Modeling and Control of copper solvent extraction process


  • Helsinki University of Technology
  • Outokumpu Technology
  • Phelps Dodge Morenci Inc.
  • Frank Doyle, Dept. of Chemical Engineering, University of California, Santa Barbara, USA.



Begin: 2005-04-01

End: 2006-12-31



During the last two decades the copper leaching, solvent-extraction and electrowinning (LX/SX/EW) process has become an important option in the production of copper from low-grade oxidized ore. LX/SX/EW copper production has grown rapidly during the last decade and further growth can be expected. At the moment there is about 50 plants in the world producing copper with LX/SX/EW-process. In year 2001 world LX/SX/EW-copper production was about 2.8 million tons, which is almost 20% of annual copper production in the world.

As the copper LX/SX/EW process is relatively young and intrinsically rather stable, development has so far mainly focused on the process equipment. This has led to a low level of automation compared to other mineral and metal processing operations. Usually only a low-level regulatory control, in which the controller set points are set manually, is implemented. Improvements in plant control would make it possible to keep process variables close to their optimal values, thus increasing the amount of copper produced, reducing the amount of chemicals and energy consumed, and improving cathode copper quality. These improvements would lead to considerable economic benefits.

The aim of the project is to develop a proactive control in order to build an advanced operator support system, and enhance the performance of process control and diagnosis systems in hydrometallurgical plants. Emphasis is put on new methodology development for proactive model predictive control. The aim in the proactive control is to monitor process disturbances, equipment malfunctions and to predict the behavior of the process. The second important objective is to develop the advanced operator support system. The aim of the advanced operator support system development is to provide dynamical copper mass-transfer monitoring system and a what-if analysis tool for the process operators. A prototype of advanced operator support system will be constructed for testing purposes. The prototype will be tested and validated in an industrial scale copper solvent extraction plant. Finally the performance of the proactive control in solvent extraction process will be measured, evaluated, and reported.

The project is done in a co-operation with Outokumpu Technology.



Tiina Komulainen


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