“The acid plant is dedicated to protecting the environment”
Head of Sulfuric Acid Plant of Sarcheshmeh Copper Complex:

“The acid plant is dedicated to protecting the environment”

The National Iranian Copper Industries Co (NICICO) established Acid Plant No. 2 as part of its plan to expand the Sarcheshmeh Copper Complex. After the plant was commissioned, acid production increased. The plant was primarily intended to help preserve the environment in Sarcheshmeh and its surrounding area. We have had an interview with Seyyed Ali Sajjadi, the head of the acid plant, to discuss the significance of the plant.

Please give us a background of the sulfuric acid plant of the Sarcheshmeh Copper Complex.

Sarcheshmeh Copper Complex has two sulfuric acid plants. Acid Plant No. 1 was launched in 1387 (2008) using the single absorption process with a capacity of 100,000 tonnes per year and 93% purity. Since 1392, plans were devised to revamp the acid plant with the double absorption process along with plans to expand the smelter; these plans were intended to modify the air intake of the convertors, enhance matte grade from Flash furnaces, increase the density of SO2 gases from these furnaces, upgrade hoods, and modify electrofilters. After these changes and the construction of the Flash furnace, the need to expand the Acid Plant No. 1 and building the second plant was felt more strongly. Equipment such as an absorption tower, gas-gas heat exchangers, and panel heat exchangers were added and we made plans to replace catalysts in the chemical reactors. After the smelter was equipped, the grade of the feed for the acid plant improved and production capacity was increased from 100,000 tonnes to 300,000 tonnes with 96% purity. The double absorption process in Acid Plant No. 1 went online in 1397.

Why was the second plant designed and built?

As the concentrate grade from the mine had declined, it was necessary to replace the reverberatory furnaces with Flash technology. While the Flash furnace was being designed and built, studies for the second acid plant were initiated. The goals were to absorb the gas emissions from smelting furnaces, reduce the density of SO2 and SO3 gases according to environmental standards, maintain equipment, create jobs, and supply sulfuric acid to leaching plants and refineries of NICICO. With a capacity of 610,000 tonnes and 98.5% purity, the plant was commissioned in 1398; the capacity can be ramped up to one million tonnes per year. The plant is a great step forward in curbing pollution from the smelting furnaces in the Sarcheshmeh Copper Complex.

Is the environmental effect of the Sarcheshmeh acid plant being tracked?

The HSE department takes care of regularly monitoring the environment, controlling pollutants, and observing the surrounding area. My colleagues in the production department of the acid plants are in charge of collecting the gases, preventing the emission of gases and cleaning the environment, controlling the level of pollutants emitted from the chimneys, and finally producing high-quality sulfuric acid.

What is the demand for the acid from the Sarcheshmeh Copper Complex in leaching and refining plants?

The sulfuric acid is used both by the company itself and other companies. About 80,000 tonnes of the acid is used in the Sarcheshmeh Copper Complex and Shahr-e-Babak; leaching plants consume 72,000 tonnes and refineries use 8,000 tonnes. A large part of our acid output is sold in the domestic market. Producers of lead, zinc, fertilizers, and power plants are the main consumers of sulfuric acid. The acid from the second plant is of very high quality matchless in the world.

Have you exported anything since ramping up the production of sulfuric acid?

We have not had any significant exports, only a few trucks to Central Asian countries as a marketing strategy. But senior managers are aiming to start exports after implementing new projects such as building storage tanks in Bandar Abbas; sulfuric acid will be exported to global markets after being stored in Bandar Abbas.

What is the status on the railway project to ship sulfuric acid to Bandar Abbas and the port infrastructure for exports?

The project is the first step towards exporting sulfuric acid. The railway runs from Sarcheshmeh to Bandar Abbas to help us ship acid to the port and then export to global markets. According to plan, acid will soon be shipped to Bandar Abbas once the tanks are completed and the railway project is fully implemented.

What are your plans for surplus sulfuric acid output?

We are primarily interested in exports, while also keeping an eye on the domestic market. We are also looking to start research projects on the use of sulfuric acid to regulate soil pH levels. Moreover, during the periodic maintenance and overhaul of smelting furnaces over the year, there will be no feed for the acid plants, which makes it easier to manage storage tanks. The full capacity of the tanks in the two acid plants can be used if they are connected.

What sectors and industries consume the most sulfuric acid?

Domestic consumption of sulfuric acid does not follow the global norms. The zinc industry is the largest consumer of sulfuric acid in Iran, while fertilizers come second. Hydrometallurgical production of copper is the third largest consumer of sulfuric acid. According to the latest reports in 1393, over 1.1 million tonnes of sulfuric acid has been used in the country. The zinc industry controls 54.9% of demand, while fertilizers account for 31.2% of domestic demand and copper has a 3.4% share. Other sectors take 10% of total demand.

Given the massive production, do you have any plans to boost domestic demand?

My colleagues and I are in charge of producing high-quality products; the marketing department is responsible for boosting demand. They can use some policies such as price reduction to attract customers. We produce high-quality sulfuric acid with 98.5% purity, 8.5 ppm iron content, and max 10 NTU turbidity. Price reduction is one of the measures the marketing department can implement to increase demand, protect the environment, and keep the factory in operation.

With such a large output, what are your plans for when demand is sluggish?

Sulfuric acid tanks are usually built before the acid plants. Acid Plant No. 2 has four tanks with a capacity of 12,000 tonnes each. Acid is loaded into these tanks every day; the factory does not just stockpile its acid output. We sometimes reduce production in a way that does not harm the environment, according to smelting capacity and the amount of gas emitted from the furnaces. Generally speaking, we have enough storage space. Acid Plant No. 1 has three tanks with a capacity of 5,000 tonnes; the plant’s output is rather small, so if we need more storage space for Plant No. 2, we can use these tanks. There are also eight tanks in Bandar Abbas with a total capacity of 120,000 tonnes, which are about to be completed and commissioned.

What problems are there with the acid plants?

The high production of acid is one of our problems. We can produce at least 1.4 thousand tonnes of high-quality acid, which is a challenge to sell; sometimes the balance between production and sales gets disrupted.

What are your goals and outlook?

The sulfuric acid plant is an environmental project aimed at protecting the environment. NICICO has taken great measures to protect the environment and clean the air, such as efficient collaborations by senior managers with the Ministry of Agriculture Jihad to use sulfuric acid in agriculture.

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