Pyro- and electrometallurgical processes

Pyro- and electrometallurgical processesGeneral theme: Pyrometallurgical and electrometallurgical unit processes are developed and integrated into near-zero-waste flow sheets for the production and recovery of base and critical metals such as iron and steel, copper, zinc, nickel, cobalt, lead, rare earth metals and precious metals. Both experimental and modelling methodologies are developed. The experimental work covers the full range from lab to industrial scale and is supported by advanced characterisation techniques (cf. Research Line 1) and modelling approaches.

Flagship topics:

Hot stage slag engineering

Slag is a partially or fully liquid oxidic phase that floats on top of the liquid metal in most pyrometallurgical processes. The slag acts as a thermal blanket, limiting heat losses from the metal to the environment, and also fulfils a refining function, by capturing unwanted impurities (e.g. specific desulphurisation slags used in steelmaking). The composition of the slag is strongly influenced by the gangue material, in case of primary processing, or the unwanted elements present in secondary raw materials. In addition, the composition can be tailored to the desired extent by adding specific fluxes. The amount of slags produced are vast: in Europe only, some 20 million tonnes of steel slag are produced annually. In earlier days, these slags were often landfilled. SIM2 is actively doing research on alternative more sustainable solutions both towards metal recovery and slag valorisation. Every two years, the Slag Valorisation Symposium (5th Edition in 2017), addressing both the high temperature refining and the post-process valorisation perspectives

Metal recovery and recycling

SIM2 is active in the development of more efficient extraction and refining processes as well as recycling processes for various metals from new resources such as industrial wastes and by-products. This includes the development of novel pyrometallurgical processes using for instance plasma or microwave technology and carbon-free fuels to recover metals from metallurgical residues and slags.

Low and high temperature electrolysis

Electrochemical processing has the advantage of using electrical energy to produce metals, potentially providing a clean and low-carbon production route. At SIM2 we perform experimental and modelling investigation of the fundamentals of direct electrochemical reduction to recover iron from iron-rich metallurgical residues in aqueous solutions and reactive metals such as rare earth metals in molten salt or molten oxide systems.

The Team:

Prof. Bart Blanpain

Leader of HiTemp Group

Prof. Tom Van Gerven

Specialist in process intensification

Prof. Koen Binnemans

General coordinator

Dr. Muxing Guo

Research Expert at KU Leuven

Prof. Jan Fransaer

Professor of chemistry

Prof. Yiannis Pontikes

Research Line Leader and Coordinator of SREMat

Prof. Jo Van Caneghem


Dr. Annelies Malfliet

Materials engineer

Dr. Peter Tom Jones

Senior Industrial Research Fund Research Manager

Prof. Karel Van Acker

Research Line Leader

All further information is available through:

RARE³ KU Leuven breakthrough ionic liquid research on the front cover of Green Chemistry (Feb. 2015)