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Leaching of Low-Grade Sulfur in Anglo Americans Los

Bronces Division: Six Years of Operation

M. Bustos, C. Garca and ricardo Godoy


Anglo American Chile
mbustos@anglochile.cl

ABSTRACT
Los Bronces Division of Anglo American Chile in February of 1998 initiated Phase 1 of its Leaching
Program, commissioning a Plant of LIX / SX / EW of 6000 Ton/year (expanded to 12000 next year). Four
years later (Feb. 2002), Phase 2 was started up with a plant with a capacity of 24800 ton/year of cathode.
Last year both plants produced 28000 ton of cathode, according to plan. This paper describes the
process facilities, its design challenges and operation at high altitude. Dumps with low grade ores (0,40,5 %CuT), at altitude between 3200 and 3850 m.o.s.l., are being leached and emphasis is put in the
results obtained at the moment .

INTRODUCTION
The Los Bronces division is a copper mining operation located 65 km northeast of Santiago and 3500
m.o.s.l. The operation produces approximately 180 kton of fine Copper as Concentrate and 30 kton as
Cathodes.
Cathode production is carried out in two plants fed from solutions coming from the leaching of lowgrade sulfur ROM dumps and mine water from natural leaching.
The Los Bronces Cathodes Plant, located 3400 m.o.s.l., started operating in February 1998. It is fed with a
rich solution from the leaching of low-grade sulfur dumps (La Copa and Bedol) and mine waters. The
aforementioned dumps are not renewed and their irrigation period concludes with their removal, when
they interfere with the progress of the pit.
On the other hand, the San Francisco Cathodes Plant started operating in February 2002. It is located at
2800 m.o.s.l. and is fed from the solutions of the San Francisco dump and, marginally, from mine waters.
Unlike the previous process, the San Francisco dump grows at a rate of 25 Mton per year, disposing the
ore under the cutting grade for the concentration process and over the cutting grade for waste.

DESCRIPTION OF THE CATHODES PLANTS

Los Bronces Cathodes Plants


The rich solution from the leaching of the La Copa and Bedol dumps (26.5 Mtons of irrigable ore) is
naturally sent to an underground reservoir (adapted from the old underground mine that operated in
Los Bronces until the beginning of the 1970s), with a capacity to store 300,000 m3 of solution, and
which also receives the waters from the mine and snowbreak. The SX plant, made up of 2 extraction and
one re-extraction stages, is fed from this point. Due to the seasonality of the flows and concentration of
the rich solution, the plant generally operates in series between April and October, with a maximum
capacity of 440 m3/hr, while between November and March it operates in a parallel way with a
maximum capacity of 660 m3/hr. The electrowinning stage is carried out in 30 cells, with a capacity to
produce 12 kton/year (with a current density of up to 350 A/m2).
Due to the constant entrance of solutions into the system and the permanent bottleneck in electrowinning, transfers of rich solutions are made from the Los Bronces Cathodes Plant to the San Francisco
Cathodes Plant.

San Francisco Cathodes Plant


The process is initiated with the irrigation of the San Francisco dump (currently 31 Mton of irrigable ore),
generating an enriched solution that is impounded in a system of ponds with a capacity to store
100,000 m3. Water from the mine, snowbreak and transfers of rich solution from the Los Bronces
Cathodes Plant are also impounded in this system. The mixture of solutions enters the SX plant, made
up of two extraction stages and one stripping stage. As in the Los Bronces Plant, there is flexibility to
operate in series during the winter period with a maximum capacity of 1750 m3/hr and to operate in a
parallel way during the maximum snowbreak period, with a capacity of up to 2600 m3/hr. The
electrowinning stage is carried out in 66 cells, with the capacity to produce 24.8 kton/year.
The total surplus of the solutions generated by the waters from the mine, snowbreak and transfers from
the Los Bronces Plant, forces to discard part of the raffinate, which is treated in a neutralization and
clarification plant, supplying water from the milling process.
Table 1, Table 2 and Figure 1 show some data on the SX-EW plants, together with a diagram of the
process flows.

