|1.||A process for treating metal which comprises applying a positive DC potential to an ionic melt layer disposed on the surface of a liquid metal, thereby i) providing a plasma phase above the ionic melt layer and ii) inducing the flow of electrons from the liquid metal towards the plasma phase; wherein the ionic melt layer is capable of being maintained in a liquid state when it is in contact with the liquid metal.|
|2.||The process of claim 1, wherein said ionic melt layer comprises a slag compound.|
|3.||The process of claim 2, wherein said slag compound comprises oxides.|
|4.||= The process of claim 3, wherein said slag compound further comprises a Group VII salt.|
|5.||The process of claim 4, wherein said salt is a fluoride salt.|
|6.||The process of claim 1, wherein said metal has a melting point of above about 800°C.|
|7.||The process of claim 1, wherein said metal has a melting point of above about 1100°C.|
|8.||The process of claim 1, wherein said metal is selected from the group comprising steel, copper, iron, titanium, silicon nickel and alloys thereof.|
|9.||The process of claim 1, wherein said ionic melt layer is provided in an amount sufficient to completely cover the entire surface of the liquid metal.|
|10.||The process of claim 1, wherein metal compounds are added to said ionic melt layer to alloy said liquid metal.|
|11.||The process of claim 10, wherein said metal compounds are oxides of metals selected from the group comprising chromium, nickel, cobalt, manganese, silicon, niobium, molybdenum and tungsten.|
|12.||The process of claim 10, wherein said liquid metal comprises a ferroalloy.|
|13.||The process of claim 12, wherein said ferroalloy comprises a metal selected from the group comprising vanadium, chromium, nickel, cobalt, manganese, silicon, niobium, titanium, molybdenum and tungsten.|
|14.||The process of claim 1, wherein waste oxides selected from mill scale, flyash, baghouse dust and AOD dust are added to said ionic melt layer.|
|15.||The process of claim 1, wherein current density in the vicinity of the electrode is sufficiently high to create said plasma phase.|
|16.||The process of claim 1, wherein said current has an average current density of at least 0.7 amps/cm2.|
|17.||The process of claim 16, wherein said average current density is about 11.2 amps/cm2.|
|18.||The process of claim 10 wherein said metal compounds are oxides of titanium or vanadium.|
|19.||An apparatus for treating liquid metals, the apparatus comprising: a container for holding liquid metal; a DC power supply; a positive polarity DC electrode electrically connected to said power supply and disposed in an upper portion of said container.|
|20.||The apparatus of claim 19, wherein said electrode is a graphite electrode having an axial bore extending therethrough and means for axially injecting a plasmasupporting gas through said bore is associated with said electrode.|
|21.||The apparatus of claim 19, wherein said electrode comprises a plasma torch.|
|22.||The apparatus of claim 19, further comprising a cathode located in a lower portion of said container, said cathode being electrically connected to said DC power supply.|
|23.||The apparatus of claim 19, wherein said container is made of conductive material.|
|24.||The apparatus of claim 19, wherein said container is sealed by a roof.|
The present invention relates to processes for treating metals which are in a liquid state and more particularly to electrolytic processes for refining and/or alloying such metals.
Current trends indicate an increasing demand worldwide for high quality, low residual content metals. In one conventional method, a metal, particularly steel, may be refined in a furnace by providing the metal in a liquid state and adding molten slag thereto. Impurities in the metal are thereby chemically reduced and retained in the molten slag. The amount of impurities removed from the slag and the rate of removal is primarily limited by the amount of slag used and the capacity of the slag for the impurities.
M.G. Frohberg, M.L. Kapoor, and A. Nilas in the article entitled "Review Paper: Desulphurization", J.I.S.I. , February 1965, pp. 139-182 suggest using methods such as mechanical stirring and adjustment of the oxygen potential to improve the removal of sulphur from steel.
In the article, "The Kinetics of Sulphur Transfer from Iron to Slag", R.G. Ward and K.A. Salmon, J.I.S.I. , December 1960, pp. 393-402, the electrolytic nature of sulphur transfer is discussed. • In another article by the same workers, "The Kinetics of Sulphur Transfer from Iron to Slag", J.I.S.I. , March 1963, pp. 222-227, the use of electrolytic methods to enhance sulphur removal using a current density below which arcing occurs is investigated. It was concluded that the process was too inefficient to be commercially attractive.
