levels that are normally achievable through a combination of cleaner production and end-of-pipe treatment. The guidelines are designed to protect human health; reduce mass loadings to the environment; draw on commercially proven technologies; be cost-effective; follow current regulatory trends; and promote good industrial practices, which offer greater productivity and increased energy efficiency.

Table of Contents

  • Industry Description and Practices
  • Waste Characteristics
  • Pollution Prevention and Control
  • Target Pollution Loads
  • Treatment Technologies
  • Emissions Guidelines
  • Monitoring and Reporting
  • Key Issues
  • Sources

Industry Description and Practices

Copper can be produced either pyrometallurgically or hydrometallurgically. The hydrometallurgical route is used only for a very limited amount of the world’s copper production and is normally only considered in connection with insitu leaching of copper ores; from an environmental point of view, this is a questionable production route. Several different processes can be used for copper production. The traditional process is based on roasting, smelting in reverbatory furnaces (or electric furnaces for more complex ores), producing matte (copper-iron sulfide), and converting for production of blister copper, which is further refined to cathode copper. This route for production of cathode copper requires large amounts of energy per ton of copper: 30–40 million British thermal units (Btu) per ton cathode copper.

It also produces furnace gases with low sulfur dioxide (SO2) concentrations from which the production of sulfuric acid or other products is less efficient. The sulfur dioxide concentration in the exhaust gas from a reverbatory furnace is about 0.5–1.5%; that from an electric furnace is about 2–4%. So-called flash smelting techniques have therefore been developed that utilize the energy released during oxidation of the sulfur in the ore. The flash techniques reduce the energy demand to about 20 million Btu/ton of produced cathode copper. The SO2 concentration in the off gases from flash furnaces is also higher, over 30%, and is less expensive to convert to sulfuric acid.

(Note that the INCO process results in 80% sulfur dioxide in the off gas.) Flash processes have been in use since the 1950s. In addition to the above processes, there are a number of newer processes such as Noranda, Mitsubishi, and Contop, which replace roasting, smelting, and converting, or processes such as ISA-SMELT and KIVCET, which replace roasting and smelting. For converting, the Pierce-Smith and Hoboken converters are the most common processes.

The matte from the furnace is charged to converters, where the molten material is oxidized in the presence of air to remove the iron and sulfur impurities (as converter slag) and to form blister copper.
Blister copper is further refined as either firerefined copper or anode copper (99.5% pure copper), which is used in subsequent electrolytic refining. In fire refining, molten blister copper is placed in a fire-refining furnace, a flux may be added, and air is blown through the molten mixture to remove residual sulfur. Air blowing results in residual oxygen, which is removed by the addition of natural gas, propane, ammonia, or wood. The fire-refined copper is cast into anodes for further refining by electrolytic processes or is cast into shapes for sale.

In the most common hydrometallurgical process, the ore is leached with ammonia or sulfuric acid to extract the copper. These processes can operate at atmospheric pressure or as pressure leach circuits. Copper is recovered from solution by electrowinning, a process similar to electrolytic refining. The process is most commonly used for leaching low-grade deposits in situ or as heaps. Recovery of copper metal and alloys from copper-bearing scrap metal and smelting residues requires preparation of the scrap (e.g., removal of insulation) prior to feeding into the primary process. Electric arc furnaces using scrap as feed are also common.

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