The behavior of tellurium during copper ore processing at the American Smelting and Refining Company (Tucson, AZ)

by Amy E Josephson

Institution: University of Alaska – Fairbanks
Year: 2016
Posted: 02/05/2017
Record ID: 2134567
Full text PDF: http://hdl.handle.net/11122/6826


Essentially all tellurium (Te), an element used in solar panels and other high technology devices, is recovered as a byproduct of copper mining. Recent increases in demand have sparked questions of long-term supplies of Te (crustal abundance ~3 μg∙kg-1). As part of a larger study investigating Te resources, this project examines the behavior of Te during Cu ore mining, smelting, and refining at the American Smelting and Refining Company (Tucson, AZ) as a first step toward optimizing Te recovery. Mass balance calculations estimate that only 4 ± 1% of the Te in the ore reports to the Cu anodes, while 60 ± 30%, 0.8 ± 0.2% and 5.8 ± 0.4% is lost in the tailings, slag, and dust, respectively. The uncertainties reported are the standard deviation of analytical measurements, but due to heterogeneity of Te distribution in the ore, the actual uncertainty is likely higher. Microprobe data shows that Te in the concentrate is mainly present as telluride minerals, but substitution into sulfides most likely also occurs. X-ray fluorescence (XRF) mapping showed that Te is collocated with S in the raw anode slimes, pressed anode slimes, and doré furnace soda slag. X-ray absorption spectroscopy (XAS) was used to examine Te speciation in anode slimes. It was found that Te oxidizes during the Cu ore smelting process, with 44% Te4+ in the flash furnace SO₂ filter. Te also showed 32% Te4+ in the raw and pressed anode slimes. The doré furnace soda slag and dust filter showed the most oxidation of Te at 57% Te4+ and 60% Te6+ respectively. These results indicate several points in the extraction process that could be examined further to determine if additional Te might be recovered from the overall process. Advisors/Committee Members: Newberry, Rainer J. (committee).