KGHM arranged a 4 part tour for our Grad classes designed to show the entire copper production process from extraction to final product. Today our group traveled to KGHM’s Glogow plant which included a smelter plant, electrowinning plant, and two copper wire factory tours. The experience gave us a unique glimpse of the downstream processes we rarely get to see.
KGHM is known for copper production, but they are also the largest silver producing company in the world. At the Glogow site, they produce copper, silver, lead, and other valuable industrial products. Their first smelter was commissioned in 1971 by the Soviet Union, and the second smelter, that we visited, was constructed 7 years later to add capacity. The original facility is currently being upgraded with modern technology to reduce energy consumption and emissions.
Concentrates from their copper mines are stored and blended in order to achieve the proper feed grade into the smelter (25.6% at Smelter #2). Up until the 1980’s, the smelter was a large polluter until strict environmental regulations led to significant investments to reduce dust and SO2 emissions. Just two or three years later, their dust and SO2 emissions had dropped by a factor of ~100x.
After a short introductory presentation, we split into two groups to tour the smelter, electrowinning plant and wire plants.
Process flowsheet for Glogow II Smelter (http://www.kghm.pl)
At the smelter, we saw the operators pouring blister copper from their flash furnace as well as the “tapping” process used to start the flow of molten metal. Additionally, our group saw an operator skim waste by-products called slag from the furnace into a ~3m high crucible. In the smelter, they also cast copper anodes, the input to the for the electrowinning plant.
Molten copper being poured into a crucible at Glogow Smelter (http://www.kghm.pl/)
Giant crucibles used for transporting molten metal and waste slag. (http://www.kghm.pl/)
Copper annodes being poured at 99.2% copper. These annodes are upgraded to 99.99% copper in the elctrowinning plant. (http://www.kghm.pl/)
In the electrowinning plant copper annodes are placed in large pools of pungent blue solution between copper cathodes. Electric current on the order of 20,000 amps and 2-3V flows though the cells to encourage copper ions to migrate from anode to cathode. Eight days later, at end of the process, cathodes of 99.99% copper weighing 115kg each are produced. By-products including silver and platinum group metals precipitate out of solution and collect at the bottom of the tanks to be recovered and treated in a separate process.
Many copper mining companies produce and sell the copper cathodes. KGHM takes the process a step further in its two onsite has two copper wire factories. To produce oxygen-free copper wire demanded by high-tech applications such as communications and sensitive instruments, KGHM using a proprietary “Upcast” process. We also visited a more traditionally copper wire production facility that was able produce wire at a much higher rate. The copper wire is spun into spools usually of 1-4 metric tonnes each according to customers’ requirements. The process, which started with the melting of copper cathodes, consisted of pouring a continuous bar of molten copper which was then cooled and rolled into a smaller and smaller cross section under controlled conditions before reaching the desired diameter. While the oxygen-free upcast method took a day to create a spool, this method produced a spool of copper wire every 6 minutes. The spools of copper wire are packaged and stored in a large warehouse before being loaded on transport trucks to be shipped to customers.
Standing in a warehouse surrounded by millions of dollars’ worth of copper was a great way to end the 4 part tour that led us through KGHM’s copper production from mine to refined product.
While our students are sure to remember the amazing scenes of molten metal, vast elctrowinning bathes and huge warehouses full of copper we were not able to take photos for your benefit. Trust us though, it was amazing!
Thanks KGHM for your hospitality.
– Andrew and Ryland