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The Adsorption of Gold on Activated Carbon

The Adsorption of Gold on Activated Carbon

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11/04/2010

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Introduction
Hydrometallurgical processing can be effectively used for thetreatment of gold-bearing raw materials. Cyanidation iscurrently the main choice for the extraction of gold fromores. However, the toxicity of cyanide and the failure of thiscomplexant to extract gold from the so-called difficult totreat raw materials (e.g. carbonaceous and copper-gold ores)led to the investigation of alternatives for gold extractionfrom various resources.Chloride, thiosulfate, sulphide, ammonia and sulfite havebeen identified as low cost alternatives, the first two beingmore beneficial in terms of health and safety issues and lowenvironmental impact. Among the above complexingagents, thiosulfate is of considerable interest, because it canbe used for leaching of gold from carbonaceous gold ores asgold-thiosulfate complex which is not preg-robbed by thecarbonaceous component of the ores [1,2]. The goldleaching reaction with thiosulfate can be described, in itssimplified form, by the following reaction:2Au+4S
2
O
32-
+12O
2
+H
2
O2Au(S
2
O
3
)
23-
+2OH
-
To accelerate this reaction, catalytically, ammoniumhydroxide and copper (II) are commonly added:Au + 5S
2
O
32-
+Cu(NH
3
)
42+
Au(S
2
O
3
)
23-
+4NH
3
+Cu(S
2
O
3
)
35-
The formation of cuprous thiosulfate complex in the abovereaction consumes the thiosulfateand retards the goldleaching. Thus, the cuprous complex should be oxidized backtocupric ammine complex as muchas possible:4Cu(S
2
O
3
)
35-
+16NH
3
+O
2
+2H
2
O4Cu(NH
3
)
42+
+12S
2
O
32-
+4OH
-
Combining Eqs. (2) and (3) results in the overall golddissolution reaction in thiosulfate solution (Eq.(1)).Once gold is dissolved, the recovery of gold from thepregnant thiosulfate solutions can be carried out by differentprocedures e.g. adsorption, solvent extraction, etc. [1,3-7].Though adsorption on activated carbon is one of thecommon procedures used in the recovery of gold fromcyanide solutions [8], it has not been used widely for theprocessing of gold-thiosulfate solutions, several reasons forthis situation are described in the literature [9].In this paper, the results of an investigation on theapplication of this technology to the adsorption of gold fromammoniacal thiosulfatesolutions are reported.
Experimental
The gold thiosulfate complex used in this investigation wasobtained from Alfaaesar, a stock gold solution was prepared
The Adsorption ofGold on ActivatedCarbon fromThiosulfate-AmmoniacalSolutions
PNavarro
a
,CVargas
a
,MAlonso
b
,FJ Alguacil
b
a
Departamento de Ingeniería Metalúrgica,Universidad de Santiago de Chile, Avda. L. B. O’Higgins3363, Casilla 10233, Santiago, Chile.E-mail: pnavarro@lauca.usach.cl
b
Centro Nacional de Investigaciones Metalúrgicas(CSIC), Avda. Gregorio del Amo 8, Ciudad Universitaria,28040 Madrid, Spain. E-mail: fjalgua@cenim.csic.es
Abstract
The adsorption of gold on activated carbon inammoniacal thiosulfate solution was studied. Thevariables affecting the adsorption of gold on thecarbon included, among others, temperature,concentrations of ammonium hydroxide andthiosulfate, and those of accompanying cations andanions. The apparent activation energy for theadsorption process was estimated to be 19.4 kJ/mol,and this value indicates that the gold adsorption isfilm diffusion-controlled. It was also found that therateof initial adsorption rate was fast, whencompared to that of the overall adsorption process.
Keywords
thiosulfate, ammonia, activated carbon, gold
Gold Bulletin 2006 39/393
(1)(2)(3)
 
