Elevating Copper Value
The Universidad de Concepción, led by Dr. Eugenia Araneda, and Atacama Copper Foils have collaborated on a groundbreaking process for producing copper foils, aiming to enhance the value of Chile’s primary export. This initiative seeks to move beyond traditional exports of copper cathodes and concentrates, leveraging Chile’s status as the world’s leading copper exporter.
Innovative Production Process
The team’s process involves creating copper foils from non-conventional solutions of the mineral. These solutions contain varied concentrations of copper and other elements, differing from those obtained by dissolving metallic copper. The method promises to reduce production costs and carbon footprint by 25%, while tripling the price of electrolytic copper in cathodes.
High-Purity Copper Foils
The resulting product is a high-purity copper foil with thicknesses ranging from 15 to 100 microns. These foils are produced from pure solutions derived either from copper cathodes or high-purity copper salts.
Energy Efficiency and Environmental Benefits
The new technology stands out for its lower energy consumption compared to Asian production methods. It bypasses cathode production, moving directly from electrolyte to foil, resulting in significant energy savings and a reduced carbon footprint.
Semi-Industrial Testing and Future Plans
Having successfully undergone semi-industrial testing, the next step involves a pilot at a mining site. Atacama Copper Foils is in discussions with various mining companies for this phase. The process also presents an opportunity to valorize residual water currents as a copper source, further enhancing its environmental friendliness.
CEO’s Insight and Environmental Impact
Álvaro Acevedo, CEO of Atacama Copper Foils, highlighted the compatibility of this process with existing production methods and its ability to utilize waste flows. This approach could recover and valorize a significant portion of the 165,000 tons of copper typically returned to electro-winning process piles each year, minimizing environmental impacts.
Collaborative Efforts and Market Potential
The research team comprises four metallurgy PhDs from Universidad de Concepción, who are also partners in Atacama Copper Foils. While the university and academic team spearhead the research and development, Atacama Copper Foils plays a crucial role in transforming this innovation into a commercially viable product. Their collaboration underscores the potential of academic-industry partnerships in advancing sustainable and profitable mining technologies.