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Global chemical company BASF and hydroGEOPHYSICS Inc. (HGI), a leading provider of geophysical services to the mining industry, have announced an exclusive partnership aimed at combining expertise in mineral processing, hydrometallurgy, and deep well injection. The collaboration aims to optimize copper extraction in the mining industry by utilizing HGI’s geophysical techniques to identify areas within the heap that currently offer poor recovery and will involve the design and implementation of a deep well injection program, incorporating BASF’s novel LixTRA leach aid to facilitate a significant uplift in copper extraction.

With the increasing demand for copper driven by both traditional end-user markets and the transition to green energy, there is a strong need for new mines. However, challenges such as declining ore grades, higher costs and ESG (Environmental, Social and Governance) responsibilities have limited medium to long-term mine supply, resulting in a large looming supply deficit.

The heap leach process, which involves piling low-grade ores onto a liner and dripping a lixiviant (usually acid) over the heap to dissolve copper into solution, offers a cost-effective method for copper extraction. However, the non-uniformity of heaps often leads to areas of ore compaction and poor lixiviant permeation, resulting in suboptimal metal recovery.

HGI employs state-of-the-art geophysical technologies to characterize the structural components of the heaps, enabling the design, operation, and monitoring of targeted lixiviant injection wells. By adding BASF’s LixTRA leach aid, greater ore-lixiviant contact is made, which ultimately leads to higher copper dissolution and increased metal recovery. Initial results from a customer’s site have demonstrated a 20% increase in copper recovery during the trial period, prompting further testing on a larger scale to quantify the benefits.

“Technological advancements are essential if the industry is to meet the projected copper demand going forward. Using HGI’s expertise to identify areas of poor heap leach performance and then targeting these areas through deep well technology and BASF’s LixTRA reagent is a great example of how partnerships can drive sustainable process improvements in the mining industry,” says Caren Hoffman, Vice President Mining Solutions at BASF.

Brian Cubbage, Executive Vice President, Operations at HGI, added: “Enhancing copper recovery is a sustainable and safe manner is the main focus for most of the mines HGI works with. There is a growing and continuous need for copper, especially within the green economy. Leveraging HGI’s expertise in locating and enhancing copper recovery in underperforming areas in heap leach pads, with applying BASF’s LixTRA reagent through our injection programs, has provided a significant boost in the efficiency of copper recovery.”