Skip to main content
Logotip Europske komisije
Internal Market, Industry, Entrepreneurship and SMEs

Simulation and development of innovative hydrometallurgical processes for the valorization of low grade and polymetallic resources

Objectives of the commitment

The development of green technologies based on novel materials which are essential to meet the needs of expanding populations is placing great demands on mineral resources. Easy to access resources are depleting and hydrometallurgy has the technical and economic potential to recover valuable metals from complex and low-grade resources (primary and secondary). Amongst other benefits, hydrometallurgy contributes to resources efficiency policies thanks to the valorization of the maximum of metals contained in a resource. In this framework, the present project is focused on the improvement of the performances of one of the most frequently used technologies in modern hydrometallurgy: solvent extraction. The development of databases, simulation and new extractant molecules adapted to more complex ore or waste matrices will induce the enhancement of the performance of the overall metallurgical process

Description of the activities

Solvent extraction is a mature separative technology based on a phase transfer process between an aqueous phase and a non-miscible organic phase to selectively and reversibly recover valuable metals. During the operation of Solvent eXtraction (SX) plants, changes in ore composition or solvent ageing can lead to a dramatic drop of the process efficiency and the quality of the product. Greater control of the process chemistry and optimization of the operating conditions are essential to ensure a high level of performance.
The chemistry of the process can be improved by optimizing the solvent formulation. In particular, most commercially available extractants were developed more than 20 years ago and are not suitable to treat “pregnant leach solutions” (PLSs) obtained from polymetallic and low-grade ores. The challenge in this project is to design new molecules that can extract strategic metals from PLSs that contain low concentration of valuable metals and many impurities at high concentration. The program employs a rational approach based on the use of transverse skills offered by the consortium: (i) physicochemistry to understand the chemical phenomena involved in SX, (ii) molecular modeling to define the effects of the structures of extractants and the diluents on the strength and selectivity of metal extraction, (iii) synthetic organic chemistry at laboratory and plant scales to obtain techcommercially viable extractants and (iv) chemical engineering to develop flow sheets and to optimize metal separation and recovery.
The optimization of the SX parameters and the prediction of the process behavior in case of variation of operating conditions (redox potential, resource composition, pH, etc.) are important to obtain good material and energy balances in the system. Consequently, the development of a simulation tool able to predict the performance of the SX component of the flow sheet is essential. To our knowledge, such tools are not available for hydrometallurgy and their usefulness relies on a precise description of the physicochemistry involved in SX from the molecular to the thermodynamic levels.
Several modules are contemplated.
The first module contains databases which feed the second: thermodynamic calculations (speciation and mass transfer at the liquid-liquid interface). The program MT-Data will be used to predict the speciation in solution by using a reliable database containing Pitzer parameters for activity coefficients calculations, thermodynamic stability constants and extraction constants. Mass transfer calculations at the liquid-liquid interface will be possible by developing a model describing the physicochemistry involved during SX. All of the data from the second module will feed the third, based on the Usim Pac software (Caspeo), which will be modified to include chemical engineering algorithms to predict the behavior of SX processes and to optimize the operating conditions and the flow sheets. The simulation tool and the flow sheets will then be validated in pilot trials.
The project has been organized in different tasks and its successful achievement relies on strong interaction between all partners as described in the partnership.
This strategy will be applied to the recovery of nickel and cobalt from lateritic ores which, despite representing more than 60% of nickel reserves, have so far been largely untreated. The methodologies generated in the programme will underpin the development of processes to recover other strategically important metals, including those which can be sourced by “urban mining”.

Description of the expected impacts

The overarching aim of the project is to secure raw materials supply to Europe by maximizing significantly the efficiency of hydrometallurgical processes for metal-recovery from low grade mixed metal ores and waste materials. Within this framework, this project relies on the implementation of simplified and optimized flowsheets thanks to the development of a simulation tool and the use of new extractant molecules specifically designed for these flow sheets. The rational approach and the tools developed in this project will firstly be applied to the recovery of nickel and cobalt contained in laterite ores, which have so far been largely untreated. However, this research program could be extended to the development of new processes for the recovery of strategic metal from other primary and secondary resources such as the extraction of lithium from brines by exploiting the very high selectivity which is possible in solvent extraction processes using appropriately designed reagents or the recovery of strategic metals from spent batteries (nickel, cobalt, lithium), spent LEDs and WEEE.
The science and technology arising from the project will benefit European researchers in industry and academe well beyond those working with metals. The computational methodologies will have impact on separation sciences in general, a research area which has been poorly funded in many European states in the last two decades. The understanding of the chemistry which results in very high selectivity of metal solvent extraction impacts on a number of areas of great topical interest such as effluent processing, environment and health, extractive metallurgy, etc.

