China has become a major player in the international copper market, accounting for around 40
percent of global refined copper demand. Despite the slowdown of the Chinese economy, the consumption
of copper products will still increase, but with a medium and/or low growth which will be the new situation
for the coming years. The average growth rate is expected to be around 5 percent per annual. In the coming
Five-Year plan for National Economic and Social Development a number of initiatives will be finalized
which will require massive amounts of copper. In 2015, the expected consumption of copper products will
be over 9 million metric tons. The main driver of the consumption is the electric power industry which
accounts nearly the half of the total consumption; followed by cooling application with 15% and
transportation with nearly 10%, see figure 1.
With the large demand of copper products and limited resources, China imports significant
quantities of copper ores and waste/scrap for smelting and refining into pure forms of copper as well as
refined copper products every year. At the same time, China’s copper smelting capacity has grown rapidly
over the last 20 years. The production of refined copper is expected to be over seven million metric tons in
2015. Today, many smelting and refining plants have been expanded and built.
As for the rest of the world, the pyrometallugy is the dominated technology for copper smelting in
China. The electrolytic refining process of copper has actually long history in china, going back to Ming
dynasty (1587 – 1666). The hydrometallurgical process of copper starts, however, relatively late in China.
The first real production using leaching (L) - solvent extraction (SX) - electrowinning (EW) process started
in 1983 in Hainan province. Today, the capacity of hydrometallurgy technology is still relatively small, just
about 200,000 metric tons. However, due to the limited copper ore resources and grade of copper ore, the
hydrometallurgical process is now becoming more popular in China. It is expected that the L – SX – EW
process will develop rapidly in the coming years.
With both electrowinning (EW) and electrorefining (ER) processes together, 20 large scaled
copper refineries have a capacity over 1.5 million metric tons of refined copper in China. A rough
calculation indicates that the demand for cathode plates will be 200,000 to 300,000 pieces. One new and
modern copper refining plant with a capacity of 100,000 metric tons alone will need about 22,000 cathode
plates. More similar projects will be carried out in the coming years, indicating there is a strong demand for
permanent cathode plates in China.
Since the introduction of permanent stainless steel cathode plates into the copper refining process
in 1979 (Perry, 1980, 1983), many techniques had been developed and introduced into the market (Bartsch
et al., 1987, Assenmacher, 1996). Today, the permanent stainless steel cathode plate has been widely
accepted and used in many large scaled copper refineries worldwide.
The first permanent stainless steel cathode plates were introduced into China when refinery of
Jiangxi Copper Corporation expanded its capacity in 2002. The cathode plate was ISA type permanent
cathode and it was the first time being used in a large scaled refined copper production in China. Since then,
the KIDD type permanent cathodes were introduced by Jiangxi Copper Corporation and Jinlong Copper in
2007. The Outotec type permanent cathode was introduced into China by Shandong Xiangguang Copper in
2007. Today, all types of permanent cathodes are widely used in Chinese copper and other metal refineries.
Since the first permanent stainless steel cathode plates were introduced into China in 2002, local fabricators
have been established and developed permanent stainless steel cathode production. They have gained a lot
of experiences in cathode plate technology, design, manufacture and maintenance since 2002. They have
been grown rapidly along with the development of the Chinese refined copper industry.