Chemical Processes of Smelting and Refining

November 25, 2021

Chemical engineering is an important aspect of engineering industry in the world for the providence of the products used in everyday life. The significant processes in this field include smelting and refining. Despite the advantages of these processes, they exert the hazardous impact on both the environment and people. Therefore, it is imperative to explore the industry and understand every aspect of the process in order to reduce the effects involved. The primary aim of this paper is to compare smelting and refining processes as well as establish how the adverse influence of both can be minimized. By means of using reports of prior studies and information from current related research, the differences were explored and addressed accordingly. The study reveals that there is a relationship between the two processes in terms of equipment and effects but there exist substantial discrepancies with regard to the raw materials, procedures and end products. Hence, potential improvement is necessary to mitigate the effect of these processes.

Smelting and Refining

Introduction

Chemical engineering is a critical branch of engineering that combines a variety of many other related fields aimed at manufacturing of useful chemical products. It employ physical sciences, life sciences, economics and applied mathematics to achieve producing, transforming, transporting and efficient usage of different chemicals, materials and energy. Recent innovations and advancements in technology have improved chemical engineering, where tasks of designing, managing plants and manual calculations had to be done manually (Davenport & Partelpoeg, 2015). Every process in chemical engineering has its purposes and expectations, for the production to be complete. Two crucial processes in this field include smelting and refining. Smelting predetermines extracting metal from ore by heating the latter to the extremely high temperature inside a closed furnace. On the other hand, refining is a purification process that consists of the removal of unwanted elements in a chemical engineering process. Thus, these two processes in chemical engineering are important as they enable the manufacturing of valuable products that would be impossible without these processes. Smelting and refining are two related processes but they differ significantly regarding their description and functions on every stage of the procedure.

Description and Function

Chemical engineering processes are possible through a combination of several reactions, which in turn contribute to the obtainment of a product. The method of smelting involves extracting metal, for instance, tin or copper, from its original ore. Most of the minerals are in the form of a chemical compound of metal along with other elements such as oxygen sulfur. Smelting, therefore, uses high degree of heat with a reducing agent that serves the role of removing other particles from the metal in order to gain pure product at the end of the process (Kupshis, Yakovenko, & Fedotov, 2013). The reducing agent in this process is usually a source of carbon such as coke, which was used in the past charcoal. The coal or the gas derived from it performs the function of displacing oxygen from the ore and as a result leaves the elemental metal. Thus, there are two stages for oxidizing carbon, the first one being a production of carbon monoxide followed by generation of carbon dioxide. Most ores are impure in their early stages of the smelting process, and it is advisable to use flux, in particular limestone, to remove the attached rock gangue as slag.

Regarding carbonates and sulfides, roasting procedure is aimed at extruding the unwanted carbon-sulfur in other cases. In turn, this leaves out oxide, which can be reduced in a direct process. Roasting is usually conducted in a specific oxidizing environment to avoid causing damage to the metal being extracted. The final method in smelting, which involves high temperature is the reduction. At this stage, oxide transforms into complete metal as an end product. The reducing environment introduced before pulls the remaining oxygen atoms out of the raw material. Here, the required temperature varies significantly concerning both the melting point of the base metal as well as the absolute terms (Davenport & Partelpoeg, 2015). At the end of the reduction process, flux and slag can provide an advanced service consisting of a molten cover on the metal that is purified. Thus, the hot molten cover is separated from any contacts with oxygen. The smelting process comprises such equipment as furnaces for smelting the metal, loading devices for hot products, purification equipment for the waste gases as well as pre-heaters. Additionally, measuring tools and accessories used to control the process automatically are essential in smelting.

Smelting Refining Chart

Refining Process

Refining is a standard process in chemical engineering, along with other engineering facilities, commonly in oil refineries. The process involves transforming specific chemicals through several stages and developing the complete end products. Oil refining is the central aspect of refining process in chemical engineering to produce such products as gasoline, petroleum gas among many other goods produced from crude oil. The first step in refining is the placing crude oil in a variety of fractions. Every portion has different boiling points that are classified in descending order of volatility into gas, residues, light, light and middle distillates (Roberts & Ramsey, 2016). As the primary raw material is extracted from the ground, the refining process should be applied to the final products to make them valuable. Besides, these products must be transported to meet the consumer demand. In case of the crude oil refinery, the petroleum products are always described as segmentation of three particular components including upstream activities, midstream activities and downstream activities.

