Rhenium is primarily recovered as a byproduct from molybdenum roasting circuits. However, rhenium is also present in copper heap leach solutions at very low concentrations, and this represents a potential new rhenium source. Freeport-McMoRan (FCX) has developed a new process using carbon adsorption followed by ion exchange or solvent extraction to concentrate rhenium from less than 1 ppm to 15 g/L. The product is compatible as a feed to an existing rhenium processing plant. A pilot plant operated at Freeport-McMoRan’s Sierrita Mine has demonstrated the technical and financial feasibility of this new process.
Copper heap leaching dissolves more than just copper from the copper ore. Several metals can be identified in leach solutions at concentrations of financial interest, rhenium in particular. Rhenium spot prices ranged from a yearly average of $1,070/kg ($483/lb) in 2005 (Magyar, 2008) to $10,400/kg ($4,706/lb) in 2008 (Polyak, 2013). The spot price in September 2013 was approximately $3,000/kg ($1,357/lb) of rhenium (Metal Bulletin, 2013).