Copper Concentrate

Copper extraction refers to the methods used to obtain copper from its ores. The conversion of copper consists of a series of physical and electrochemical processes. Methods have evolved and vary with country depending on the ore source, local environmental regulations, and other factors.As in all mining operations, the ore must usually be beneficiated (concentrated). The processing techniques depend on the nature of the ore. If the ore is primarily sulfide copper minerals (such as chalcopyrite), the ore is crushed and ground to liberate the valuable minerals from the waste (‘gangue’) minerals. It is then concentrated using mineral flotation. The concentrate is typically then sold to distant smelters, although some large mines have smelters located nearby. Such colocation of mines and smelters was more typical in the 19th and early 20th centuries, when smaller smelters could be economic. The sulfide concentrates are typically smelted in such furnaces as the Outokumpu or Inco flash furnace or the ISASMELT furnace to produce matte, which must be converted and refined to produce anode copper. Finally, the final refining process is electrolysis. For economic and environmental reasons, many of the byproducts of extraction are reclaimed. Sulfur dioxide gas, for example, is captured and turned into sulfuric acid — which can then be used in the extraction process or sold for such purposes as fertiliser manufacture. Oxidised copper ores can be treated by hydrometallurgical extraction.