Heap leach solution application at Coeur-Rochester

Wilder, A. L. ; Dixon, S. N.
Organization: Society for Mining, Metallurgy & Exploration
Pages: 3
Publication Date: Jan 1, 1990
Introduction Coeur d'Alene Mines Corp.'s largest precious metals property is located in the historic Rochester Mining District 40 km (25 miles) northeast of Lovelock, NV. The property encountered cold weather operational problems soon after its fall start-up in 1986 due to its elevation of over 1830 m (6000 ft). The problem of ice buildup on the heaps because of sprayed solution application was faced immediately. It was felt that allowing ice to build up all winter long until a spring thaw was impractical due to the large area under leach. Further, the operating cost and delivery schedule for a solution heating system was unacceptable. The development and installation of a leach solution distribution system using drip emitters made efficient, cost-effective winter operation possible. Other benefits of this system have also been observed and are discussed here. General process description 15,422 kt/day (17,000 stpd) of - 1.27-cm (-1 /2-in) crushed ore from the three-stage crushing plant are delivered to the leach pad using 77.1 t (85 st) rear dump haul trucks. The ore is drifted into place with a D-9 bulldozer. Leach panels are contiguous and are approximately 8861 m'(90,000 square ft) in area built in 6-m (20-ft) lifts. New panels are built on top of older areas to a final height of 61 m (200 ft). Each panel is ripped and cross-ripped prior to leaching. Barren solution is distributed to the heap using drip emitters at rates of 0.02 to 0.41 L/min/m2 (0.0005 to 0.01 gpm per sq ft), depending on the age of the panels. The pH of the leach solution is 10.7 with a cyanide concentration of 0.75 kg/t (1.5 lb per st). Approximately 50% of the silver and 80% of the gold are finally recovered. Pregnant solution percolates though the heap and flows by gravity into one of two 9.46 ML (2.5 million gal) pregnant solution ponds. The solution is then pumped to a conventional Merrill-Crowe process plant. Clarification takes place in three 9464 L/min (2,500 gpm) capacity filters. The solution is then pumped to a packed vacuum deareation tower for the removal of dissolved oxygen. Typical deareated solution contains 0.7 parts per million dissolved oxygen. Precipitation of gold and silver is accomplished by adding a zinc dust slurry to the deareated solution at the suction of the filter press feed pump. Precipitated gold and silver are recovered in three recessed plate and frame filter presses. Barren solution is discharged into a 11.7 ML (3.1 million gal) pond where cyanide makeup occurs. This solution is pumped back to the heap for further leaching. The precipitate filter cake, containing approximately 75% dore (Ag + Au), is then fluxed with anhydrous borax, soda ash, sodium nitrate and fluorspar to yield a neutral, bisilicate slag. The fluxed precipitate is then charged into a propane-fired melting furnace and heated to 1150° C (2100° F) for 3 1/2 hours. Slag and dore bullion are poured into conical cast iron pots yielding buttons of 800 to 1000 troy oz. The dore typically contains 98.5% silver and 1 % gold. Slag is crushed and tabled to recover the trapped dore blebs and beads. Concentrate from the table is returned to the furnace. Table tails are sent to the crushing circuit and out to the leach pad. Solution application The area kept under leach at Rochester is approximately 130 000 m2 (1.4 million sq ft). Barren solution is delivered to the pad at 21.2 kL/min (5600 gpm) for a resultant application rate of 0.16 L/min/m2 (0.004 gpm per sq ft). A traditional solution sprinkling system using No. 12 Senninger Wobblers with individual pressure regulators was installed at the onset of leaching activities. The Wobblers were placed at 9.1-m (30¬ft) staggered centers and were fed off of a gridwork of Yellowmine plastic piping. Solution flow rates were moni¬tored to each panel. The onset of cold weather with an average nighttime temperature of -12° C (10° F) made it apparent that continual operation would not be possible with the sprinklers. A significant amount of ice was built up on top of the heap, making maintenance and pipe removal dangerous, if not impossible. Leach solution application was restricted to daylight hours to inhibit ice formation. Process plant flow rates were reduced to maintain steady-state operating conditions. However, as daylight temperatures dropped below freezing, ice continued to accumulate due to the sprays. Besides the obvious operating hazards brought on by the growing icefield, there was also the potential environmental hazard associated with an early thaw melting the ice too rapidly for the solution containment facilities. One other option for preventing ice formation was heating of the barren solution prior to spraying. Initial plant design allowed for expansion of the propane storage and distribution system as well as modification of the barren piping for a solution heater. This option was not exercised because the operating costs for an adequate system would have been prohibitive, and timely delivery of a system was not available. An investigation was conducted on the various drip irriga¬tion products available, since subsurface solution applicators would eliminate ice formation altogether. Systems utilizing external flow emitters were ruled out because of their ten¬dency to clog when buried. Emitter systems using perforated tubing were also eliminated from consideration due to their inability to adequately control flow over required lengths of tubing. An in-line emitter system was finally selected which demonstrated clog resistance and adequate flow control, enabling direct burial.
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