Quicklime To Benefit From Copper Uptick
During the second and third quarters of 2017 the Copper price has shown a significant uptick in price. It is expected that the interest in copper will increase as the Electric Vehicle (EV) market expands. Based on current figures, Electric Vehicles will require up to three times the amount of copper that is currently required by fuel engine vehicles. Several European countries are planning to replace most if not all fuel engine vehicles with electric vehicles in the next couple of decades. Add to this figure the amount of copper wiring that will be required for all the recharge docking stations and the potential of copper in the near future increases exponentially.
One of the critical supply resources that are set to also benefit from the current uptick and anticipated future higher demand for copper are lime products, specifically quicklime.
approximately 80% of the produced quicklime was used in flotation processes
Quicklime is produced by the conversion of limestone through calcining in rotary or vertical kilns. During the lime process, for every tonne of saleable quicklime produced, approximately 2 tonnes of “pure” limestone or 6 tons of impure limestone is consumed. The limestone consumption is dependent on the type of product, limestone purity, degree of calcing, water temperature and the quantity of waste products. For every part lime produced, two parts carbon dioxide are produced. A distinction is made between “brown lime” and “white lime” having available lime contents of 68% and 72% respectively.
Soft burned lime is the most reactive and is difficult to produce because of the delicate operating balance that must be achieved, sufficient heat to drive off the CO2 without overheating closing the pore structures. Depending on the kiln age and design between 200 kg (new kilns) and 350 kg (old kilns) of coal is required to produce one tonne of quicklime.
The limestone must adhere to the prerequisites:
1) It must be of superior grade,
2) With a silica and alumina content less than 2 % in total.
3) It should also have a low sulphur and phosphorus content.
For the purpose of fluxing, the iron content may be high, but the material must be lumpy and finely crystallized to avoid decreptitation. In a powdered form, the milled carbonates can be mixed with ore and pressed as self-fluxing pellets.
Quicklime as a flux removes impurities such as phosphorus, silica and sulphur. In the beneficiation of non-ferrous metals, lime is used to control pH in the flotation process, to neutralise iron sulphides and to extract and recover metals through precipitation or leaching processes.
Both quicklime and hydrated lime are widely used in the flotation or recovery of many non-ferrous ores, in particular copper ore flotation in which lime acts as depressant and maintains proper alkalinity in the flotation circuit. Lime is also used in the flotation of zinc, nickel and lead bearing ores. In the smelting and refining of copper, zinc, lead and other non-ferrous ores, noxious gas fumes of SO2 can be neutralized by passing these gases through “milk-of-lime” (dilute hydrated lime in an aqueous suspension) in a scrubber to avert the formation of sulphuric acid in the atmosphere and corrosion of plant equipment.
Quicklime is used to neutralize the acid effluents generated by the acid plants associated with copper smelters. Lime products are also used to neutralise the dumps in an effort to remediate Acid Mine Drainage (AMD).
In the copper mining sector, approximately 80% of the produced quicklime was used in flotation processes. Depending on the ore to be treated, the quicklime unit consumption value range from 1.5 to 1.7 kg/ton of processed copper ore.
The major copper producing countries, such Zambia and Chile have domestic supply of lime and can produce limited amounts of quicklime. The domestic production however do not meet the annual demand and these countries are dependent on import, in the case of Zambia quicklime in also imported from South Africa and Chile imports from Argentina.
The quicklime market was significantly affected by the worldwide economic downturn, and on average the demand decrease approximately 6 % per year since 2012. The situation is estimated to turnaround with the current commodity price uptick and market recovery anticipated in 2019.
Quicklime prices are not readily available, but the average selling price in 2015 was US$ 156.70/ton. In the period 2005 to 2015, the average year to year increase in quicklime prices were 9,9 % with the trend set to continue for the near future. This scenario is dependent on the assumption that quicklime import volumes don’t increase significantly and/or no new quicklime production projects come into full production in the next two to three years.
quicklime unit consumption value range from 1.5 to 1.7 kg/ton of processed copper ore
The consumption of lime is most likely to remain stable as a pH modifier and acid neutralizer in the production of copper cathodes. In absence of any cheaper replacement product and in the increase of demand, particularly from the copper producing industry, demand is set to increase for the near future.
The downside potential is that the production of quicklime is very fossil fuel intensive and produces large amounts of carbon dioxide and is the focus of environmental concerns. Although smelting still remains the preferred method of processing, hydrometallurgical processes is being refined and may take a larger portion of the market in future. Research is being conducted to reduce the consumption of lime in flotation of copper- and nickel bearing minerals.
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VIET NAM TECHNOLOGY MINERALS JSC - SHC GROUP
Mr. Steve (International Sales manager - Minerals Divisions)
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