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Investigating ionic liquids to improve processing performance

21 October, 2008

A better understanding of the behaviour of ionic liquids could potentially improve the economic and environmental performance of electrowinning processes.

“Electrowinning processes typically involve the use of either aqueous electrolytes or molten salts to dissolve metal ores before metal is electrodeposited,” says CSIRO’s Dr Yansen Lauw, who is leading the ANSTO-CSIRO project.

“This may involve working at very high temperatures – up to 1000°C.

“If we could use ionic liquids (a form of molten salts that are liquid at room temperature) as a replacement for traditional molten salts, we could avoid the need to work at high temperatures in some important processes.

“By using ionic liquids as the electrowinning medium, we could reduce energy consumption, thereby improving environmental performance and making the electrowinning process cheaper.”

A related project between the Ian Wark Research Institute and CSIRO is also focused on ionic liquids, more specifically, developing a deeper understanding of the structure of the electrical double layer in ionic liquids. This lightning-bolt-like double layer of electrical charge forms when a solid is placed in a liquid and plays a critical role in electrochemical processes as it controls the charge transfer across an interface.

“Electrowinning processes typically involve the use of either aqueous electrolytes or molten salts to dissolve metal ores before metal is electrodeposited,”
says CSIRO’s Dr Yansen Lauw, who is leading the ANSTO-CSIRO project.

Little is known about the structure of the electrical double layer in ionic liquids. A deeper understanding of the double layer structure could have ramifications for energy production and storage as well as metal production.

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