It is known to refine certain metals using solely an electrolytic process. However, a very large amount of electricity must be used which usually renders this process prohibitively expensive for use with metals other than precious metals. Accordingly, it would be desirable to have a process whereby a common or "non-precious" metal could be economically refined using an electrolytic process.
Alloying of liquid metals conventionally requires the separate step of converting the oxides of the alloy to be added into a reduced form of the alloy which can then be added to the liquid metal. In the case of chromium alloys for steel, the chromium oxide must be converted to ferrochromium. This process tends to be very expensive. Accordingly, it would be desirable to have a process whereby the oxides of the alloy could be converted to their reduced form in a relatively simple and economical manner.
It is an object of the present invention to obviate or mitigate the above-mentioned disadvantages.
Accordingly, in one of its aspects, the present invention provides a process for treating metal which comprises applying a positive DC potential to an ionic melt layer disposed on the surface of a liquid metal, thereby i) providing a plasma phase above the ionic melt layer and ii) inducing the flow of electrons from the liquid metal towards the plasma phase; wherein the ionic melt layer is capable of being maintained in a liquid state when it is in contact with the liquid metal.
In another of its aspects, the invention provides an apparatus for treating liquid metals, the apparatus comprising: a container for holding liquid metal; a DC power supply? and a positive polarity DC electrode electrically connected to the power supply and disposed in an upper portion of the container.
In one of its embodiments, the present invention may be used to refine or purify a metal while the metal is in a liquid state. Although applicant does not wish to be bound by any particular theory, it is believed that with the present invention, the induced potential creates a higher concentration of negative charge at the liquid metal/ionic melt layer interface than at the ionic melt/plasma phase interface. Thus at the
liquid metal/ionic melt layer interface, reduction of impurities in the liquid metal occurs, causing these impurities to migrate into the ionic melt layer and up to the ionic melt/plasma interface. At the interface between the ionic melt layer and the plasma phase, these impurities are generally oxidized to a gaseous form and escape into the surrounding atmosphere. Oxidation of the impurities at the ionic melt layer-plasma phase interface may be enhanced by the addition of suitable compounds to the plasma phase - for example oxygen may be added to enhance the removal of sulphur in the form of sulphur dioxide. Thus, the ionic melt layer acts as a pump to remove impurities from the liquid metal rather than as a reservoir for impurities. Impurities can" therefore be substantially completely removed from the liquid metal. The rate of removal is in part limited by the rate of escape of the impurities into the surrounding atmosphere, which is dependent on the current density. Thus, in this embodiment of the invention, a metal may be refined by plasma- enhanced electrolytic reduction of impurities contained in the metal.
In another embodiment of the present invention, metallic compounds, such as metal oxides, can be alloyed into the liquid metal by being added directly to the ionic melt layer. Again, while not wishing to be bound by any particular theory, applicant believes that the induced potential causes the positive metal ions of the metal compounds to migrate to the ionic melt/liquid metal interface, where they are reduced to their elemental state. The alloying process may be enhanced by addition of suitable compounds to the plasma phase - for example carbon monoxide may be added to the plasma phase to enhance the removal of oxygen in the form of carbon dioxide. This allows relatively common and inexpensive metal compounds to be alloyed into the liquid metal in situ rather than first having to be transformed into a reduced form by a relatively expensive separate process.
Generally, the ionic melt layer should possess a melting point such that it is in a liquid state at the process temperature. Moreover, the ionic melt layer should be sufficiently conductive to allow charge transfer from the liquid metal to the plasma phase upon application of the DC potential-.
The present invention thus may be used to enhance the removal of impurities from the metal and enhance alloying by providing favourable migrations of the components towards the various interfaces and by augmenting the desired oxidations and reductions at the interfaces. Moreover, applicant believes that the intense localized heat provided by the plasma phase during process of the present invention acts to accelerate the reaction.
