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Improved hydrometallurgical route for tellurium production

Minerals & Metallurgical Processing , 2009, Vol. 26, No. 3, pp. 169-173

Robles-Vega, A.; Sanchez-Corrales, V.M.; Castillon-Barraza, F.


In recent years, tellurium has been extensively used in the manufacture of semiconductor materials. For this type of application, high-purity tellurium is required. Selenium, lead and silicon are usually the main impurities in tellurium. During the electrolytic refining of copper, tellurium gold and silver are collected in the anode slimes. A pyrometallurgical treatment is used to recover gold and silver from the decopperized anode slimes whereas tellurium is oxidized and skimmed off from the refining furnace as a Na2CO3-based slag. In the slag, tellurium is present as sodium tellurite (Na2TeO3), which is further water-leached from the slag. The first step in the conventional process for tellurium recovery consists of the precipitation of the tellurium contained in the leaching solution as tellurium dioxide (TeO2). The solid TeO2 is then dissolved under acidic conditions for its further reduction with sulfur dioxide gas (SO2). In this paper, an alternative route for tellurium production is presented in which a sodium tellurate [Na2TeO4] intermediate is obtained by oxidation of the sodium tellurite in an alkaline solution following the water leaching step. Sodium tellurate is then dissolved in acid media and high-purity tellurium is obtained by reduction with SO2 gas. Experimental tests under laboratory conditions indicate that the novel process yields higher precipitation selectivity for tellurium than the conventional process. A comparison of its efficiency concerning impurities co-precipitation with respect to the conventional process is discussed.