Chile is the main copper producer in the world, contributing with 24.6% of the total production in 2016. Currently, there are mining companies generating products with lower purity than cathodes but more elaborated than concentrates. Some of these are typically salts such as copper sulfate.
Copper salts coming from mining processes could be used for the production of copper nanoparticles for different applications. Moreover, considering the proven ability of copper nanoparticles as biocide and electronic conductor, their incorporation to improve the antibiofouling properties and electronic conductivity of materials used in technologies, such as seawater desalination and environmental-friendly energy production could be new attractive copper applications. Furthermore, if these technologies can be used in the copper mining sector, a virtuous cycle can be promoted.
Several methods have been developed to synthesize copper nanoparticles from commercial salts. Wet chemical reduction methods using several capping agents have been reported to produce stable nanoparticles with control on the particle size and the surface charge. However, the copper sulfate salt from mining product contain impurities, such as iron sulfate. Impurities in the precursor could distort the nanoparticles formation, changing their shape or size and affecting their incorporation on these new applications. Therefore, impurity limit concentration in the precursor, control of particle size and zeta potential of the nanoparticles obtained and their influence on proposed applications have to be studied.
On the basis of about mentioned background, four research components are considered in this proposal:
– Sulfate copper salt from Chilean mining processes could be used for the synthesis of copper nanoparticles with the characteristics required in new applications.
– The incorporation of these biocide copper nanoparticles on reverse osmosis membrane could avoid the biofouling formation on the surface of the membrane (operational problem in the desalination plants) without impairing their desalination performance.
– The addition of these copper nanoparticles to metal oxide-based materials (such as CeO2), used for the fabrication of anodes in solid oxide fuel cells, could improve highly their low conductivity without compromising their capability for oxidizing carbonaceous fuels and with no deactivation or poisoning.
– Understanding of phenomenological behavior, design parameters and unit operations of the development of processes, both from technological perspectives well as the industrial upgrading.
In summary, this associative research project contains four strong components of basic scientific research with a clear projection towards technological development: 1) nanomaterial from mining sources, 2) copper-modified membrane for desalination process, 3) copper-materials for environmentally-friendly energy generation, and 4) projection of these processes to the industrial scale.