ICA Members Rio Tinto, Aurubis and Boliden Take the Lead
Industrial symbiosis, the concept of recovering and reusing discarded resources from one industrial operation by another, presents unique opportunities for the copper industry to contribute to the circular economy. Discussion of the circular economy in the copper industry often concentrates on copper’s ability to be recycled over and over again without any loss of properties and the subsequent recovery of end-use products. However, industrial symbiosis focuses on responsible practices further upstream in the value chain, highlighting the unique opportunities that can come from innovative uses of copper byproducts from the production and refining processes and the impact of industry partnerships on sustainable practices.
Three members of the International Copper Association (ICA), Rio Tinto, Aurubis and Boliden, are making strides in their work with copper byproducts and circular industry partnerships. Copper byproducts have applications in numerous other fields, such as construction and infrastructure, and many can be applied to the production processes of other materials such as aggregates, steel making, zinc recovery or as reagents in mining. By exploring the possibilities of copper byproducts, industrial symbiosis can help reduce waste in the copper industry and the use of natural resources in neighboring industries, thereby decreasing carbon emissions and environmental impact.
Rio Tinto Partners with Schneider Electric for Responsible Production
Global copper mining giant Rio Tinto and French electoral equipment group Schneider Electric have signed an historic agreement to partner for a symbiotic use of products and services. This collaboration is the first of its kind to develop a circular and sustainable market ecosystem for both companies and their customers.
Under this new partnership, Rio Tinto will supply responsibly sourced copper to Schneider Electric, which sells products ranging from electrical car chargers to industrial robotics. In return, Schneider Electric will provide energy and industrial services to Rio Tinto as the companies work together to create digital platforms, technologies and solutions across the mining supply chain in pursuit of decarbonization.
“This unique partnership will help accelerate decarbonization and renewable energy solutions by combining low-carbon materials with cutting-edge digital technology. … Working together will allow Rio Tinto and Schneider Electric to pursue opportunities beyond what is possible for either company on its own. This collaboration also opens doors to consider strategic initiatives, such as expanding the use of artificial intelligence and predictive analytics to reduce downtime in our plants, digitization of our supply chains and a host of other transformative technologies.” – Alf Barrios, Chief Commercial Officer, Rio Tinto
To help meet sustainability goals at Rio Tinto sites, the partnership allows the mining giant to draw on Schneider Electric’s energy expertise. Through Schneider Electric’s “Energy as a Service” program, Schneider Electric will work with Rio Tinto to evaluate innovative solutions for sustainability, including microgrids, to supply energy from low-carbon sources using artificial intelligence and advanced analytics.
“We are excited to work with Rio Tinto to develop clean and pioneering solutions to meet industrial decarbonization challenges. … As the world’s most sustainable corporation and a manufacturer with a global network of smart factories and smart distribution centers, Schneider Electric is on a mission to make industries of the future eco-efficient, agile, and resilient through open, software-centric industrial automation and sustainable energy solutions. This new partnership demonstrates that Rio Tinto is as passionate as we are about bridging progress and sustainability for all.” – Barbara Frei, Executive Vice-President Industrial Automation at Schneider Electric
Rio Tinto has committed to reaching net-zero emissions across its operations by 2050. This long-term strategic planning is in line with the Paris Agreement on climate change to limit global temperature rise to no more than 1.5 degrees Celsius. The collaboration with Schneider Electric is an example of Rio Tinto’s sustainable practices and a model of sustainable partnerships for the copper industry.
Aurubis Innovates with Iron Silicate, a Copper Byproduct
Aurubis conducts copper smelting and refining at their various production sites across Europe. Iron silicate, a copper byproduct, results from processing copper slag, which is produced during the copper smelting and refining process. Iron silicate is a manufactured mineral that is comparable to natural minerals. It can be produced as a stone, similar to igneous rock; as a granulate, similar to a natural volcanic glass; or as a fine powder, similar to mineral flour. It is very durable and extremely strong and hard. Iron silicate is frost and weather resistant, does not absorb water and has an ideal coarseness, shape and density to make it a substitute for scare natural aggregates. Aggregates are the most mined materials in the world, and the reuse of an existing material helps to further conserve this important natural resource. Each cubic meter of iron silicate stone prevents the mining of 1.4m3 of rock. In this way, byproducts of copper slag can help with maximizing mineral extraction from previously used materials and reduce the need for further mining of aggregate products.
