It is a new commitment to the long-term development of Riotinto and the rest of the Faja Pirítica, through the implementation of a technology developed entirely in Huelva, innovative and of higher added value.
At Lain Tech, we have developed a hydrometallurgical solution for the extraction of copper, zinc, cobalt, nickel, lead, and precious metals. This innovative process for leaching refractory minerals is primarily intended for the treatment of primary sulfides such as chalcopyrite, sphalerite, arsenopyrite, and galena, among others.
The pilot plant, located in Riotinto (Huelva, Spain), has already demonstrated that the system works, maintaining a processing capacity of 5 tons per day of copper concentrate.
The E-LIX™ system begins with a dissolution (leaching) phase of the concentrates, where specific catalysts and special physicochemical conditions are applied, proving its effectiveness with recoveries above 90%. Tests have confirmed that the process achieves high metal recovery with low residence times and fast reaction rates for copper and zinc. The process successfully overcomes the classic problem of “passivation” in the leaching of complex sulfides, which involves the formation of a microfilm around the sulfide particles that prevents the reaction from progressing. Overcoming this hurdle, the process culminates with the application of the well-known and proven SX-EW technology, which involves the selective extraction of dissolved metals and their electrodeposition to produce high-purity copper cathodes.
This, combined with the verified capability of the E-LIX™ process to effectively treat the typical impurity levels of complex sulfides, indicates a high probability that deposits in the Pyritic Belt that are currently unproductive may become productive in the near future.
Implementing the E-LIX™ Process on an industrial scale at the Riotinto mine represents a radical shift in philosophy, allowing us to produce final copper on-site. The process starts and ends in the mine, enabling us to make deposits viable and sustainable that were previously considered impossible to treat.
Until now, the mine was able to produce a final concentrate with an approximate copper grade of 23%, which was transported to the port of Huelva, and from there, the majority was sent to China for smelting.
Depending on how far we want to go in the process, the purity can vary, but ideally, we aim for Grade A cathodes with 5 nines, meaning 99.999% pure copper on-site at the mine.