One year after introducing the specially developed ionic coolant into the global pyrometallurgical market, foundry and engineering company Thos Begbie is seeing a marked increase in interest and confidence in the product, says Thos Begbie CEO Edwin Dreyer.
After formalising a collaborative relationship with Austrian consulting engineering firm Mettop last year, Thos Begbie became the approved distributor of Mettop’s patented ionic fluid for cooling metal tap holes.
Dreyer tells Engineering News that the company, together with Mettop, has working models of ionic-fluid-cooled copper coolers at nonferrous smelting operations in Spain, Germany and China.
Dreyer says the ionic fluid is used as a substitute for water to cool copper tap blocks in smelters; this greatly enhances safety because when water is exposed to the extreme temperatures in furnaces, owing to a leak, the water could expand by over 1 000 times, which causes an explosion.
He notes that the partnership with Mettop could potentially increase Thos Begbie’s sales turnover by about 25% a year.
Dreyer further explains that, while other industries can demand ionic fluid for applications outside Thos Begbie’s range of expertise, the company distributes the product whenever it is requested as a coolant in furnaces, where Thos Begbie’s coolers are installed.
He explains notes that, while ionic fluid coolant can be retrofitted into any furnace, including where Thos Begbie’s tap blocks are not in use, the strategy is to provide both coolers and ionic fluid to customers.
Dreyer reveals that a European company is constructing a furnace that will comprise walls and a roof that will be circulated with thousands of litres of ionic fluid.
Moreover, he will travel this month to the US to finalise sales of ionic fluid and Thos Begbie’s coolers to three new smelters.
“Now that the product has a track record, we are beginning to see significant interest from smelting operators, particularly in North America, South America, Australasia, Russia and China.”
Dreyer highlights that securing the first sale is vital and that, to do so, Thos Begbie and Mettop supplied a matte tap block for a European smelting company free of charge, with the company agreeing to pay for the module if it were satisfied.
He notes that Thos Begbie initially tried to introduce ionic fluid into the South African market, which was hesitant to accept the product, owing to the lack of evidence showing the benefits of the fluid.
Despite these misgivings, Dreyer reveals that Thos Begbie is in the design stage of providing ionic-fluid-cooled copper coolers for platinum furnaces near Rustenburg and copper smelters in Zambia.
Ionic fluid is a sodium chloride-containing solution, from which the cations have been removed, leaving the substance with a simple ionic structure that does not expand when it comes into contact with temperatures of over 300 °C, he explains.
This means there is no vapour pressure below the composition temperature of the fluid.
Further, there may be an increased volume flow of ionic coolant to compensate for its being slightly less efficient than water as a coolant. To increase the volume flow, a closed-circuit pumping system is used, while water usually only requires a free-flow system, states Dreyer.
He notes that between 200 ℓ and 300 ℓ of ionic fluid is used for the two tap blocks of a furnace, one for the metal and one for the slag. Although ionic fluid is significantly more expensive than water, the investment is worth it from a safety perspective, he adds.
Dreyer says at least one furnace a year endures an explosion because of a water leak at the tap block. He explains that, because the copper tap block, which is used to draw out smelted metal, is exposed to such high temperatures, it endures significant wear and, when the copper refractory lining is worn through, the water inside the tap block is exposed to the high temperatures, rapidly expanding and causing an explosion.
The higher price of the product is compensated for by the pyrometallurgy industry consisting only of big companies, meaning that ionic coolant is a suitable product for its market, he adds.
Saveway Furnace Monitoring
In partnership with thermo-treatment solutions provider Saveway Furnace Monitoring, Thos Begbie owns half of the patent of a diagnostic solution – the Saveway monitoring system – that monitors the wear of refractory lining on copper tap blocks. The system has sensors inside the copper block that communicate the degree of wear on the refractory through a programmable logic computer.
Dreyer notes that no one is currently using the Saveway monitoring system together with the ionic fluid, but says that Thos Begbie is working towards combining the two solutions.
In terms of the wear of copper components in a furnace, smelting operations often experience the challenge of the condensation of sulphur, often found in copper ore and cobalt ore. When water and sulphur combine, they form sulphuric acid, which corrodes the copper. This is another problem mitigated when using ionic fluid, as the operating temperature can be increased to 200 °C, preventing condensation.
Dreyer states that, while most companies in the industry provide high-quality service, Thos Begbie achieves additional value and a competitive edge through safety solutions.
“Thos Begbie’s relationship with Mettop has been mutually beneficial. We’ve helped to get their product off the ground and their product has added value to ours,” he concludes.