Biomineralization of Summitville Spent Ore SEM Investigation of Biomineralued Metallic Films

Thompson, L. ; Steiner, J. ; Whitney, G.
Organization: Society for Mining, Metallurgy & Exploration
Pages: 10
Publication Date: Jan 1, 1995
Introduction The Summitville Mine located in southwestern Colorado is an example of the potential impact that natural weathering and mining activities can have on environmental quality. Acid rock drainage and metals leaching from active and historic mine districts are a major environmental problem facing the mining industry today. Sulfide ore exposed naturally or during mining operations has the potential to produce leachates that contain high concentrations of dissolved metals. These leachates can affect the quality of plant and animal health in surface water used for agriculture, recreation and human consumption. Pintail Systems has developed biological processes for detoxification of cyanide in heap-leached spent ore and process solutions. During application of spent ore cyanide bio-detox processes we have also observed a substantial reduction in many of the leachable metals in biotreatment solutions. These field observations of soluble metal reduction led us to propose that metal bio-mineralization should be a secondary treatment goal of spent ore detox in Focused Feasibility Studies (FFS) for the Summitville Mine. In the FFS (described in a companion paper) for Summitville, spent ore from the heap leach pile (HLP) was loaded into PVC test columns (six inch X ten foot) and was leached with bacteria/nutrient solutions. Two treatment designs were studied: a standard percolation leach (aerobic) and a saturated leach design where the ore was saturated with the heap leach solution to which bacteria and nutrients were applied in a continuous biotreat leach. The bacteria for all column treatment tests were isolated from the spent ore at depth through the Heap Leach Pile (HLP) in the saturated and unsaturated zones. Bacteria isolated from the heap material were tested for cyanide oxidation capacity and were submitted to a bioaugmentation program to improve reaction kinetics and metals tolerance. The final treatment population consisted of several distinct species including aerobic heterotrophs, facultative anaerobes and sulfate-reducing bacteria. The remineralization of soluble metals was observed through a decrease in copper in column leachate solutions and the formation of observable mineral products on ore surfaces in the columns. Several of the tests were run in clear PVC columns to facilitate observation of mineral formation. The column ore contents were photographed before, during and after the biotreatment process which ranged from 10 to 20 days for each test column. Ores were collected from each column after the treatment was complete and were submitted for SEM and TEM study at two laboratories - the USGS SEM Laboratory in Denver, Colorado and the City College of New York SEM laboratory. Treatment Process Description Numerous species of bacteria, fungi and yeasts are capable of accumulating many times their weight in soluble metals. Both living and dead biomass are effective in removing soluble metals from waste streams containing gold, silver, chromium, cadmium, copper, lead, zinc, cobalt and others. Soluble metals may also be immobilized in soils by natural or engineered biomineralization reactions. Several commercial processes using biological reactions are being applied on an industrial scale for metal remediation. Bacteria found in natural and extreme environments have developed a wide variety of metabolic functions to adapt to these environments. These natural microbial functions contribute to global mineral cycling that continuously forms, transforms and degrades minerals and metals in the environment. Biomineralization is described as a surface process associated with microorganism cell walls where the remineralization occurs. The biogeochemical activities initiated by microorganisms in ores, soils, surface and groundwater environments can dominate the formation and transformation of those mineral environments.
Full Article Download:
(646 kb)