The European Commission is well aware of the heavy dependence of the European industry on metal imports (e.g. 62% of used copper is imported, 100% of indium and cobalt are imported) and is promoting, via the European Innovation Partnership on Raw Materials ( See here ), innovation in technologies which allow the domestic mining industry in Europe to re-flourish. Europe has attractive polymetallic and complex metallic mineral deposits but they are often dismissed, among other factors, because of the technical impossibility to recover metals in an efficient and economically sustainable way from low-grade and complex or polymetallic ores. Also some mines in operation are reaching the end of their economic life, leaving behind ore unable of being processed, waste and tailings rich in metals and with potential for pollution.
Against this background, the INTMET project was born to develop a series of technological innovations which allow making use of those deposits and extend the lifespan of mines by creating an efficient way to process low-grade, complex polymetallic ores. To date such ores have not been economically viable to mine and refine due to inefficient separation processes, regulatory barriers, and economic costs associated with complex trading systems and penalties due to impurities. Moreover, currently there isn´t any industrial plant in Europe able to deal with polymetallic (Cu+Zn+Pb) concentrates, compelling the sale of concentrates of increasingly lower quality and incurring increasing penalties in prices.
The INTMET project is working to overcome such limitations with the aim of achieving high efficient recovery of valuable metals such as Cu, Zn, Pb, Ag, and also critical metals like Co, In, Sb. This will be achieved by applying on-site mine-to-metal and integrated treatment of the produced concentrates, combining innovative hydrometallurgical processes (atmospheric, pressure and bioleaching), and novel more effective metals extraction techniques (e.g. Cu/Zn-SX-EW, chloride media, MSA, etc.).