Partnership will use nanobubbles to increase copper recovery

Article by Amanda Jasi

BASF has partnered with Moleaer, a nanobubble technology company, to combine novel technologies in the mining sector to enhance copper recovery at existing mines.

The partners say that copper demand is expected to increase significantly, because it is an essential raw material for driving the “electric revolution”, which will be a key enabler in decarbonising the global economy. S&P Global’s The Future of Copper, released in July, projects that annual copper demand will almost double to 49m t/y by 2035, compared with 25m t/y today. From there, it will continue to grow. In the report, S&P also says there is the potential for a supply gap of about 9.9m t/y in 2035.

As existing mines become depleted, higher demand will require new mines. However, BASF and Moleaer say that new mines are taking longer to develop due to declining ore grades, increasingly complex ore mineralogy, and increasing environmental, social, and governance (ESG) responsibilities. This makes maximising copper recovery from existing reserves more crucial than ever before.

Together, the partners will combine expertise in mineral processing, hydrometallurgy, gas transfer, and nanobubble technology to develop novel processes for mining. Initially, they will target the copper leaching process and improve extraction rates of copper ores containing high levels of the primary copper sulfide chalcopyrite.

Leaching refers to the process of extracting a metal from an ore by a solvent and removing the resulting solution from the undissolved portion. The partners say primary sulfide ores are difficult to leach, which leads to low recovery efficiencies.

Test work by BASF has shown that Moleaer’s nanobubble technology improves the extraction of valuable metals such as copper. Moleaer says nanobubbles have unique properties that improve numerous physical, chemical, and biological processes. The company has patented nanobubble generation technology, which it says is the only scalable method in the industry that consistently produces high density solutions of optimally-sized nanobubbles.

When the nanobubble technology is combined with BASF’s LixTRA reagent – a leaching aid offering more sustainable copper extraction – mineral recovery rate and efficiencies are compounded, especially in sulfide-based ores.

Caren Hoffman, who leads BASF’s Global Mining Solutions business, said: “Technological improvements and collaborations like the one we announced…are essential if the industry is to maximise the recovery of copper at existing mines.”

Nick Dyner, CEO of Moleaer, said: “This important collaboration comes at a time when the ability of mining copper is only getting more costly and challenging. [Our] nanobubble technology will allow the mining industry to improve the efficiency and efficacy in existing mines and narrow the gap between supply and demand of copper.”

Article by Amanda Jasi

Staff reporter, The Chemical Engineer

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