Interaction of Thiobacillus ferrooaxidans with Arsenite, Arsenate and Arsenopyrite

Cassity, William D. ; Pesic, Batric
Organization: Society for Mining, Metallurgy & Exploration
Pages: 6
Publication Date: Jan 1, 1995
Introduction Gold mining on an industrial scale is becoming increasingly dependent on low-grade refractory sulfide ores that contain large amounts of pyrite (FeS2) and arsenopyrite (FeAsS). Gold is usually present as sub-microscopic particles dispersed evenly throughout the sulfide matrix. Without some form of preoxidation, efficient recovery of this finely disseminated gold through cyanide leaching is hampered because the surface of the sulfide particle becomes passivated and impervious to penetration of the cyanide. Traditional methods for recovery of refractory gold from arsenopyrite ores include roasting and autoclave leaching. A modem alternative method is to preoxidize the mineral using the bacterium Thiobacillus ferrooxidans prior to attempting to re- cover the gold through cyanidation. The bioleaching of arsenopyrite ores presents a problem in the mobilization of large quantities of arsenic, present both in the +5 and +3 ionic states. Dissolved arsenic species pose a dual problem: they are -1 to the bioleaching process itself through inhibition of bacterial activity, and they also pose an environmental threat. The arsenate anion (AsO2) has been shown to be more toxic to living organisms, including Thiobacillus ferrooxidans, than the arsenate anion (AsO43) (Collinet and Morin, 1989). There is some disagreement as to the fate of arsenite in bioleaching solution. Mandl, Matulova, and Docekalova (1992) reported that dissolved arsenite concentration was constant during a long-term bioleaching study of chalcopyrite using Thiobacillus ferrooxidans. Torma and Oolman (1992) report that Thiobacillus ferrooxidans has been found capable of oxidizing As3+ to As5+. The solid products of arsenopyrite/pyrite bioleaching include jarosite (MFe3(SO4)2(OH)6 where M can be K+, Na+, NH4+ or H3O+), scorodite (FeAsO4.2H2O), ferric hydroxides, and ferric hydroxysufites (Carlson et. al., 1992; Van Breemen, 1982; Lazaroff et. al., 1982). The particular species formed is a function mainly of pH. Little study has been performed on the effect of solid products on bioleaching. Pesic and Kim (1993) showed that Thiobacillus ferrooridans cells served as a nucleation sites for jarosite particles, which grew rapidly and eventually killed the cell. Most bioleaching studies are performed at low pH's (<2.0) under uncontrolled conditions. By studying bioleaching of arsenopyrite under controlled pH conditions and at higher pH's (2.0 to 3.0), the distribution of iron and arsenic between the solid and liquid phases can be controlled, and their effects studied. The objective is to develop a bioleaching process that operates at high efficiency while keeping amounts of dissolved heavy metals low. Pesic, Stohok, and Torma (1993) demonstrated the usefulness of this approach in the leaching of cobaltite (CoAsS) concentrates. Materials and Methods The focus of this study was the bioleaching of arsenopyrite ore by Thiobacillus ferrooxidans. The parameters studied included the effects of pH, and the effects of arsenate (AsO43 and arsenite (AsO2). pH studies included pH set initially but not controlled, and pH controlled continuously with NaOH or LiOH. Bioleaching results from two strains of Thiobacillus ferrooxidans with different adaptation histories were compared. Bioleaching experiments were conducted in 150 ml stirred glass reactors using a strain of Thiobacillus ferrooxidans adapted to arsenopyrite ore, supplied by the U.S. Bureau of Mines. These bioreactors were innoculated with stock cells grown on arsenopyrite ore for 14-16 days. Typical elemental breakdown for this ore was: As, 9.90%; Fe, 18.60%, Stot, 9.26%; Suifide, 7.50%; SiO2, 25.90%. Mineralogically, the ore contained both arsenopyrite and pyrite. Bioleaching efficiency was measured by withdrawing bioleach solution samples at selected intervals, filtering, and measuring the amount of dissolved cobalt, iron, and arsenic by atomic absorption spectroscopy. Because the precipitation of iron and arsenic at higher pH's would lead to unreliable results, a 100 mg tracer of cobaltite concentrate from the Blackbird mine in southern Idaho was added to solution. Dissolution of the cobaltite tracer was used to indicate bioleaching of the bulk arsenopyrite ore. Cobalt has been shown to be stable in solution even when iron and arsenic were precipitated (Pesic, Storhok, and Tonna, 1993). The pa-
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