The Importance Of Electro-Winning
By Eric van Dieman.
The importance of electro-winning to the mining industry should never be underestimated, as it’s considered one of the most cost-effective and efficient ways to extract base metals.
According to Eric van Dieman, CEO at CSI Consolidated Holdings, electro-winning – while sometimes used for precious metals – is ideal for large-scale extraction of base metals.
“Its importance is highlighted by the fact that globally in 2020, some 20 million tonnes of copper were extracted from the earth for commercial use, demonstrating that the need for effective electro-winning operations remains significant,” he says.
“Large tankhouses with efficient processes play a huge role in effectively extracting or electro-winning base metals. While this means a large capital investment is required, the return on investment from the economies of scale created by such a project make it a worthwhile one to invest in.”
Van Dieman adds that his company offers a solution known as the UNICELL, which is a proprietary offering from Europe, with CSI the only organisation in Africa to utilise this technology.
“The UNICELL, unlike many of its contemporaries, has been designed in a manner that makes the entire cell acid-resistant, as well as easy to repair. With the right maintenance and care, these cells can last for up to 20 years. For us, quality is key, so although our offering is more costly, it is also significantly stronger and more robust. The same can be said for our cathodes, which are tougher and are specifically designed to withstand the acid ingress for longer periods and the tough environment of the tankhouse. I would say that the long-term benefits of our quality products far outweigh the short-term gain obtained from slightly lower costs.”
Van Dieman notes that CSI is one of the first organisations to design and utilise a PMC insulator block – which is a pressure-moulded block designed to keep the anode and cathode separated and provide correct spacing. Should an anode and cathode touch, it can cause problems and impact on the plating process, he says.
CSI can design and manufacture long-lasting, quality, fire-retardant, acid-resistant PMC insulator blocks according to the design of the cell layout and busbar design – dog bone, u-shoe, square or triangular – enabling the mine to increase its copper yield per cell. CSI has manufactured and supplied more than 150 000 insulator blocks and over 30 000 cathodes in the market already.
“Despite the continuing increases in the cost of electricity, I believe the electro-winning process will be around for a long time to come. At CSI, we continue to design and develop innovative technologies and products to further improve the electro-winning of base metals.
“We are working on replacing the traditional lead anode with one made from titanium. We are developing new-type insulator blocks, and new modular manufacturing of cells to make transportation of these cells more cost-effective. Although our cathode is the best on the market, we continually strive to improve even more.
“Electro-winning remains one of the most economical methods of extracting or ‘winning’ copper, and the future of copper itself remains strong. It has a bright future in the medical field, where copper is viewed as an anti-bacterial metal that is ideal for areas where bacteria can easily accumulate.
“The demand for copper will grow even more as the demand for electric vehicle batteries and semiconductor wiring increases. When you couple the fact that the future of copper is secure with the continuing promise demonstrated by electro-winning, it goes without saying that CSI believes it has a big role to play in this future,” says Van Dieman.