Geometallurgical Evaluation of Metals Recovery from Kupferschiefer Ore

Lead Research Organisation: UNIVERSITY OF EXETER
Department Name: Camborne School of Mines


The project aims to improve EU security of supply in relation to cobalt by developing innovative and cost-effective methods to recover cobalt from Polish copper ore.The potential presence of cobalt in the ores is accepted, but it is currently not recovered. This project aims to understand the estimation of cobalt resources in a volumetric and mineralogical sense. In terms of mineralogy, this requires a robust characterisation of the ore in terms of the constituent minerals and the associations of cobalt minerals. Analyses will be performed with Qemscan and other advanced analytical techniques using samples selected on the basis of geology. In terms of volumentric analysis, geostatistics will be applied and, if required, developed to estimate the variability of the cobalt fed into the processing plant. Evaluation of geotechnical properties of the ore will also be undertaken - this will help inform an understanding of the downstream behaviour of the cobalt minerals and its associations.With sound understanding of the cobalt-bearing ore in place, the existing processing of copper ore in Poland will be analysed. The emphasis will lie on developing a process model which explains the passage of cobalt minerals through the existing process. With a firm understanding of the fate of cobalt in the process, the most promising options for recovery of cobalt will be investigated. While cobalt is not recovered with the current flotation process, it is expected that a leaching process will be necessary to extract cobalt. The research will investigate the dimensioning of a suitable leaching process in terms of process parameter. Subsequently, the the sensitivity of the leaching performance to variations in the feed mineralogy and process parameters will be assessed. Finally, the project will assess the economic viability of cobalt recovery from Polishcopper ore.

Planned Impact

This project has already built a consortium of unrivalled depth and breadth with the skillset needed to deliver evidence for the decision-making needed to secure the supply of cobalt for the 21st century and beyond. The project will deliver a range of answers to the key science questions that delay such security, delivering a range of tools that can be applied to the identification and definition of new cobalt resources and the application of novel and benign bioprocessing options to the extraction and recovery of cobalt from a range of mineralization types found in Europe and elsewhere in the world.

This project has the ambitious plans of providing (i) New geological and mineralogical knowledge from existing and potential deposits of cobalt that will underpin new, more efficient exploration and mining activities (ii) A clearer understanding of the natural biochemical cycle of cobalt better defining the pathways that make and break cobalt-bearing compounds in natural systems (iii) An assessment of a range of bioprocessing pathways, at a range of scales, in both reduced and oxidized ore systems, targeted towards more benign biorecovery methods for cobalt (iv) Insights into new methods capable of (bio)engineering compounds for use by the broader the downstream cobalt user community.

The project will provide new knowledge relevant to both UK and international researchers as well as cobalt producing companies and end users of specific cobalt products. The research is also relevant to an understanding of the geology, mineralogy and biogeochemistry of the terrestrial environment, specifically the processes that underpin the biogeochemical cycling of metals. The project will also lead to cross-disciplinary awareness and will train a cohort of new scientists with skills to take the research further.

Commercial development with one or more industrial partners will lead to obvious economic and societal benefit. In addition, various national environmental agencies could benefit from the results of our study, particularly those concerned with land management. User groups and the public will be engaged through organised workshops as well as specific meetings. The primary mechanism for knowledge exchange with academic colleagues will be publication of papers in international refereed journals and conference presentations. We will also organise symposia through selected learned societies.

We will establish a project website that describes the research in accessible terms and project members will be able to add new material to the website on a regular basis. We will specifically engage with the public through the public learning programmes at individual consortium institutions and we will engage with schools targeted at Key Stages 3 and 4, encouraging pupils to engage with research science via direct relationships with individual young researchers in the SoS programme.


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Studentship Projects

Project Reference Relationship Related To Start End Student Name
NE/M011372/1 30/04/2015 30/03/2020
1715491 Studentship NE/M011372/1 01/03/2016 30/08/2019 Paulina Pazik
Title Assessment of the metal recovery possibilities 
Description Using geostatistical analysis and estimation methods, as well as programming of the mining and mineral processing operation, cobalt recovery possibilities will be evaluated, according to the actual operating conditions and new proposed ones, taking in to account metal variation in the ore. This study will allow a thoroughful understanding of the cobalt behavior in the process and recovery challenges it creates. PhD is still in progress, therefore the methodology is still being developed 
Type Of Material Technology assay or reagent 
Year Produced 2019 
Provided To Others? No  
Impact This methodology could help to evaluate other valuable metals recovery in the future.