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Technology

Our Technology Center in Safford, Arizona is home to a team of globally-recognized engineers and scientists who provide direct support and innovative mining, processing, and environmental solutions to our operations around the world.   These technology specialists are supported by state-of-the-art laboratories, test facilities and an extensive technical information library.

The Center’s mission is to improve existing processes and develop safe, new, environmentally responsible methods for extracting minerals from ore as efficiently as possible. This work is an important part of our overall growth strategy.

Freeport-McMoRan is a leader in the development and commercialization of solution extraction/electrowinning (SX/EW) technology.  In the 1980s, we began converting our copper operations to SX/EW on a large scale and the Center played a key role in Morenci’s conversion to an entirely SX/EW operation in 2000.

As one of the most advanced research operations of its kind in the world, the Center achieved a revolutionary breakthrough in 2002 with the development of a proprietary process to recover copper and other metals from flotation concentrates.  The development led to construction of a concentrate pressure leaching demonstration plant at our Bagdad mine that was capable of producing 40 million pounds of copper annually.  Today the Bagdad facility has been converted into a molybdenum concentrate leaching plant with the ability to produce high-grade molybdic oxide.

Morenci Plant
Morenci Concentrate Leach Plant

The Bagdad facility was not only the first of its kind in the world to use high-temperature pressure leaching to process chalcopyrite concentrates, but was also the first to operate a proprietary medium-temperature pressure leaching process that minimizes acid production.  Simply put, this technology allows us to extract copper from hard-to-leach copper sulfide materials, increase the rate of extraction, and reduce overall costs.  Sulfuric acid produced through high temperature copper-concentrate leaching is recovered and added to the heap leach stockpiles, replacing some of the acid supplied or purchased from other sources. Our ongoing and aggressive research into leaching technologies is particularly critical in maintaining our competitive position in the world market.

When we restarted the Morenci concentrator in 2006, production of concentrate provided an excellent opportunity to apply concentrate leaching technology.  The company completed construction of the first-ever commercial-scale copper concentrate leaching and direct electrowinning facility at Morenci in late 2007 and it was placed in production in 2008.  The Morenci concentrator has been placed on care and maintenance and copper concentrate is not currently being produced.  Consequently, the Morenci concentrate leach plant has also been placed on a care and maintenance status.

At the Center, we analyze ore from existing and potential Freeport-McMoRan projects around the world.  We evaluate opportunities ranging from large-scale, multi-million ton heaps and stockpiles, to micron and sub-micron level, where analytical technology such as electron microscopy, near infrared spectroscopy, and X-ray technology are used.  The Center was the first in the U.S. mining industry to employ a QEMSCAN automated mineral analyzer – a specialized scanning electron microscope or “SEM” – and now Freeport-McMoRan has six currently in operation.

Virtually every processing method employed or considered by Freeport-McMoRan, from crushing to cathodes, can be replicated or simulated by the ISO-9001-certified Technology Center.  In addition to the Center’s laboratories, comprehensive research library and office complex, facilities include a commercial-size SX/EW test facility that is capable of producing 1.5 tons of copper cathode per day. Engineers and technical staff also seek methods for reducing energy costs associated with copper electrowinning and producing higher-quality cathode copper.  In the area of leaching, a large-diameter, column-leaching test facility is nearby at Morenci and is capable of processing up to 600 tons of ore annually to assist in improving leaching performance at all of our hydrometallurgical operations.  All of the human and physical resources are focused.

Additionally, the Technology Center operates a fully-automated analytical lab, the first of its kind in North or South America.  The centralized lab supports all of our North American copper operations.

The Technology Center is staffed by engineers, scientists, and technicians who have access to a wide array of resources allowing for support to operations in mineral processing, hydrometallurgy, analytical chemistry, mineralogy, process economics, mining and geology.  The focus is on providing the best support possible to the production of copper, gold and molybdenum at Freeport-McMoRan’s operations.

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