Applied Microbiology and Biotechnology

, Volume 98, Issue 14, pp 6297–6305 | Cite as

Extraction of copper from an oxidized (lateritic) ore using bacterially catalysed reductive dissolution

  • Ivan Ňancucheo
  • Barry M. Grail
  • Felipe Hilario
  • Chris du Plessis
  • D. Barrie JohnsonEmail author
Biotechnological products and process engineering


An oxidized lateritic ore which contained 0.8 % (by weight) copper was bioleached in pH- and temperature-controlled stirred reactors under acidic reducing conditions using pure and mixed cultures of the acidophilic chemolithotrophic bacterium Acidithiobacillus ferrooxidans. Sulfur was provided as the electron donor for the bacteria, and ferric iron present in goethite (the major ferric iron mineral present in the ore) acted as electron acceptor. Significantly more copper was leached by bacterially catalysed reductive dissolution of the laterite than in aerobic cultures or in sterile anoxic reactors, with up to 78 % of the copper present in the ore being extracted. This included copper that was leached from acid-labile minerals (chiefly copper silicates) and that which was associated with ferric iron minerals in the lateritic ore. In the anaerobic bioreactors, soluble iron in the leach liquors was present as iron (II) and copper as copper (I), but both metals were rapidly oxidized (to iron (III) and copper (II)) when the reactors were aerated. The number of bacteria added to the reactors had a critical role in dictating the rate and yield of copper solubilised from the ore. This work has provided further evidence that reductive bioprocessing, a recently described approach for extracting base metals from oxidized deposits, has the potential to greatly extend the range of metal ores that can be biomined.


Acidophiles Biomining Copper Laterites Mineral dissolution 



We wish to thank Vale for financing this project and Rogerio Kwitko and Danielly Couto for carrying out the mineralogical analysis of the copper laterite.


  1. Anwar MA, Iqbal M, Qamar MA, Rehman M, Khalid AM (2000) Technical communication: determination of cuprous ions in bacterial leachates and for environmental monitoring. World J Microbiol Biotechnol 16:135–138CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Brierley CL, Brierley JA (2013) Progress in bioleaching: part B: applications of microbial processes by the minerals industries. Appl Microbiol Biotechnol 97:7543–7552PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Brock TD, Gustafson J (1976) Ferric iron reduction by sulfur- and iron-oxidizing bacteria. Appl Environ Microbiol 32:567–571PubMedCentralPubMedGoogle Scholar
  4. Dalvi AD, Bacon, WG, Osborne RC (2004). The past and the future of nickel laterites. PDAC 2004 International Convention, Trade Show& Investors Exchange. March 7–10Google Scholar
  5. du Plessis CA, Slabbert W, Hallberg KB, Johnson DB (2011) Ferredox: a biohydrometallurgical processing concept for limonitic nickel laterites. Hydrometallurgy 109:221–229CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Hallberg KB, Grail BM, du Plessis C, Johnson DB (2011) Reductive dissolution of ferric iron minerals: a new approach for bioprocessing nickel laterites. Miner Eng 24:620–624CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Johnson DB, Grail BM, Hallberg KB (2013) A new direction for biomining: extraction of metals by reductive dissolution of oxidized ores. Minerals 3:49–58CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Johnson DB, Hallberg KB (2007) Techniques for detecting and identifying acidophilic mineral-oxidising microorganisms. In: Rawlings DE, Johnson DB (eds) Biomining. Springer, Heidelberg, pp 237–262CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Johnson DB, Hallberg KB (2009) Carbon, iron and sulfur metabolism in acidophilic micro-organisms. Adv Microb Physiol 54:202–256Google Scholar
  10. Kermer R, Hedrich S, Taubert M, Baumann S, Schlömann M, Johnson DB, von Bergen M, Seifert J (2012) Elucidation of carbon transfer in a mixed culture of Acidiphilium cryptum and Acidithiobacillus ferrooxidans using protein-based stable isotope probing. J Integr OMICS 2:37–45Google Scholar
  11. Matocha CJ, Karathanasis AD, Rakshit S, Wagner KM (2005) Reduction of copper (II) by iron (II). J Environ Qual 34:1539–1546PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Ňancucheo I, Johnson DB (2012) Selective removal of transition metals from acidic mine waters by novel consortia of acidophilic sulfidogenic bacteria. Microb Biotechnol 5:34–44PubMedCentralPubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Osorio H, Mangold S, Denis Y, Ňancucheo I, Esparza M, Johnson DB, Bonnefoy V, Dopson M, Holmes DS (2013) Anaerobic sulfur metabolism coupled to dissimilatory iron reduction in the extremophile Acidithiobacillus ferrooxidans. Appl Environ Microbiol 79:2172–2181PubMedCentralPubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Pronk JT, Liem K, Bos P, Kuenen JG (1991) Energy transduction by anaerobic ferric iron reduction in Thiobacillus ferrooxidans. Appl Environ Microbiol 57:2063–2068PubMedCentralPubMedGoogle Scholar
  15. Rawlings DE, Dew D, du Plessis C (2003) Biomineralization of metal-containing ores and concentrates. Trends Biotechnol 21:38–44PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Rowe OF, Sánchez-España J, Hallberg KB, Johnson DB (2007) Microbial communities and geochemical dynamics in an extremely acidic, metal-rich stream at an abandoned sulfide mine (Huelva, Spain) underpinned by two functional primary production systems. Environ Microbiol 9:1761–1771PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. Stookey L (1970) Ferrozine—a new spectrophotometric reagent for iron. Anal Chem 42:779–781CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Vera M, Schippers A, Sand W (2013) Progress in bioleaching: fundamentals and mechanisms of bacterial metal sulfide oxidation—part A. Appl Microbiol Biotechnol 97:7529–7541PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. Wakeman K, Auvinen H, Johnson DB (2008) Microbiological and geochemical dynamics in simulated heap leaching of a polymetallic sulfide ore. Biotechnol Bioeng 101:739–750PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg 2014

Authors and Affiliations

  • Ivan Ňancucheo
    • 1
    • 2
  • Barry M. Grail
    • 1
  • Felipe Hilario
    • 3
  • Chris du Plessis
    • 3
  • D. Barrie Johnson
    • 1
    Email author
  1. 1.College of Natural SciencesBangor UniversityBangorUK
  2. 2.Faculty of Renewable Natural ResourcesUniversidad Arturo PratIquiqueChile
  3. 3.Vale—Technology Exploration and Mineral ProjectsSanta LuziaBrazil

Personalised recommendations