Iron silicate has widespread applications in the construction sector, from road construction and asphalts to soil stabilization and hydraulic engineering. With stable physical and chemical properties, iron silicate is compatible with numerous materials, such as limestone, soil, clay, clinker, cement, sand and gravel.
An example of iron silicate’s natural properties can be seen in its applications with cements and concrete. Approximately 170,000 tonnes of CO2 equivalent can be saved if iron silicate is used as an iron additive in blended cements, and 116,000 tonnes of CO2 equivalent can be saved if iron silicate is used as a substitute for cement in concrete. It helps make concrete denser and stronger, making it an ideal additive for shielding concrete which is used in structures to help protect against natural disasters, military attacks and radiation in hospitals or laboratories. It is also used in de-icing concrete to help make the concrete electrically conductive and is used to de-ice bridges and sidewalks.
By reusing copper slag, which would otherwise be discarded in a landfill, iron silicate can contribute to reducing waste in the copper industry and saving natural resources in the construction industry. Aurubis is utilizing copper byproducts to promote greener, safer buildings and circular practices through industrial symbiosis.
Boliden Maximizes Copper Byproducts with Advanced Technology
Boliden’s Rönnskär smelter in northern Sweden is one of the world’s largest recycling facilities for metal in electronic material, including copper. Operating since the 1960s, the copper smelter processes 120,000 tonnes of material every year. Several copper byproducts are extracted during the copper smelting process, and Boliden actively promotes the reduction of waste through the application of copper byproducts for other sectors.
Boliden extracts copper sulphate and copper telluride from its smelters in Rönnskär and Harjavalta. Copper sulphate is a blue compound that can be used as a reagent in the mining industry or as an electrolyte in copper refining. However, copper sulphate is most often applied in agriculture as a fungicide and for treating copper-deficient soils. Copper telluride is a black powder used as an alloying substance in the steel industry and in rubber production. Copper telluride is often sold for processing into pure tellurium and selenium. Selenium is used in pharmaceuticals, soil improvement and paint manufacturing and is found in almost all food.
Additionally, Boliden extracts zinc clinker and iron sand from Rönnskär. Zinc clinker is a yellow powder that comes from copper slag. Metallic zinc can be extracted from the powder. Iron sand is a black, coarse powder that has excellent insulation and drainage properties, making it an ideal aggregate in road and building construction. Its high density and angular shape make it effective as a blasting abrasive and aggregate in high-density concrete.
While recycling copper from electronic material already contributes to the circular economy, Boliden’s extensive use of copper byproducts from this process further highlights the potential of industrial symbiosis for the copper industry and the possibilities of reducing waste from the recycling processes themselves.
About Rio Tinto
Since its founding in 1873, Rio Tinto Plc has become one of the world’s leading diversified mining multinationals. With headquarters in Melbourne and London, it has 50,000 employees and red metal operations across Australia, Mongolia, Chile, the U.S. and Indonesia.
About Aurubis AG
Aurubis AG is a leading global provider of nonferrous metals and one of the largest copper recyclers worldwide. The company processes complex metal concentrates, scrap metals, organic and inorganic metal-bearing recycling materials, and industrial residues into metals of the highest quality. Aurubis manufactures more than one million tonnes of copper cathodes annually, which are used to produce wire rod, continuous cast shapes, profiles, and flat rolled products. Aurubis produces a number of other metals as well, including precious metals, selenium, lead, nickel, tin, and zinc. The portfolio also includes additional products such as sulfuric acid and iron silicate.
About Boliden AB
Boliden mines and processes base metals and precious metals, principally zinc, copper, lead, nickel, gold and silver. Headquartered in Stockholm, Boliden is also a leading global operator in the recycling of electronics and lead from batteries
About the International Copper Association
The International Copper Association (ICA) brings together the global copper industry to develop and defend markets for copper and make a positive contribution to the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals. Headquartered in Washington, D.C., ICA has offices in three primary regions: Asia, Europe and North America. ICA and its Copper Alliance® partners are active in more than 60 countries worldwide.