The invention can suitably be used with most metals which can be alloyed or purified by conventional methods. In the case of steel refining, the reactions taking place at the ionic melt/liquid metal interface may include the reduction of impurities in the liquid.metal such as:
+ 2e —> (S 2 - ) O + 2e —> (0~- )
Recovery of metal cations in the ionic melt or slag phase may include the following reactions:
(Fe 2 * ) + 2e —> Fe (Mn 2+ ) + 2e ——> Mn (Cr 3+ ) + 3e —--> Cr
The brackets represent components in the ionic melt layer, while " the underlined components are dissolved in the liquid metal layer.
The process of the present invention is preferably used to treat a metal selected from the group comprising steel, iron.
copper, titanium, zirconium, hafnium, tantalum, lanthanum, silicon, nickel, and alloys thereof. The invention is most suitable for use with metals having a melting point (at atmospheric pressure) of above about 800°, preferably above about 1100°. It can be used with lower melting metals if a suitable low-melting point ionic melt layer is available for use therewith.
Generally, the invention may be used to remove electrolytically reducible impurities from metals. Preferably, the invention can be carried out to remove Group VI impurities such as sulphur and oxygen, and Group V impurities such as nitrogen and phosphorus from steel; Group VI impurities such as sulphur and Group V impurities such as phosphorus arsenic, antimony and bismuth from copper; oxygen, sulphur and nitrogen from titanium; and oxygen and sulphur from nickel.
Also, the invention can be used to alloy liquid metals by adding metal compounds such as metal oxides into the ionic melt layer. For example, the invention can be used to alloy steel by adding oxides of chromium, nickel, cobalt, manganese, silicon, niobium, molybdenum and tungsten to the ionic melt phase. The invention may also be used to alloy copper, titanium and nickel. Under intense reduction conditions, it may be used to alloy steel with oxides of vanadium and titanium. Moreover, the invention may be used to alloy "ferro-alloys" which are alloys themselves comprising iron and a metal selected from the group comprising vanadium, chromium, nickel, cobalt, manganese, silicon, niobium, molybdenum and tungsten. In this embodiment, the invention is particularly suitable for use with a i) metal or ii) alloys comprising a metal having a melting point (at atmospheric pressure) above about 800°C, preferably above about 1100°C. The metal compounds are added to the ionic melt layer or in some situations may constitute this layer.
In another embodiment, the invention may also find applicability in the recovery of metals such as zinc, lead, iron, chromium, manganese, silicon and nickel from waste oxides such as mill scale, flyash, baghouse dust and AOD dust. These metal oxides are reduced to elemental form at the liquid metal/ionic melt interface. Alternatively, the invention may be used to recover these metals in a smelting process.
The ionic melt layer used for a given metal is generally of the same composition as the ionic melt layer used in conventional metal refining processes. Generally, it is desirable that the ionic melt layer have a melting point moderately below the process temperature such that the ionic melt layer is capable of being maintained in a molten state while in contact with the liquid metal. Moreover, the ionic melt layer should be sufficiently conductive to allow transfer of charge, but not sufficiently conductive to allow significant electronic conduction * . The ionic melt layer is preferably provided in an amount sufficient to completely cover the entire surface of the liquid metal.
An ionic melt layer suitable for use comprises various oxides. Preferably, the ionic melt layer further comprises an amount of a Group VII salt, more preferably a fluoride salt. Generally, it is preferred to use an ionic melt layer comprising oxides which are stable relative to the metal being refined and/or alloyed, such as calcium oxide, magnesium oxide and aluminum oxide.
The composition of the ionic melt layer for refining is not as critical in the present invention as in conventional processes, since the capacity of the ionic melt layer for the impurities does not limit the amount of impurities that are removed from the liquid metal. For example, for removal of impurities from steel, a low basicity or acidic-slag can be used,
which would not be effective in removing sulphur in conventional processes.
The current density in the vicinity of the electrode should be high enough to create a plasma. The current density required depends on several factors and can be readily determined experimentally by one skilled in the art.
