The production of copper by conventional or traditional methods is shown schematically in the figure below. It begins with the mining of a copper sulfide ore, particularly ones with chalcopyrite as the predominant copper bearing mineral. Ore grades in the western United States have been decreasing over the past century. Current head grades for most mines are between 0.3% to 0.7% Cu. In many instances the ores are very complex thus the ability to handle impurities is needed. The low-grade ore results in mines surviving on efficient processing and economy of size. The result is enormous open pit mines that excavate thousands of tons of ore daily.
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Conventional processing of copper from ore involves three sequential steps: Mineral Processing, Smelting and Electrorefining.
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