Refining involves certain stages, the first one being the distillation. Here, the content such as crude oil is subjected to extremely high temperature and then fed into a distillation column. The crude oil then is distributed into fractions, with the rise in temperature in the column and it later captured separately. Each portion represents different types of oil products. Secondly, a crack and reforming process is performed as a way of breaking apart the molecules in the fractions. Cracking process can produce high valued products from the relevant more substantial portions. With the increased demand in the transportation sector, oil refineries in most areas make the best of the refining process to be able to satisfy the growing requirements. However, the production is supposed to change from one refinery to another mostly depending on the equipment used in each factory. The most common materials in the refining process encompass pumps, compressors, vessels, fired heaters and heat exchangers.

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Refining Flow Chart

Similarities

Smelting and refining processes are both subsets of chemical engineering, which involve many aspects and stages for producing a valuable end product. Both processes are similar in a manner of execution given that they both belong to the same industry. To begin with, smelting process requires high temperatures needed to extract metal from ores. Heating the ore to extremely high temperatures makes it melt forming a liquid structure, which can then be purified, and the elemental metal can be retained from it (Shver & Pulliam, 2012). In order to achieve the process of metal extraction from the ore, heat is essential since it enables the formation of a slug that can be separated through the process. Similarly, refining process makes use of heat to allow the separation of the fluids at various stages. Despite the difference in the structure of heaters, refining, just like smelting needs much heat to provide for the purification best quality of the product. Channeling heat in both processes makes them quite similar, but a difference lies in the content in which the raw materials are heated.

Secondly, both refining and smelting processes are comparable regarding the purification. The raw materials involved in their operation have to undergo various stages in order to be purified and presented as valuable end products. As such, the two methods require the purification process aimed at separating the end products from the impurities oriented towards different directions upon reaching the right stage. In addition, formation of a slug is peculiar for both smelting as well as refining. Therefore, most of the impurities are separated from the end product when they are in the slug form, while each process has its own places to direct the slug where it can be further processed for different purposes (Kupshis, Yakovenko, & Fedotov, 2013). Finally, given that both processes base their operation on chemical engineering, they resort to critical procedures that would otherwise lead to massive losses if any of the methods were not followed. Not only financial loss could be experienced but also harmful effects due to the chemical elements involved in the processes.

Differences

Smelting and refining are utilized in the same industry and have numerous factors in common. However, both are different from each other owing to some reasons. The primary difference between the two processes focuses on the raw material required in developing the end product. Smelting uses original core in the form of a solid. Upon heating to extreme temperatures, the article then transforms into a liquid state, where it is subject to purification (Shver & Pulliam, 2012). Nevertheless, refining deals with liquid raw material, in particular crude oil. The molten metal then undergoes only the purification process aimed at the obtainment of the valuable end product. Because of divergent raw materials, the two methods differ in the number of stages with smelting demanding more steps for the production.

Smelting and refining are distinguishable with respect to the end product. In smelting, the end products are usually in solid form like different types of metal. However, in refining, the end products are generally liquid, for example, oil and other products manufactured from the crude oil. Moreover, in smelting, there is a chemical change between the raw materials and the final product for the consumers. In refining, the final product maintains the same chemical components as the raw material (Kupshis, Yakovenko, & Fedotov, 2013). The important actions in the process involve the purification and the separation procedure to deal with different elements of the raw material. Chemical reactions that occur in the refining process form the rich content in layers, which further provides for the separation procedure. By contrast, the smelting process does not divide the concentrate into layers but instead appears as a whole due to the highly rich content of the mixture.