The average current density applied should be sufficiently high that the process proceeds at a commercially feasible rate. Generally, standard refining processes are carried out for 5-20 minutes. Thus, the average current density is preferably at least 0.7 amps/cm 2 . For small scale experimental furnaces, an average current density of 0.7 amps/cm 2 is satisfactory, whereas with large scale furnaces, an average current density between 1.0-1.2 amps/cm 2 is preferably used. These current densities should generally be regarded as minimums. The higher the current density, the faster the process operates. The upper limit on current density is determined by cost. For alloying, the current density used is chosen on the basis of the ease of reducing the alloy being used, from a kinetic point of view. If removal of impurities and alloying are taking place simultaneously, the current density may need to be higher as each function will use part of the current.
The gas used with the electrode to create the plasma phase should be relatively inert with respect to the electrode and should stabilize the arc. Preferably, the gas is argon. The plasma phase is preferably maintained at atmospheric pressure. In the case of a sealed container, the pressure is preferably just above atmospheric to inhibit seepage of ambient air into the container. When impurities are to be removed from the liquid metal, oxygen may advantageously be added in the vicinity of the plasma as it has been found to enhance removal.
The metal in its liquid state is preferably agitated during the process disclosed herein. The more preferred methods of agitating the liquid metal include i) induction and ii) agitation by bubbling gas through the liquid metal, both of which are known to those skilled in the art. ,
The process can operate in either batch or continuous mode. When operating in the continuous mode, the ionic melt and plasma phases are preferably contained in a vessel and the liquid metal flows through the vessel underneath.
Preferred batch mode embodiments of the invention will now be described with reference to the following drawings in which:
Figure 1 is a diagrammatic cross-section of a furnace assembly for treating liquid metal;
Figure 2 is a graph of sulphur content of liquid metal versus time for type 304L stainless steel;
Figure 3 is a graph of sulphur content of liquid metal versus time for type 304-4% C stainless steel; and
Figure 4 is a graph of (i) sulphur content of the liquid metal versus time and (ii) sulphur content of the slag versus time.
As can be seen in Figure 1, a furnace assembly 9 comprises a container 10 having a roof 12. An opening 14 in the roof 12 is provided to receive an electrode 16 which extends downwardly towards the container 10» This electrode has an axial bore 18 extending through the centre thereof through which plasma-supporting gas can be injected through inlet 20. This electrode is connected by a wire 22 to the positive end 24 of a DC power supply 26. The negative end 28 of the power supply is connected to a cathode 30 at the base 32 of the container 10.
The operation of the apparatus illustrated in the figure is as follows. Liquid metal 34 is introduced into the
container 10 and a suitable compound is added thereto to form an ionic melt layer 36 on the surface of the liquid metal. Power is supplied to the system via the DC power supply 26. Gas is passed axially through the electrode 16 to provide a plasma phase 38 above the ionic melt layer 36.
Variations can be made to the preferred embodiment of the apparatus within the scope of the invention as described and claimed. The electrode 16 could be a graphite electrode, a plasma torch or any other type of electrode capable of sustaining an electric arc or plasma. Preferably a graphite electrode of the type disclosed in U.S. Patent 4,037,043, issued July 19, 1977, the contents of which are incorporated herein by reference is used. Alternatively, a plasma torch of the type disclosed in U.S. Patent 3,749,802, issued 1973, the contents of which are incorporated herein by reference may be used. The container 10 can be electrically conducting, so that the cathode 30 is not necessary to complete the circuit. Also, the roof 12 may be not be necessary if ambient atmosphere and ambient pressure suffices to provide the desired results. In some circumstances, such as in desulphurization of liquid metal, the off gases should not be allowed to escape into the atmosphere but rather into a gas collection system.
The invention will now be further described, by way of illustration only, with reference to the following examples.
A furnace assembly similar to that of Figure 1 was used. The furnace was lined with a 98% MgO ramming compound. The inside diameter of the lined furnace was 11.4 cm and a maximum heat size of 8 kg could be accommodated. A thyristor invertor was used to provide 30 kw of power at a frequency range of about 2500-4000 Hz to an induction coil located on the outside of the container. The furnace roof was water-cooled and
constructed of austenitic stainless steel to minimize heating by stray field from the induction coil. A 22 mm diameter graphite electrode was admitted through a hole in the centre of the roof. The electrode was insulated from the supporting structure by a composite sleeve made of refractory paper and high temperature silicon rubber. Clearance between the electrode and the sleeve was about 0.5 mm to allow axial movement of the electrode. The electrode was raised and lowered by a crank and gear arrangement.
