The World Bank

Lead and Zinc 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

Lead and zinc can be produced pyrometallurgically or hydrometallurgically, depending on the type of ore used as a charge. In the pyrometallurgical process, ore concentrate containing lead, zinc, or both is fed, in some cases after sintering, into a primary smelter. Lead concentrations can be 50–70%, and the sulfur content of sulfidic ores is in the range of 15–20%. Zinc concentration is in the range of 40–60%, with sulfur content in sulfidic ores in the range of 26–34%. Ores with a mixture of lead and zinc concentrate usually have lower respective metal concentrations.

During sintering, a blast of hot air or oxygen is used to oxidize the sulfur present in the feed to sulfur dioxide (SO2). Blast furnaces are used in conventional processes for reduction and refining of lead compounds to produce lead. Modern direct smelting processes include QSL, Kivcet, AUSMELT, and TBRC.

Primary Lead Processing

The conventional pyrometallurgical primary lead production process consists of four steps: sintering, smelting, drossing, and refining. A feedstock made up mainly of lead concentrate is fed into a sintering machine. Other raw materials may be added, including iron, silica, limestone flux, coke, soda, ash, pyrite, zinc, caustic, and particulates gathered from pollution control devices. The sintering feed, along with coke, is fed into a blast furnace for reducing, where the carbon also acts as a fuel and smelts the lead-containing materials.

The molten lead flows to the bottom of the furnace, where four layers form: “speiss” (the lightest material, basically arsenic and antimony), “matte” (copper sulfide and other metal sulfides), blast furnace slag (primarily silicates), and lead bullion (98% by weight). All layers are then drained off. The speiss and matte are sold to copper smelters for recovery of copper and precious metals. The blast furnace slag, which contains zinc, iron, silica, and lime, is stored in piles and is partially recycled. Sulfur oxide emissions are generated in blast furnaces from small quantities of residual lead sulfide and lead sulfates in
the sinter feed.

Rough lead bullion from the blast furnace usually requires preliminary treatment in kettles before undergoing refining operations. During drossing, the bullion is agitated in a drossing kettle and cooled to just above its freezing point, 370°–425°C (700°–800°F). A dross composed of lead oxide, along with copper, antimony, and other elements, floats to the top and solidifies above the molten lead. The dross is removed and is fed into a dross furnace for recovery of the nonlead mineral values.

The lead bullion is refined using pyrometallurgical methods to remove any remaining nonlead materials (e.g., gold, silver, bismuth, zinc, and metal oxides such as oxides of antimony, arsenic, tin, and copper). The lead is refined in a cast-iron kettle in five stages. First, antimony, tin, and arsenic are removed. Next, gold and silver are removed by adding zinc. The lead is then refined by vacuum removal of zinc.

Refining continues with the addition of calcium and magnesium, which combine with bismuth to form an insoluble compound that is skimmed from the kettle. In the final step, caustic soda, nitrates, or both may be added to remove any remaining traces of metal impurities. The refined lead will have a purity of 99.90–99.99%. It may be mixed with other metals to form alloys, or it may be directly cast into shapes.

Secondary Lead Processing

The secondary production of lead begins with the recovery of old scrap from worn-out, damaged, or obsolete products and with new scrap. The chief source of old scrap is lead-acid batteries; other sources include cable coverings, pipe, sheet, and other lead-bearing metals. Solder, a tin-based alloy, may be recovered from the processing of circuit boards for use as lead charge. Prior to smelting, batteries are usually broken up and sorted into their constituent products. Fractions of cleaned plastic (such as polypropylene) case are recycled into battery cases or other products. The dilute sulfuric acid is either neutralized for disposal or recycled to the local acid market. One of the three main smelting processes is then used to reduce the lead fractions and produce lead bullion.

Most domestic battery scrap is processed in blast furnaces, rotary furnaces, or reverberatory furnaces. A reverberatory furnace is more suitable for processing fine particles and may be operated in conjunction with a blast furnace. Blast furnaces produce hard lead from charges containing siliceous slag from previous runs (about 4.5% of the charge), scrap iron (about 4.5%), limestone (about 3%), and coke (about 5.5%). The remaining 82.5% of the charge is made up of oxides, pot furnace refining drosses, and reverberatory slag. The proportions of rerun slags, limestone, and coke vary but can run as high as 8% for slags, 10% for limestone, and 8% for coke.

The processing capacity of the blast furnace ranges from 20 to 80 metric tons per day (tpd). Newer secondary recovery plants use lead paste desulfurization to reduce sulfur dioxide emissions and generation of waste sludge during smelting. Battery paste containing lead sulfate and lead oxide is desulfurized with soda ash, yielding market-grade sodium sulfate as a byproduct. The desulfurized paste is processed in a reverberatory furnace, and the lead carbonate product may then be treated in a short rotary furnace. The battery grids and posts are processed separately in a rotary smelter.

Zinc Manufacturing

In the most common hydrometallurgical process for zinc manufacturing, the ore is leached with sulfuric acid to extract the lead/zinc. These processes can operate at atmospheric pressure or as pressure leach circuits. Lead/zinc is recovered from solution by electrowinning, a process similar to electrolytic refining. The process most commonly used for low-grade deposits is heap leaching. Imperial smelting is also used for zinc ores.

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