Table 1: Solvent Extraction in Cathodes Plants


Los Bronces
Type of PLS storage

Underground

PLS storage Capaccity (m3)


Extraction stages
Stripping stages
PLS flow Series/Parallel (m3/hr)
Organic flow (m3/hr)

Sn Francisco
Ponds

300,000

100,000

440-660

1750-2600

460

1500
200

Electrolyte to S (m3/hr)

90

Organic Coalescer

NO

YES

Electrolyte Coalescer

NO

YES

Electrolyte Filters

YES

YES

Extracting

PT5050MD

PT5050MD

Solvent

SCAID-110

SCAID-103

Extracting comsumption (kg/Ton Cu)

0.8

1.6

Temperature PLS (C)

13

3-9

Table 2: Electrowinning - Cathodes Plant

Capacity (ton/Yyear)

Los Bronces

Sn Francisco

12000

24800

Nro cells

30

66

nodes per cells

64

61

Cathodes per cells

63

60

Current Density (Amp/m2)

350

270-315

Current Efficiency (%)

90

95

90

200

Cu (gpl)

48-51

46-48

Temperature (C)

20.0

12-15

Flow (m3/hr)

90

200

Cu (gpl)

35

35

cid (gpl)

170

185

Flow (m3/hr)

300

1000

Co (ppm)

180

180

Temperature (C)

50

47

Rich Electrolyte

Spent Electrolyte

Electrolyte to cell

Flow (m3/hr)

La Copa and
Bedol dumps
Waters from
mine and
snowbreak
Underground
Reservoir

Los Bronces
SX-EW Plant

Milling/Flotation
Process Water
Reservoir

San Francisco
Dump

Waters from
Mine and
Snowbreak
PLS Intake

PLS Ponds

San Francisco
SX-EW Plant

Neutralization
Clarification

Figure 1: Flow Diagram of Cathodes Plant, Los Bronces Division

DESCRIPTION OF DUMPS
The La Copa and Bedol dumps, located at 3850 and 3600 m.o.s.l. respectively (Figure 2), are deposits of
low-grade copper ROM sulfur mineral, disposed of without previous treatment and with 90% -6 grading.
As mentioned, it is not programmed to deposit more mineral in these dumps and the leaching period
culminates when they are removed due to the progress of the Pit.
At the San Francisco dump (Figure 3) is deposited ROM sulfur ore with a 90% -6 grading, under the
cutting grade for the milling-flotation process and over the cutting grade to be classified as waste. The
sectors currently irrigated are located between 3200 and 3245 m.o.s.l., but in the future it is contemplated
to reach 3520 m.o.s.l.

La Copa
SF1

SF2

Bedol

Figure 2: La Copa and Bedol Dumps

Figure 3: San Francisco Dump

The following Table 3 shows the main characteristics of the Los Bronces Division dumps:
Table 3: Los Bronces Division Dumps Subject to Leaching

Sector
La
Copa
Bedol
SF1
SF2

Initiation of
Irrigation

Irrigabl
e
Kton

Cu
grade
%

Dec-97
Jul-99
Dec-01
Apr-03

15490
11000
21392
9580

0.47
0.65
0.46
0.46

Cc+So
l
%
50
50
<40
<40

Irrigation
Rate
lt*hr/m2
10
10
4-15
13

Maximum
Height
m

Minimum
Height
M

82
48
103
90

33
34
24
44

DUMP OPERATION
Irrigation of the dumps is performed with drips buried 50 cm under the surface, to avoid freezing of the
solutions during winter, when the dumps are covered by ice and/or snow. This condition prevents visual
checking of the drips; therefore, a system for filtering the solution before it enters the irrigation grid has
been installed.
Initially, it had been considered to alternate periods of irrigation with rest periods, but this condition has
been only partially met. In the case of the Los Bronces Plant, it is difficult to have access to the dumps
during winter, which prevents complying with an orderly program of sector rotation. In the San Francisco
Plant, irrigation was privileged with the intention of achieving a leaching ratio greater than planned (0.67
m3/ton) after a period of two years, after which the sectors are covered due to the development of the
new ones.
With respect to acid addition, an acid concentration of 6-10 gpl was established for irrigation and a
consumption of 3 kg/kg Cu produced; however, said consumption has decreased gradually at the Los
Bronces plant until reaching 1 kg/ton Cu, which has been enough to fill up the EW capacity. At the San
Francisco plant, acid addition has been restricted in some periods due to contingencies associated with
the neutralization process; a strong impact has been observed in the leaching yield of the dump.
Table 4 shows certain data on dump irrigation.

