Atalaya Mining (AIM: ATYM, TSX: AYM), which currently produces copper concentrates from its Proyecto Riotinto site in Spain, has launched a feasibility study to evaluate the economic viability of producing cathodes from complex sulphide ores prevalent in the Iberian pyrite belt.
The production of cathodes has the potential to generate cost savings by reducing charges associated with concentrate transportation, treatment and refining, and penalty elements, while also reducing carbon emissions, the company says.
This will be done through the application of a newly developed extraction process called the E-LIX System with a new industrial scale plant. The technology was developed and owned by Lain Technologies, which is led by an electrochemistry expert from the University of Cambridge.
Through the application of singular catalysts and physicochemical conditions, E-LIX System is able to achieve high metal recoveries under low residence times by accomplishing rapid reaction rates while overcoming classic surface passivation issues that have typically impaired metal recovery from complex sulphide ores.
E-LIX System is also considered to be a more environmentally friendly process than existing technologies; it is a zero-emissions process that does not consume water nor acid, and runs under mild operating conditions (atmospheric pressure and room temperature).
E-LIX System was patented in 2014 by Lain Tech and has been developed in collaboration with Atalaya from an initial concept in the laboratory to a fully operational pilot plant located at Proyecto Riotinto.
The pilot plant, which has a 5 t/d capacity, has been running for the past nine months, with only mandatory stoppage owing to covid-19 restrictions. Leach rates of up to 250 kg/h have been achieved processing copper concentrates, zinc concentrates and blends of different types of sulphides.
The plant also contains a solvent extraction and electrowinning (SX-EW) section and has successfully produced high-purity copper cathodes as a proof of concept.
Atalaya affirms that the pilot plant has demonstrated that the E-LIX System treats effectively the impurity levels typically associated with the complex sulphides present in the world-class pyrite belt.
During the past five years, Atalaya has provided financial assistance to Lain Tech to develop the E-LIX System and now has an agreement to use its patents on an exclusive licence basis within the Iberian pyrite belt in Spain and Portugal.
This allows Atalaya to conduct a feasibility study to evaluate the construction of an industrial scale plant for the production of a minimum of 10,000 tonnes of copper cathode metal a year.
The study — at a cost of approximately €1 million — will be funded by Atalaya and is expected to be finalized in 2021. The license agreement provides for a profit-sharing arrangement between Atalaya and Lain Tech.
Atalaya believes that the use of the E-LIX System could potentially be applicable to the large amount of complex sulphide ore inventory present throughout the Iberian pyrite belt, including Atalaya’s mining properties such as Proyecto Riotinto and Proyecto Masa Valverde.