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