Development of an energy-efficient and automated recycling process and plant prototype for the reuse of anode components in electrolytic metal extraction

As part of the operational program European Regional Development Fund NRW 2014 - 2020 (OP ERDF NRW), companies, research institutes and universities were able to submit project proposals in key market competitions on various topics to promote investment in growth and employment.

Under 93 applications, the project idea of the consortium consisting of the company Pentagal Chemie und Maschinenbau GmbH and the Chair of Reliability Engineering and Risk Analysis of the University of Wuppertal was proposed as one of 27 projects in the lead market competition "Energy and Environmental Economy": With the "Development of an Energy Efficient and automated recycling process and plant prototype for the reuse of anode components in electrolytic metal extraction [ENRANOM] "is to prototype a process that allows the insoluble anodes that wear during electrolytic metal extraction to be recycled in an energy efficient and automated manner.

The electrolytic metal extraction is an important process step in the primary production of non-ferrous metals, as this method achieves purities of more than 99.5%. The insoluble lead anodes used for electrolysis undergo degradation during the process, so replacement is required on a regular basis. Since the material lead is a toxic heavy metal, handling within a recycling process is not without its dangers. In addition, a pure separation of the anode components copper strap and lead plate is required.

The goals of the research project are:

  • The development of a process for the efficient recycling of anodes used in electrolytic metal extraction on the basis of statistical process optimization and reliability models.
  • The implementation of the method in the form of a prototype plant.
  • The saving of energy and material resources as well as the minimization of the health burden for employees during the recycling process.

Due to the optimized separation of copper brackets and lead sheath as well as an arbitrary frequent reuse of the copper bracket results in significant energy savings. In addition, automating the process to be developed minimizes workers' health risk by eliminating manual handling of lead.

The starting signal for the ENRANOM research project was given at the beginning of March 2016. The funding was approved for a period of three years.

Results of the Projekt / Press release July 2019

Efficient and resource-saving separation of tool components with a view to optimized recycling

As part of the ENRANOM research project, a process has been developed that allows the automated recycling of lead anodes used in electrolytic metal extraction, resource conservation and energy efficiency. The basis for the process development was the evaluation of three concept ideas with regard to ecological, energy-efficient, environmental, health and economic aspects. By carrying out experimental investigations and evaluating the experimental results, the concept idea of inductive heating of lead anodes could be determined as the most promising approach. Based on this approach, the process for the automated recycling of lead anodes was designed and developed. In addition, a modular design of the individual components of the prototypical plant was carried out, on which tests were made to validate and optimize the prototype. The results of these experiments were also used to contrast the developed process with the currently used manual method of recycling lead anodes (state of play). A Life Cycle Assessment has shown that the developed process is more sustainable in terms of energy efficiency, use of resources and health hazards, and thus represents a major step forward in the production and, in particular, the recycling of lead anodes.

For the consortium leader of the project, the company Pentagal Chemie und Maschinenbau GmbH, the development and the construction of a prototypical plant demonstrator results in the development of a new market, because up to today no comparable plant exists and the recycling steps are still mostly carried out manually , Because of the proof of functionality, energy efficiency, the careful use of resources and the significantly improved working conditions of operators of the plant, there is a great potential for global marketing, which also strengthened the business location of North Rhine-Westphalia and competitiveness compared to large corporations and jobs in the field of special machinery.