A 6 mm axial hole was drilled through the length of the electrode. The top end of the electrode was threaded to accommodate a copper pipe gas inlet. The bottom was drilled out and threaded to allow insertion of a consumable graphite electrode tip. These tips are 100 mm long and 13 mm in diameter, threaded at one end, with a 2 mm diameter hole drilled axially therethrough. The electrode tips were replaced before they wear down to within 10 mm of the electrode end. These small diameter tips create a higher current density and thus better plasma stability.
Plasma- orming gases, such as argon, were injected through the hole in the electrode. The electrode was held by a water-cooled aluminum clamp to which the electrical connection is made. The return pass of the current was via a cathode consisting of a 19 mm stainless steel pin protruding from a water-cooled copper block embedded in a magnesia-chromate plastic refractory at the base of the container.
A 15 cm diameter sealable port in the furnace roof allows observation, alloying,, slag addition, sampling and temperature measurement. The furnace roof was mated to the body of the furnace through a sand seal.
A DC power supply was used to provide the plasma energy. The maximum current was 500 A and the open circuit voltage is 75 V. Suitable plasma operation was possible from
about 3.5 to 12 kW. The power delivered at a given setting was virtually independent of electrode to slag layer spacing. Rather, the voltage and current vary to compensate for the changes in arc resistance. Thus an increase in the plasma length results in a decreasing current and an increase in voltage with any given power setting.
Arc voltages and currents were continuously monitored during DC plasma operation. Voltage was measured directly across the supply terminal, while current is measured indirectly by voltage drop across a shunt resistor in the supply line.
Desulphurization studies using the above apparatus were conducted with type 304L stainless steel and type 304 stainless steel alloyed with 4% C. The composition of these is given in Table 1. Slag of the composition of Table 2 was added to the steel. The melt size was 5 kg with 500 g of added slag. During the process, pin samples were taken periodically with 3 mm I.D. quartz tubes. The induction supply was momentarily set at a maximum power during sampling, in order to expose an area of slag-free, convex melt surface. Taking samples from this area minimized contamination of the pins.
Steel Type Elements
Cr Ni Mr- Si Al Mo Cu Sn Fe
Type 304L 18.5 10.1 1.11 .36 .028 .02 .22 .20 .01 .027 Balance stainless steel
Type 304-4% C 17.7 9.7 1.07 .35 .028 .02 .21 .19 .01 4.0 Balance stainless steel
CaO ^-2-3 M9 ° Fe0 P 2°5 S ~°2
46.6 46.6 1.9 0.9 .34 3.4 .22
With type 304L stainless steel, the electrode polarity was negative for the first 73 minutes of application, then positive for the duration of the experiment. The temperature was 1450 β C_ As can be seen in Figure 2, the equilibrium sulphur level was reduced from 180 ppm to 30 ppm upon switching the electrode polarity to positive. Thus the use of a positive polarity electrode increased the equilibrium sulphur removal from the steel by a significant amount.
Type 304 stainless steel alloyed with 4% C was then tested under the same conditions. For the first 42 minutes, a negative polarity was applied and from 42-75 minutes after starting, a positive polarity was applied. From 75 minutes on, a negative polarity was re-applied. As can be seen in Figure 3, the drop in sulphur content of the liquid metal is dramatically increased when a positive polarity is applied.
Finally, the extent of sulphur removal was examined and is shown in Figure 4. After 80 minutes, the sulphur content of the steel is reduced to zero. The sulphur content of the slag is also reduced to less than 0.01 wt % after 80 minutes.
