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Optimizing Copper Plant with Simulation-Based Digital Twin

, , , | March 4, 2024 | By

Optimizing the copper industry with Simulation

How can digital twins transform copper plant operations?

The mining and metallurgy industries are highly capital intensive, and it is critical that the assets be operated at their nameplate capacity for the activity to be profitable. However, the difficulty to optimize the operations increases with the complexity of the process. In this regard, the hydrometallurgical processes which combine leaching and electrowinning in the copper production industry, are particularly complex.

With the various sources of variability and the difficulty to predict them, optimizing the operations of the leaching electrowinning (SX-EW) copper plants poses significant challenges. 

This is precisely where simulation-based digital twins’ step in, revolutionizing the way we predict outcomes and streamline processes in copper plants.


Panoramic view of copper electrolysis workshop-SimWell-DigitalTwin.jpeg


Understanding the Leaching Electrowinning Copper Plan

Before delving into the role of digital twins, it's crucial to grasp the fundamentals of a leaching electrowinning copper plant. This process involves extracting copper from ore through a sophisticated three-step process: leaching, Solvent Extraction (SX) and Electrowinning (EW).

  • Leaching: In this stage, copper ore is crushed and piled into heaps. Then, a leaching solution, typically sulfuric acid, is applied to the heaps to dissolve the copper content, forming a copper-rich solution known as a pregnant leach solution (PLS).

  • Solvent extraction (SX): The pregnant leach solution goes through a solvent extraction process where the copper is transferred to an organic solvent. The copper is then redissolved into an aqueous solution.

  • Electrowinning (EW): The refined solution undergoes further processing through electrowinning. Here, an electric current is passed through the solution, causing the copper ions to plate onto cathodes, forming solid copper sheets.

Challenges in Copper Plant Operations

Optimizing the operations of a SXEW copper plant involves navigating various challenges, including:

  • Process Variability: Natural variations in ore quality, heap characteristics, and environmental factors can lead to fluctuations in process parameters.

  • Energy Consumption: Electrowinning is energy-intensive, making energy optimization crucial for cost-effectiveness.

  • Resource Management: Efficient utilization of water, acid, solvent extraction residues, and plating bays is essential for sustainability and cost management. 

  • Product Quality: Ensuring the desired copper purity and minimizing impurities is critical for meeting market standards and maximizing profitability.

    Electrowinning, Copper Plant, Digital Twin, SimWell 2


The Role of Simulation-Based Digital Twins

Simulation-based digital twins offer a dynamic solution to address these challenges by creating virtual replicas of the physical copper plant. Here's how they can revolutionize operations:

  • Accurate Predictive Modeling: Digital twins utilize advanced mathematical models to simulate the behavior of the physical plant in real-time. By integrating historical data, process knowledge, and real-time sensor inputs, they can accurately predict process outcomes and identify potential issues before they occur. They can predict the level and the copper concentration of the solution in the key parts of the process.

  • Optimization and Scenario Analysis: Digital twins enable operators to conduct extensive what-if scenario analyses without disrupting actual plant operations. By tweaking parameters virtually, operators can identify optimal process conditions to maximize throughput, minimize energy consumption, or enhance product quality.

  • Serious Gaming for Training and Education: Digital twins serve as invaluable training tools for plant operators and engineers. By providing a realistic simulation environment, they allow personnel to familiarize themselves with plant operations, test different strategies, and enhance their decision-making skills in a risk-free setting.

Conclusion: A Future Shaped by Digital Twins

Simulation-based digital twins represent a paradigm shift in the optimization of leaching electrowinning copper plants. By leveraging advanced modeling techniques and real-time data integration, these virtual replicas empower operators to predict outcomes, optimize processes, and mitigate risks effectively. As the mining industry continues to embrace digitalization, the adoption of digital twins promises to drive efficiency, sustainability, and profitability in copper production like never before.

For more information, Download the free Ebook:

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About SimWell

SimWell Consulting and Technologies is a global company specializing simulation, optimization, and digital twin technology. Our core mission is to unlock simulation at scale. We empower leaders and operators to maximize their current resources, optimize their operations, and elevate their performance with simulation. We build models of our customers operation, test scenarios, and predict how it will perform in a risk-free environment.

With SimWell as your partner, your team will have the tools to make confident decisions, optimize your process, and press fast forward on your business.

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Alexandre Ouellet, CEO at SimWell

Aron Hayoun

Aron Hayoun, Ing. M. Ing. Senior Consultant in Simulation,

Supply Chain, Industrial optimization and Data science