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MIT associate professor of metallurgy Antoine Allanore has received a $1.9 million grant from the U.S. Department of Energy's Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy (EERE) to run larger scale tests of a new way to produce copper using electricity to separate copper from melted sulfur-based minerals, which are the main sources of copper.
One of Allanore's primary goals is to make high-purity copper that can go directly into production of copper wire, which is in increasing demand for applications from renewable energy to electric vehicles. Production of electric and hybrid cars and buses is expected to rise from 3.1 million vehicles in 2017 to 27.2 million by 2027, with an accompanying nine-fold increase in demand for copper from 204,000 metric tons to 1.9 million metric tons (2.09 million U.S. tons) over the same period, according to a March 2017 IDTechEx report commissioned by the International Copper Association (ICA).
June - Researchers - Allanore - Lab - Pure
In June 2017, researchers in Allanore's lab identified how to selectively separate pure copper and other metallic elements from sulfide mineral ore in one step. Their molten sulfide electrolysis process eliminates sulfur dioxide, a noxious byproduct of traditional copper extraction methods, instead producing pure elemental sulfur.
"We think that with our technology we could provide these copper wires with less energy consumption and higher productivity," Allanore says. It may be possible to cut the energy needed for making copper by 20 percent.
Research - Postdoc - Sulata - K - Sahu
In earlier research, postdoc Sulata K. Sahu and graduate student Brian J. Chmielowiec '12, decomposed sulfur-rich minerals at high temperature into pure sulfur and extracted three different metals at very high purity: copper, molybdenum, and rhenium. The process is similar to the Hall-Héroult process, which uses electrolysis to produce aluminum, but operates at a higher operating temperature to enable production of liquid copper.
Currently, it takes multiple steps to separate out copper, first...
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