Since its introduction to the marketplace, ISASMELT™ has had the highest adoption rate of any base metals smelting process. The ISASMELT™ process has made a significant impact on the global metals industry allowing new operations to reach production quickly and cost-effectively and making it possible for brownfield operations to improve profitability and meet high environmental standards. Especially in the copper industry, ISASMELT™ has been rapidly accepted in recent years, with the total capacity of operating ISASMELT™ plants being more than 9,000,000 tonnes per year of copper-bearing feed material.
For new greenfield plants ISASMELT™ has made entry into the mineral processing and smelting marketplace a straightforward, less expensive decision. ISASMELT™ requires much less upfront capital than its alternatives, and is simpler to install and operate. It also requires much less real estate and can be installed, operating and producing to design capacity rapidly. As an investor in the industry this means a notably faster time to profitability.
Perhaps the biggest adopters to date of ISASMELT™ technology though have been existing brownfield operations who have chosen to install ISASMELT™ to improve production capacity, reduce operating costs or improve environmental performance. These operations have recognised the superior results delivered by ISASMELT™ in copper and lead smelters around the world.
The ISASMELT™ technology is now well established as one of the standard technologies for copper and lead smelting. The ISASMELT™ process was developed by Mount Isa Mines Limited (now owned by Glencore) in the 1970s and 1980s. It is based on the top-submerged Sirosmelt lance, developed by the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO – an Australian government research organisation) in early 1970s, and involves using a lance to inject air or oxygen-enriched air into a slag bath contained within a stationary, vertical furnace. The potential of this novel smelting concept was soon recognized and resulted in a development program that has been ongoing for more than 35 years.
Pilot plants, demonstration plants and commercial plants have processed a wide range of materials over this time and ISASMELT™ is now recognised by many as the most economically attractive copper and lead smelting processes in the world.
A key to the development success and the subsequent commercial success of the ISASMELT™ process is the deliberate involvement of operating personnel in operation and maintenance of early plants. Their insistence on keeping the process operation and equipment design as practical as possible is a key factor contributing to the overall success.
The first demonstration scale lead ISASMELT™ furnace was commissioned in Mount Isa, Australia in 1983. This was followed in 1987 with a demonstration scale copper ISASMELT™.
Commercial scale ISASMELT™ plants for lead and copper were commissioned in Mount Isa in the early 1990's. Since proving the viability of these two processes, commercial plants have been constructed throughout the world.