Commercialization of bioleaching for base-metal extraction

Miller, P. C. ; Pinches, A. ; Rhodes, M. K. ; van Staden, P. J. ; Winby, R.
Organization: Society for Mining, Metallurgy & Exploration
Pages: 9
Publication Date: Jan 1, 2000
This paper is a progress report on the commercialization of using bioleaching for base-metal concentrates. The paper focuses on bioleach processes for recovering copper from chalcopyrite and nickel/cobalt from pentlandite/pyrrhotite. Data is discussed from pilot-plant trials in which an overall recovery >95% was obtained for the bioleaching of copper from chalcopyrite. The pilot plant was operated in closed circuit with solvent extraction and electrowinning circuits for final metal recovery. For the bioleaching of nickel and cobalt from pentlandite/pyrrhotite, an overall recovery of 97% was achieved. Precipitation routines were used to produce a final nickel/cobalt product. The pilot plants were capable of treating a few kilograms of concentrate per day. Prominent features in the design of a 1-t/day (1.1-stpd) copper-bioleach demonstration plant for the treatment of chalcopyrite concentrate are discussed. The plant, which is now under design, will be constructed and operated based on the results obtained from the laboratory pilot-plant campaigns. Issues of scale-up for the demonstration plant, together with integration into upstream and downstream processing, are also addressed. Independently derived capital and operating costs are presented for a possible commercial plant. These cost studies indicate the principle economic issues in considering the application of bioleaching to the extraction of base metals. The benefits of bioleaching complex concentrates that are not amenable to physical beneficiation and economic treatment by conventional smelting are highlighted. Issues, such as the environmental aspects, that illustrate the benefits of bioleach technology are given.
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