Table 4: Dump irrigation


Los Bronces

Number of Pumps

San Francisco

La Copa

Bedol

2002

2003

Power (HP)

650

450

1250

1250

Flow impulsed (m3/hr)

330

400

1600

1600

Irrigation Temperature (C)

19

19

7-8

9-10

Concentration H+ Irrig. (gpl)

2-6

6-10

Length Raffinate Pipe (km)

3.0

1.2

3.2

3.2

Diff. of Height in Pumping (m)

455

175

420

400-445

Raffinate Pipe Diameter (inch)

10

10

24

24

DUMP CONTROLS
As mentioned, the La Copa and Bedol dumps
discharge the rich solution into an
underground reservoir where waters from the
mine and snowbreak are incorporated.
Due to the above, it is impossible to have
access to each supply separately, as all flows
join in the same place.

This condition also occurs in the San Francisco


Plant, as the pond system receives a mixture of
solutions made up of the rich solution from the
different sectors of the dump, snowbreak and
transfers, and it is not possible to separate
them.
The fact of not directly identifying the different
supplies creates a problem at the moment of

estimating the recuperation of the different


dump sectors, complicates the leaching
process analysis and, therefore, may lead to
erroneous decisions. Also, when changes are
introduced in the operation, the evaluation of
their real effects on the yield of the process is
hindered.
Figure 4: Copper Balance in the San Francisco
Plant

Cu in Mine
Waters

Cu in
Dumps
Cu in
Transfers

SX-EW Plant

Cu Discarded
Cu Produced

Following is the methodology for controlling the dumps of the San Francisco Plant, which is also applied
to the dumps in the Los Bronces Plant.
Cu Dumps = Cu Discarded + Cu Produced Cu in Mine Waters Cu in Transfers
Cu in Dumps: Corresponds to Fine Copper extracted from the dumps and is the variable of the
balance
Cu Discarded: Fine Copper discarded in the raffinate fraction, which goes to the neutralization
process
Cu Produced: It is simply the Copper Production, corrected by the systems inventory
accumulations.
Cu in Transfers: Copper contained in the solutions transferred from the Los Bronces Plant to the San
Francisco Plant
Cu in Mine Waters: Copper contained in mine water solutions.

Once the supply of the whole dump is defined, it is necessary to identify the separate supplies of each
sector of the dump.

Sector 1

Sector 2
Sector 3

Cu Sector 1

Cu Sector 2
Cu Sector 1

To establish the copper extracted from each sector, the following equation may be used:

Cu Dumps =

i =1

Cu Sector i

Where Cu Sector i corresponds to the supply of Fine Copper from Sector i


Sector 1 was the first sector to be irrigated and the only one irrigated during one year, therefore, it is
relatively simple to obtain its recuperation curve during this period.
In the first year of operation, we have:

Cu Dumps = Cu Sector 1

Upon entering Sector 2, it is possible to establish its recupreation curve by balance, as the copper
extracted from the whole dump (Cu dumps) is known and the curve of Sector 1 (Cu Sector 1) has been
established.
Then,

Cu Sector 2 = Cu Dumps Cu Sector 1.

The same is applied for the successive sectors incorporated into irrigation.

RESULTS OBTAINED

Los Bronces Plant

A higher production than estimated in the plans has been obtained, and the recovery curve of
the La Copa and Bedol dumps continues showing a linear behavior (Figures 5 and 8). Several
cracks have been detected in the dumps with temperatures above 50C, which could be an
indication of important bacterial activity that would explain the results obtained. The previous
situation requires further analysis, due to its potential impact on production.
It is possible to accelerate copper extraction of the La Copa and Bedol dumps in order to transfer
PLS to the San Francisco Plant, which has an available capacity in EW. The solution volume
transferred does not return to the Los Bronces Plant, therefore, it is necessary to add water to
maintain this plants solution inventory.

Recovery of La Copa and Bedol Dumps

Solutions Temperature of Los Bronces Plant

% Recovery
40.00

25.0

35.00

30.00
25.00

20.0
15.0

20.00
15.00

10.0

10.00
5.0

5.00
0.00
0.00

0.20

0.40

0.60

0.80

0.0

1.00

Leaching Ratio m3/ton


La Copa

Bedol

Ja03 Fe03 Ma03 Ap03 Ma03 Ju03 Ju03 Au03 Se03 Oc03 No03 De03
Total
TPLS

Figure 5: Recuperation of La Copa and Bedol Dumps

Figure 6: Temperatures at Los Bronces Plant

Iron in PLS Los Bronces Plant

Real and Planned Production Los Bronces Plant

1600
1400
1200
1000
800
600
400
200
0

ton

14000
12000
10000
8000
6000
4000
2000
0
1999

Fe3+

Fe2+

Fe total

Figure 7: Iron in PLS Los Bronces Plant

T Irrig BD

T Irrig LC

2000

2001
Real

2002
Plan

Figure 8: Production at Los Bronces Plant

Constant transfer of solutions to San Francisco plus fresh water make-up has caused a decrease in
the temperature of the solutions in the Los Bronces Plant (see Figure 6).
Constant renewal of solutions in the Los Bronces Plant, due to the addition of water and the
incorporation of snowbreak, maintains Fe concentrations low (less than 1500 ppm). It is
important to mention that approximately 70% of total Fe is presented as Fe+3 (see Figure 7).

