Dec '08/Jan '09

An industry veteran speaks

CIM Distinguished Lecturer Carlos Díaz surveys the copper smelting industry

By M. Kerawala


The man

Educated in Chile, the United States and England, Díaz headed the University of Chile’s mining engineering department and school of engineering. In 1975, he moved to Inco Ltd., leading the pyrometallurgy section, where his research spawned new copper and nickel processing techniques. Retiring from Inco in 1997, he went on to direct industry-academia cooperative research at the University of Toronto’s Centre for Chemical Process Metallurgy. Currently serving as adjunct professor at the university, he continues consulting with industry.

Díaz was instrumental in the organization of Copper ‘87 and succeeding Copper-Cobre conferences. His publications include a book on copper smelting slag system thermodynamics, over 50 technical papers, 15 patents and innumerable conference proceedings. A past president of CIM’s Metallurgical Society, a CIM fellow and a member of the Chilean Institute of Mining Engineers, Díaz has won several Canadian, Chilean and American awards.

The message

Díaz’s lecture, “The Evolution of Copper Smelting Practices in the Last Four Decades”, covers a period of profound, far-reaching changes, divided into two distinct sub-periods.

In the first phase, Japanese and Western European companies, whose smelters were located in densely populated areas, faced mounting social pressure to adopt cleaner technologies that reduced sulphur dioxide emissions. Generally, companies in the Americas, whose smelters tended to be located in remote areas, faced little such pressure and lagged behind, until governments began imposing stringent regulations. Dramatic oil price hikes in the 1970s also pushed demand for less energy-intensive smelting methods.

The Inco flash smelting process, developed in Canada in 1954, remained unavailable to other companies. A small Finnish company stepped in, freely selling its Outokumpu process to eager Japanese and Western European operators in the 1960s. By the mid-1970s, starting with Noranda’s bath smelting process in Canada, several similar processes had been developed in Japan, Chile, Russia and other countries.

By the mid-1980s, most energy-efficiency and emissions-related problems had been solved. Focus shifted to enhancing productivity through process intensification, a movement still underway. Outokumpu flash smelting and top-submerged lance injection (TSL) greatly increased smelter throughput capacities. This led to the emergence of a new industry standard — smelters with capacities exceeding a million tonnes of copper concentrate per year. Furnace integrity also improved rapidly, greatly lengthening furnace campaign lives.

As intensification progresses, the accent will shift to developing superior process modelling and online control. This will necessitate the development of more robust sensors, through ever-closer collaborations between metallurgists; engineers specializing in instrumentation, materials and software; and even mathematicians and statisticians. Díaz believes that as sustainability concerns take centrestage, Canadian industry, with its global reach and esteem, can become the exemplar of efficient and environmentally sound smelting.

The motives

Díaz has witnessed and initiated many evolutionary changes. Equally accomplished in pure and applied research, he considers his most important contribution to be to the development of people. At the University of Chile, he established several new disciplines, cultivating generations of industry professionals. At Inco, he encouraged his team members to undertake graduate studies, inspiring two of them earn doctorates. He continues to strengthen research groups at the University of Toronto and other Ontario campuses.

Through CIM’s Metallurgical Society, Díaz has woven networks for the sharing and furthering of know­ledge. He considers it a privilege to be able to help people acquire knowledge. CIM’s Distinguished Lecturer Program is yet another avenue through which he offers the benefit of his considerable experience and acumen to others.

Díaz is sure to captivate and enlighten those who hear him speak. At 76, he has the zeal and drive of someone half his age. A doting father to five, grandfather to nine and great-grandfather to one, Carlos Díaz can also be regarded as a patriarch of the industry to which he has given so much.

Post a comment


PDF Version