A large nickel mine in Ontario, Canada produces nickel metal, which is used in the manufacturing of smart phones and rechargeable batteries that power electric cars. Sulfur dioxide (SO2) is a major air pollutant emitted in the roasting, smelting and converting of sulfide ores. Fortunately, the SO2 is recovered and utilized to make sulfuric acid (H2SO4), an important coproduct that contributes to the mine’s operational revenue. This high-grade sulfuric acid is used to make recyclable fertilizers and paper products.
Oxygen gas is a critical feed requirement in the process to make sulfuric acid. The gas is generated on site and supplied to the acid plant in the acid production process. Pressurized oxygen must be available or the acid plant will need to halt operations – potentially costing up to $60,000 USD per day in lost acid sales revenue alone. This very scenario worried the nickel mine’s acid plant operations management team since a legacy oxygen plant was being decommissioned. This meant there was no longer a backup supply and any unscheduled downtime would impact the acid plant production.