Coordinating organisation & role

Name of the coordinating organisation: ERAMET ResearchCountry: FranceEntity profile: Private sector - large companyRole within the commitment:

ERAMET Research is a subsidiary of ERAMET group, a French mining and metallurgical company. ERAMET Research works on improving existing metallurgical processes and developing new ones. Eramet will bring its expertise in the development of hydrometallurgical processes to develop the simulation tool in collaboration with Partners 3 and 6. ERAMET will also give their expertise for designing economic and performant flow sheets in collaboration with Partners 2, 7 and 8.

Other partners

Fraunhofer-Gesellschaft zur Förderung der Angewandten Forschung e.V.

Name of the organisation: Fraunhofer-Gesellschaft zur Förderung der Angewandten Forschung e.V. Country: Germany Entity profile: Governmental/public body
Role within the commitment: Fraunhofer will lead the CFRP and GFRP recycling research.
Fraunhofer will perform corrosion tests on the developed materials.
Fraunhofer will work with CIDAUT on the implementation, validation and refinement of LCCA tools for the project. Fraunhofer is the Quality Manager of the Consortium and will oversee deliverables and general reporting are produced with the best possible quality following agreed review standards.

Fundacion Cidaut

Name of the organisation: Fundacion Cidaut Country: Spain Entity profile:
Role within the commitment: CIDAUT will lead the research activities on materials recycling and compounding, implementing lab scale demonstrators of each process at its premises and, later, supporting end-users upscale the processes.
CIDAUT will perform mechanical tests, microstructural analyses, injection moulding capability studies on the developed materails, and will work with Fraunhofer on the implementation, validation and refinement of LCCA tools for the project.

RWTH Aachen University (Institute of plastic processing (IKV)

Name of the organisation: RWTH Aachen University (Institute of plastic processing (IKV) Country: Germany Entity profile: Governmental/public body
Role within the commitment: RWTH will implement the novel 3D Generative Preforming process (3D Fibre Spraying) that enables to create high-value long fibre-reinforced 3D preforms for thermoplastic and thermoset composites at low process costs (different kinds of yarn as a raw material, low tooling costs due to low cavity pressures). This cost effective technology allows to align the sprayed fibres in order to produce high-performance, engineered anisotropic products.

Universita' di Cagliari

Name of the organisation: Universita' di Cagliari Country: Italy Entity profile:
Role within the commitment: University of Cagliari is one of the leading European organization in the resin design and coupling with thermoplastic and thermose materials. University of Cagliari will support in the definition of the composite materials, both from CFRP/GFRP, ABS and Rare Earth composite material.

Relight

Name of the organisation: Relight Country: Italy Entity profile: Private sector - SME
Role within the commitment: RELIGHT will work with ITRB to provide the research partners with residues for the recycled ABS supply and the REE recovery processes, including their HydroWEEE process as part of the processes to be studied and analyzed.

Piaggio Aerospace

Name of the organisation: Piaggio Aerospace Country: Italy Entity profile: Private sector - large company
Role within the commitment: Piaggio Aerospace is one of the project End Users (Aeronautics Industry): as such it will provide requirements and further applications that could be developed with the Consortium Materials. Piaggio will assist in the compounds selection, provide Fraunhofer with specific corrosion requirements on business jet size aircraft, and will assess that the developed materials performance fits the selected applications desired improvements.

Blackshape Aircrafts

Name of the organisation: Blackshape Aircrafts Country: Italy Entity profile: Private sector - SME
Role within the commitment: Blackshape Aircrafts is one of the project End Users (Aeronautics Industry): as such it will provide requirements and further applications that could be developed with the Consortium Materials. Blackshape will support to fulfill the requirements of the aeronautics industry on ultra light jet, light jet and trainer for Syllabus, and will assess that the developed alloys performance fits the selected applications desired improvements.

KU Leuven

Name of the organisation: KU Leuven Country: Belgium Entity profile: Academia
Role within the commitment: KUL will collaborate on the balance problem studies and will lead the rare earth recovery research with the solvometallurgical and ionometallurgical processes.
KUL will also contribute to the final compounding selection.
KUL is the Dissemination Manager of the project, promoting that all partners are active on the project Dissemination.

FIDAMC

Name of the organisation: FIDAMC Country: Spain Entity profile: Governmental/public body
Role within the commitment: FIDAMC is going to lead the Work Package on Compression Moulding with CFRP-enhanced materials. As part of the AIRBUS Group, FIDAMC will also be able to provide the input material.
FIDAMC successfully developed a 3D Printer of own design to serve the Aerospace Industry and will be supporting Smart Lab 3D Industries in its 3D printer design.

COMPOSITE INNOVATION CENTER

Name of the organisation: COMPOSITE INNOVATION CENTER Country: Canada Entity profile: Governmental/public body
Role within the commitment: Composite Innovation Center is one of the world leading organization in the field of Composite materials, both from carbon fiber and vegetal-based fibers.
Composite Innovation center has successfully implemented, at lab-scale, recycling processes for CFRP and GFRP.

Existing EU Contribution: No

Period to implement the commitment: from 01-03-2015 to 01-03-2019