Pyro- and electrometallurgical processes

General 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

The leading members in this research line are:

Prof. Bart Blanpain
Prof. Bart Blanpain
Prof. Bart Blanpain (RL Leader) leads the HiTemp Group, has more than 20 years of experience in the field of pyrometallurgy including ferrous and non-ferrous metallurgy and slag processing. Bart Blanpain’s Group has an excellent track record in (mainly) strategic basic and applied science projects involving slag/residue valorisation, refractory wear, urban/landfill mining and novel/optimised metallurgical flow sheets (incl. projects with Aperam, ArcelorMittal Sidmar, Umicore, MetalloChimique, Campine, Group Machiels etc.
Dr. Muxing Guo
Dr. Muxing Guo
Dr. Muxing Guo, Research Expert at KU Leuven. His expertise domain is high temperature metallurgy, both for fundamental and industrial applications. Worked in the process metallurgical field for more than 30 years. He has been involved in numerous fundamental, strategic and applied science projects in the fields of steel cleanliness, pyro-plasma technology, slag valorisation, vessel inegrity etc.
Dr. Annelies Malfliet
Dr. Annelies Malfliet
Dr. Annelies Malfliet is a materials engineer experienced in the field of pyrometallurgy, and coordinator of the Centre for High Temperature Processes and Sustainable Materials Management. Her main domain of expertise is vessel integrity and microscopical characterisation techniques, including FEG EPMA-WDS.
Prof. Tom Van Gerven
Prof. Tom Van Gerven
Prof. Tom Van Gerven has a background in chemical engineering and is a specialist in process intensification using localised energy and alternative energy forms (ultrasound, light, microwaves etc.). Prof. Van Gerven’s role in RARE³ is the application of process intensification techniques to the leaching of low grade ores and industrial process residues and to the solvent extraction. This includes ultrasound- and microwave-assisted leaching, light-assisted separations and the use of microflow reactors for solvent extraction.
Prof. Jan Fransaer
Prof. Jan Fransaer
Prof. Jan Fransaer is a full professor of chemistry (Department of Materials Engineering). His research group has a tradition in experimental & computational electrochemistry. More than 100 peer reviewed publications and 11 patents in this field. He was involved in 7 EU projects (2 as coordinator) on electrodeposition. The group made significant contributions to the practical and theoretical understanding of the electrodeposition of particles together with metals, and was one of the first to study this process using non-aqueous electrolytes.
Dr. Peter Tom Jones
Dr. Peter Tom Jones
Dr. Peter Tom Jones is a Senior Industrial Research Fund Research Manager. He is Valorisation Officer of several large-scale projects and networks at the level of KU Leuven, Flanders and the EU (MC-ITN EREAN and MSCA-ETN REDMUD and DEMETER). He is also actively involved in the EIT Raw Materials. He chairs the EU-wide EURELCO Consortium. He takes care of the valorisation tasks within the research line and spearheads the contacts with major critical metal industrial players such as Solvay-Rhodia, Umicore, Molycorp Silmet, Toyota, Veolia etc.
Prof. Koen Binnemans
Prof. Koen BinnemansRL Leader
Prof. Koen Binnemans (RL Leader) is a world-leading expert in the chemistry of REEs and the environmentally-friendly use of ILs in solvent extraction and critical metal recovery. Author of more than 200 papers on REEs (320 papers in total) with a h-index of 48 (54 according to Google Scholar) and over 10000 citations. General coordinator of EU FP7 MC-ITN EREAN, H2020 MSCA-ETNs REDMUD and DEMETER, and Steering Committee Member of ERECON (DG Enterprise and Industry). Vice-chair of the European Rare-Earth and Actinide Society (ERES).
Prof. Yiannis Pontikes
Prof. Yiannis Pontikes
Yiannis is the Research Line Leader and the coordinator of Secondary Resources for Engineered Material (SREMat) research group at MTM (https://www.mtm.kuleuven.be/Onderzoek/sremat/). Yiannis is work package leader or project coordinator in approximately 10 projects dealing with the valorisation of bauxite residue (red mud), slags from ferrous and non-ferrous metallurgy, and vitrified residues from municipal solid wastes, ranging from fundamental to competitive work and from bilateral Flemish ones, to multi-actor international projects. Yiannis and the SREMat group have an expertise on ceramic, cement and inorganic polymer (geopolymer) processing from binder to full scale prototypes.
Prof. Karel Van Acker
Prof. Karel Van Acker
Prof. Karel Van Acker (RL Leader) is senior lecturer in sustainable materials and processes, coordinator of the Leuven Materials Research Centre at KU Leuven and Promotor-Coordinator of the policy research centre Sustainable Materials Management. He chairs the Flemish Transition Network on Sustainable Materials Management and is involved in numerous projects on sustainability assessments of material life cycles, ranging from CFRP to biobased plastics, and on urban mining and the valorisation of residues.
Prof. Jo Van Caneghem
Prof. Jo Van Caneghem

All further information is available through: http://rare3.eu/

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