The apparatus of Example 1, 5 kg of 304L stainless steel and 500 g of the slag of Example 1 (see Table 2) were used. The slag and metal were maintained at an average temperature of 1480°C and a 5.5 kw positive polarity D.C. plasma was applied to
the slag surface. After 140 minutes of treatment, the slag composition was determined and is denoted as A in the following table:
Slag CaO A1 2 0 3 MgO Cr 2 0 3 FeO MnO Si0 3 S
A 44.1 43.8 9.10 0.50 0.25 0.20 1.87 0.56
B 41.1 40.3 5.10 5.35 1.47 2.78 3.36 0.97
C 42.5 42.0 8.10 2.25 1.14 0.99 2.52 0.73
The polarity of the plasma was then reversed to negative, and a further treatment of 135 minutes was carried out in this fashion. The resulting slag composition was determined and is represented by B. The increase of the oxides of iron, manganese, silicon and chromium were noted, presumably oxidized from the melt. The polarity was again reversed, so the applied plasma was positive. After a further treatment of 65 minutes, the composition of the slag was determined and is denoted by C. The decrease of the fraction of reducible oxides was observed, notably oxides of iron, manganese, silicon and chromium. The metallic components of the oxides were alloyed into the steel by reduction at the slag/metal interface.
The apparatus of Example 1 is used, and 5 kg of 304L stainless steel and 500 g of slag of the above composition (see Table 2) are used. 30 g of chromium oxide is added to the slag. The slag is maintained at a temperature of 1480°C and a positive polarity of 10 kW DC plasma is applied to the slag surface. The chromium dioxide migrates towards and is reduced to chromium at the interface between the slag layer and the molten steel and migrates into the molten steel to alloy the steel.
The apparatus of Example 1 is used, and 2 kg of iron are used with 500 g of the slag of the above composition (see Table 2). The slag and metal are maintained at an average temperature of 1550°C and a negative polarity of 10 kw D.C. plasma is applied to the slag surface. 5 kg of an ore containing 30% NiO and 40% Cr 2 0 3 is added to the slag with enough carbon to reduce the NiO. The amount of carbon used should be such that i) significant amounts of the carbon are not solubilized in the metal and ii) reduction of Cr 2 0 3 does not occur. After sufficient treatment time, the metal and slag phases are removed. The metal phase is now ferronickel, and the slag phase contains Cr 2 0 3 . A further 2 kg of iron are melted in the furnace and the slag phase previously removed is added back into the furnace. An average temperature of 1550°C is maintained and a positive polarity of 10 kw D.C. plasma is applied to the slag surface. Although not essential, the addition of some reductant such as carbon can hasten the reduction of Cr 2 0 3 from the slag phase, but carbon is not added in an amount sufficient to carbonize the metal excessively. A low carbon ferrochromium product can thus be obtained. This sequential reduction procedure can thus produce low carbon ferro-nickel and low carbon ferro-chromium from the same ore in two steps.
The apparatus of Example 1 is used. An iron carbon alloy is melted in the furnace and waste oxides comprising AOD dust, electric furnace baghouse dust or similar wastes are added continuously or intermittently to form a slag phase. 10 kw of positive polarity D.C * plasma is then applied to the slag phase. The oxides of iron, manganese, chromium and nickel are reduced and the elements alloyed to the metal. The metal phase accumulates as the reaction proceeds. The slag phase is fumed of volatile impurities such as zinc, lead, cadmium and their oxides. The resulting slag is non-toxic, non-leachable, and can be buried as landfill- The resulting metal can be recycled to recover
valuable metallic units. The resulting fumes are collected in a fume system and disposed of appropriately as is known in the art.
The apparatus of Example 1 is used. A copper or copper alloy melt is used as the metal and a basic oxide slag containing calcium fluoride is used as the ionic melt layer. Some calcium may be present in the slag as dissolved metallic calcium. A 10 kw positive polarity D.C. plasma is applied to the surface of the slag layer. Group V impurities such as Bi, As, Sb are reduced at the slag/metal interface, and combined with metallic or ionic calcium to form components such as Ca 3 As 2 or ionic forms of these compounds. This is aided by the polarization of the slag due to the applied D.C. polarity.
The apparatus of Example 1 is used. An impure nickel melted from scrap nickel sources, such as used catalysts, is used with an ionic melt layer comprising oxides. Purification to remove oxygen and sulphur is carried out as in Example 1 for
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