Chinese researchers discover new ways of recovering copper, lead, zinc from copper smelting slag


A study done by researchers from China’s Central South has introduced new method for recovering copper, lead and zinc from copper smelting slag, addressing both environmental concerns and resource recovery.

The paper, published in Transactions of Nonferrous Metals Society of China on Thursday, detailed the new technique which employed a sulfurisation-reduction approach.

“Using pyrite as a sulfurising agent, the novel sulfurisation-reduction method facilitates the efficient extraction of metals from slag by combining thermodynamic analysis with practical laboratory experiments,” the researchers said in a statement on Thursday.

According to the scientists, the technique had allowed them to recover nearly 98 percent of the copper and zinc content and about 90 percent of the lead content in slag.

The article pointed out that only in 2022, China produced over 11,000 kilotons of refined copper, leading to 2.2 to 3 tonnes of slag per tonne of copper produced.

This slag contained valuable metals such as additional copper (0.5 percent–six percent), lead (0.2 percent–0.6 percent), and zinc (one percent–5.5 percent), which are often not recovered, resulting in resource waste and environmental hazards from leaked toxic ions.

“By significantly reducing the harmful residues in the leftover slag, this method contributes to a more sustainable approach to waste management in the metallurgical industry.

“It suggests a shift towards more eco-friendly practices, emphasising the importance of both economic viability and environmental responsibility in resource recovery processes,” according to the researchers.

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