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Preference of Smelting and Refining

Smelting and refining are comparable processes in chemical engineering. The two procedures serve different purposes but can be substituted in one way or another depending on the goal. Both engineering processes use the highly related equipment and can serve the same purpose during specific operations. However, in some cases, a particular process can be costly and ineffective while another can efficiently perform the role. According to Nakagawa (2013), engineers would prefer the smelting process to refining, where the raw material is in a stable state. Using smelting method as a process of extracting and processing raw materials that are in solid form such as ore, becomes useful not only for the quality of the end product but is also cost-effective. The refining process is meant for processing the raw materials in a liquid form and would, therefore, result in damages when applied in place of another method.

Smelting process, on the other hand, would become unproductive and expensive if used in a procedure that requires formation of layers to be separated into different commodities. Thus, the process will be inaccurate as well as wasteful of the resources involved to perform the procedure (Nakagawa, Yoshimatsu, Fukuzawa, Sato, & Ozaki, 2013). The refining process is mainly intended to purify the raw materials subjected to the process; as such, it needs less heat and a few steps. Therefore, it would be easy to resort to this procedure instead of smelting in the purification process.

Potential for Improvement

Smelting helps with the extraction of valuable metals in different industries across the world. However, the process creates hazardous health conditions for employees by exposing them to toxic chemicals in their everyday work. Under such circumstances, workers are vulnerable to severe diseases that besides their treatment cost could result in death. Inhalation is the primary way for the workforce to have direct contact with toxins in the smelting process (Nakagawa, Yoshimatsu, Fukuzawa, Sato, & Ozaki, 2013). Consequently, the productivity in smelting factories tends to decrease with time eventually leading to increase in the price of the end products. Hence, such cases should be resolved in every facility to reduce the number of people affected by toxic elements.

Nonetheless, there are potential improvement opportunities for smelting processes, especially with the current creativity and innovation in technology. Therefore, the workers should protect themselves with the relevant protective gears that would reduce their exposure to toxic chemicals thus preventing health complications (Singh & Li, 2014). Water pollution is another problem associated with smelting around the world, because of the waste products released from the factories, which continuously get absorbed into water bodies. Smelting plants should develop mechanisms that will allow recycling of the waste material to produce useful end products. Additionally, smelting processes need a lot of energy for the production. Hence, the plants should devise ways of decreasing the amount of power utilized while maintaining the quality of output.

Moreover, refining plants have specific problems that would lead to hazardous situations. The main disadvantage of this process entails safety issues that could result in explosions at any time. Refining involves mixing different chemicals in the process of purification. Any error in the process could cause explosions inducing destructions and loss of many lives on the plant. The plants that perform these operations should implement suitable mechanisms to improve the process (Singh & Li, 2014). They can do this by installing heat detectors as well as by introducing safety assurance policies to avoid any deviation that could trigger accidents during the processes. Furthermore, toxic materials are present in refining operations exposing the workers to dangerous conditions. Because of the chemical reactions that make the processes complete, it is impossible to exclude the presence of toxins in the refining plants. However, these factories should contain the toxic gasses within the reaction chambers to avoid the exposure of the employees. Refining factories incorporate a lot of energy in their procedures; hence, introducing better ways of energy production and conservation would help reduce the amount of energy used. Finally, the issue of waste products is evident in this process due to the procedures involved. To hinder pollution and hazardous effects of the waste products, these plants should ensure proper waste disposal in order to minimize pollution to the environment.

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Conclusion

Smelting and refining are both chemical engineering processes that use different procedures to attain valuable results. Smelting incorporates the extraction of metal from ore by subjecting it to extreme temperatures. On the other hand, refining requires purification of the liquid raw material and further separation of the components of the chemical content to produce different end products. Both processes are utilized in the same industry but they differ from some aspects including the procedures of execution as well as the raw materials employed in each process. However, besides the differences in the operations, smelting and refining are similar given that the two processes engage chemicals as well as use high temperatures to produce the valuable end product. Nonetheless, both methods have hazardous impacts that could be alleviated through better management and application of the recent technology as a way of reducing the effects. Consequently, the processes will be improved.