Solvometallurgy: an emerging branch of extractive metallurgy

Binnemans and P.T. Jones
Journal of Sustainable Metallurgy (2017) in press. DOI: 10.1007/s40831-017-0128-2

This position paper shows that solvometallurgy is complementary to pyrometallurgy and hydrometallurgy. However, this new approach offers several advantages. Firstly, the consumption of water is very limited offering a major advantage in regions where there is a shortage of water. Secondly, the leaching and solvent extraction can be combined in a single step, which leads to simplified process flow sheets. Thirdly, solvent leaching can be more selective than leaching with acidic aqueous solutions, leading to reduced acid consumption and less purification steps. Fourthly, solvometallurgy is useful for the treatment of ores that are rich in soluble silica (such as eudialyte) as no silica gel is formed. Hence, solvometallurgy is in a position to help develop near-zero-waste metallurgical processes, and with levels of energy consumption that are much less than with high-temperature processes. The Technology Readiness Level (TRL) of this emerging branch of extractive metallurgy is still low (TRL = 3-4), which is a disadvantage for short-term implementation, but a great opportunity for research, development and innovation, in order to tackle the resource challenges of the future.

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SOLVOMET is KU Leuven’s Centre for Solvometallurgy. SOLVOMET’s mission is to support its industrial and RTD partners in the conceptual and practical development of more sustainable solvometallurgical separation processes and new mining chemicals, which are subsequently tested using state-of-the-art lab-scale and mini pilot-scale experimental facilities.

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