2003

Alterations are seen in the recovery curve of the La Copa and Bedol dumps, which may be due to
the low rotation of sectors as a result of low availability during winter (Figure 5).

San Francisco Plant


Greater copper recovery has been obtained in sector SF1 of the San Francisco dump, than that
considered in the plans (Figure 10). This is due to the following factors:
Increase in leaching ratio of the dump, privileging irrigation in relation to rest periods.
Better behavior of the dump for leaching ratios greater than 0.45 m3/ton.

Recovery of San Francisco Dump

Temperature of Solutions in San Francisco Plant

% Recovery
30.0
25.0

12

20.0

C 10

15.0

10.0
6

5.0
0.0

4
0.02

0.23

0.43

0.65

0.76

0.87

Leaching Ratio
SF 1

Lab

2
0

SF 2

Figure 9: Recuperations San Francisco Dump

T Ju03
Irrig SF
Ja03 Fe03 Ma03 Ap03TPLS
Ma03 Ju03
Au03 Se03 Oc03 No03 De03

Figure 10: Temperatures San Francisco Plant

For the linear segment of the recovery curve, that is, for the first leaching period, irrigation has
been privileged over rest, to accelerate recovery during the first year. For the asymptotic
segment, rest has increased, as copper supply in said sector is decreasing.
For sector SF2 of the San Francisco dump, a better recovery curve is observed (Figure 9),
associated to greater concentration of acid in irrigation. Also, the transfer of solutions from the
Los Bronces Plant, since January 2003, may have accelerated the bacterial population of this
sector, improving recovery. The above is a grounded assumption that should be analyzed in
depth.

Iron in PLS San Francisco


Plant

Real and Planned Production San Francisco Plant

400

20000

350
300
250

ton

200

15000
10000

150
100

5000

50
0

0
1999
Fe3+

Fe2+

Fe total

Figure 11: Iron in San Francisco Plant

2000

2001
Real

2002
Plan

Fig. 12: Production in San Francisco Plant

The development of new dumps forced to cover with a 40 m layer some sectors that were still
being irrigated. With the purpose of continuing to irrigate these sectors, the whole system of
valves that control the drip grids was transferred to a clear area. As a result of this, the leaching
period has been extended, maintaining irrigation of sectors covered by another layer of mineral.
A decrease in the temperature of the San Francisco Plants PLS was observed, when new sectors
were irrigated. This is due to the fact that the heat generated by the old sectors is used in the
heating of the new mass of ore (Figure 5). In spite of the increase in snowbreak flow in the
summer period, no decrease in temperature is observed in the solutions for December 2003,
which could show that the heat used in the heating of new dumps that are irrigated is more
significant than that used in heating snowbreak waters.
As in the Los Bronces Plant, constant renewal of the solutions maintains Fe concentrations low
(under 500 ppm), although with an increasing trend. From the total Fe, more than 95% is
presented as Fe+3 (see Figure 11).

FUTURE DEVELOPMENTS
The results obtained in the operation of the Los Bronces Division cathode plants, have exceeded
production plans; however, there are still important development areas to continue optimizing dump
operation:
Strengthening of bacterial activity in the dump.
Applying a mineralogical analysis to improve the irrigation strategy of each kind of mineral.
Obtaining the most uniform recovery possible in all the ore deposited in the dump.

FINAL COMMENT
Cathodes production obtained by the leaching of low-grade sulfur dumps in the Los Bronces Division, has
shown to be an important supply to the business. This encourages the development or search of new
opportunities, which will permit to increase copper extraction from the dumps or incorporate minerals
that were not considered as productive resources. The results obtained have exceeded design
expectations and, until now, in the improvements made each dump has been considered as a black box.
In a second improvement stage, it is intended to analyze in depth what occurs inside the dump,
incorporating aspects such as hydraulics, heat balance, strengthening of bacterial activity, behavior at
different depths, etc.

2003