Innovation Meets Commercialization Success of Production Technology of Rare Metals and Base Metals by Novel Electrowinning Anode with Low Energy Consumption and Low Impact to Environment
Updated Sep. 4, 2014
Doshisha University, Kyoto, Japan and Japan Science and Technology Agency (JST), one of the core institutions responsible for the implementation of science and technology policy in Japan, including the government’s Science and Technology Basic Plan, announce a success of commercialization of innovative electrowinning anode and electrowinning method with the anode, enabling production of rare metals and base metals to be a low energy consumption and a low impact to environment, in which the electrowinning anode and method have been developed by Prof. Masatsugu MORIMITSU, Department of Environmental Systems Science, Doshisha University, with a financial support by Kyoto Super Cluster Program that is one of the research and development programs of JST.
This unique technology is related to production of rare metals such as cobalt and nickel and base metals such as copper and zinc, which are being used as the active masses or the current collector of lithium ion secondary batteries and nickel-metal hydride secondary batteries, home electronics, computers, electric vehicles, electric power supply network, and so on. Those metals are originally contained in ores which are crushed, dissolved in acidic solutions. Then, metal ions to be electrowon are extracted and electrolyzed, and such rare metals and base metals are produced on the cathode. However, this electrowinning process consumes significant electric power and further has an issue that such valuable metals are produced with metal oxide sludge which is deposited in and should be removed from the solution as non-recyclable disposal. These concerns are clearly responsible for the anode material, and a bi-functionality that the anode possesses a high catalytic activity to oxygen or chlorine evolution, which are typical anodic reactions of electrowinning, and a low or no catalytic activity to unwanted side reactions on the anode resulting in metal sludge formation.
Prof. Morimitsu has investigated a wide variety of electrocatalysts for electrowinning anode and has finally met the first success to develop such a bi-functional oxide catalyst which comprises oxide nano-particles, being highly catalytic to oxygen or chlorine evolution, uniformly dispersed in an amorphous oxide matrix, being non-catalytic to unwanted side reactions, by thermal decomposition method. Doshisha University has filed patents regarding this technology, in which some of them have been already granted not only in Japan but also in other countries, and has decided the licensing to Outotec USA, Inc. (previously Republic Alternative Technologies, Inc.), Strongsville, Ohio, USA. Production of full scale of electrowinning anodes using this technology and practical evaluation of the anode’s performance have been done, revealing a significant voltage reduction of electrowinning cell compared to previous lead alloy anodes and a success in suppression of metal sludge.
This electrowinning anode technology is now successfully commercialized for practical uses, one of which is Cobre del Mayo Copper SXEW plant located south of Hermosillo, Sonora province in Mexico and the production capacity is 30,000 ton per year. This is one of the most significant innovations in base metal electrowinning technology for the past 100 years. Now electrowinning companies in 12 countries are moving forward to install this electrowinning anode technology, because this technology provides more environmentally friendly electrowinning process with a low energy consumption and a low impact to environment. It is also available to use the anode for recycling and recovering valuable metals contained in used electronics and others.
This research and development of electrowinning anode and method have been carried out as one of research projects entitled “Development of a Highly Efficient Production Technology of Metals for Energy Storage” under Kyoto Super Cluster Program by JST. The submission, filing, evaluation, and registration of the related patents owned by Doshisha University were financially supported by JST’s program for patent submission to foreign countries.
For more information Masatsugu MORIMITSU, Dr. Eng. Professor and Chairman of Department of Environmental Systems Science, Vice-director, Intellectual Property Center Doshisha University E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org