by dissolution of the reagent in distilled water. Each workinggold solution was prepared by mixing a known quantity of thestock solution with an appropriate amount of ammoniumhydroxide solution. All other chemicals were of reagent grade.The activated coconut-shell carbon, obtained from AngloChilena SA, was washed with deionized water, dried at 60°Cfor 48 h and stored in a desiccator under vaccum. Table 1lists main physical characteristics of the activated carbon.Gold adsorption tests were carried out in a 1000 ml glassreactor equipped with a stirring device. The reactor wasplaced in a constant temperature water bath. Experimentswere run at a stirring speed of 500 min
-1
with 500 ml of thegold solution. When the pH of the solution was properlyadjusted and the desired temperature was reached, theexperiments were initiated by placing a weighed amount ofthe activated carbon into the reactor. Samples wereperiodically taken for chemical analysis by AAS. Theeffectiveness of the adsorption process was estimated fromthe percentage of gold adsorption, which was calculated byusing the following equation:whereC
0
is the initial gold concentration and C
t
is theconcentration at an elapsed time, t, after the addition ofactivecarbon.
Results and discussion
Effect of ammonium hydroxide
Experiments were carried out at three differentconcentrations of ammonium hydroxide, namely 0.3, 0.6and 1 mol/l. The aqueous solution had the initialconcentrations of 10 mg/l for gold and 1.02x10
-4
Mforthiosulfate. The results of these experiments (Table 2)show that at shorter times, the adsorption of gold on thecarbon increased with increasing ammonium hydroxideconcentration up to 0.6 mol/l and then remained constant,while the effect of ammonium hydroxide concentrationwas less significant at longer reaction times, at which thepercentage of gold adsorbed onto the carbon is practicallythe same at the three different ammonium hydroxideconcentrations used.Though not shown in this paper, a further increase inammonium hydroxide concentration led to a decrease inthe adsorption of gold on the carbon. This result may beattributed tothe competitive adsorption of ammoniumion with gold ion on the carbon surface, i.e., an increase inammonium hydroxide concentration results in a decreasein activity and diffusivity of gold ion, leading toadecreasein gold adsorption [10].
Effect of pH
Previous investigations on gold leaching confirmed that apH value of near 9.5 was optimal for gold extraction[1,2,11]; therefore, the effect of pH on gold adsorption wasstudied in this range. As can be seen from the resultsshown in Table 3, the pH variation did affect the goldadsorption, i.e., it was severelyretarded at the lower andhigher pH values, with an optimum gold adsorption takingplace at the pH of 10.5.Generally speaking the adsorption rate of gold onactivated carbon is relatively fast during the initial stage if
Gold Bulletin 2006 39/394
100908070605040302010002 4
6
8
Time, hours
      %     g      o       l      d     a       d     s     o     r    p       t       i    o     n
40°C20°C5°C
Figure 1
The percentage of gold adsorbed on activated carbon at various temperatures 
A=(C
0
C
t
).100C
0
Table 1
Characteristics of the activated carbon 
Length (cylinder)5.6mmDiameter (cylinder)3mmSurface area925 m
2
/gMicropores96%
Table 2
The adsorption of gold on activated carbon as a function of various NH 
OH concentrations 
NH
4
OH, mol/lGold Goldadsorption (1 h)adsorption (8 h)
0.323.6%53.8%0.632.8%55.4%1.032.5%55.5%
pH 9.5. Temperature: 20°C. Added activated carbon: 0.3g 
Table 3
Influence of pH on gold adsorption 
pHGold Goldadsorption (1 h)adsorption (8 h)
8.511.3%26.0%9.518.5%29.5%10.531.2%55.4%11.04.4%23.3%
Aqueous solution: 10 mg/l Au, 1.02x10 
-4 
Mthiosulfate, 1 M NH 
OH.Temperature: 20°C. Added activated carbon: 0.3g 
(4)
 
compared to that of the overall adsorption process. This isattributable tothe quick adsorption of gold on macroporesof activated carbon and the slow diffusion of gold intomicropores, which comprises a large percentage (96%) ofthe total pore volume of the carbon.
Effect of temperature
Toinvestigate the influence of temperature on theadsorption of gold on activated carbon, experiments werecarried out at 5, 20 and 40°C. The initial concentration ofgold was 10 mg/l, the thiosulfate concentration was1.02x10
-4
Mand the ammonium hydroxide concentrationwas 0.8 M. The pH of the aqueous phase was 10.5, and0.3 g of activated carbon was added to the gold solution.Figure 1 shows the effect of temperature on the adsorptionof gold. It is seen that, within the range of temperatureinvestigated, the adsorption of gold on activated carbonincreased with increasing temperature. The activationenergy was estimated as 19.4 kJ/mol. This value supports thecontention that the gold adsorption proceeds via a filmdiffusion-controlled mechanism [6, 12-14].
Effect of thiosulfate and different anions
Figure 2 plots the percentage of gold adsorption vs time forexperiments performed with various initial thiosulfateconcentrations. It can be seen that the presence of this anion in
Gold Bulletin 2006 39/395
the aqueous solution influences the adsorption of gold onto theactivated carbon. Two effects can be seen: first, the adsorptionrate increases with increasing initial thiosulfate concentration,and second, the percentage of gold adsorbed during a givenlength of time decreases with increasing thiosulfateconcentration. This is a serious drawback because practicalleachings are expected to contain an excess of thiosulfate.The decrease in gold adsorption is probablycaused byside reactions whichaffect the overall gold adsorptionprocess, e.g., excess thiosulfate ions can undergo thefollowing disproportionation reactions [4,5]:S
2
O
32
<==>
S
0
+SO
32-
3S
2
O
32-
+H
2
O
<==>
2SO
42-
+4S
0
+2OH
-
The precipitated sulphur may decrease the surface areaavailable for gold adsorption. In addition, the probabledecomposition of thiosulfate into tetrathionate (S
4
O
62-
)andtrithionate (S
3
O
62-
)and the detrimental effect of these speciesmay also result in a decrease in gold adsorption.Furthermore, the influence of various anions on theadsorption of gold was investigated by adding individuallythose anions into the gold solution as the correspondingsodium salt. Table 4 summarizes the observed effects ofthiosulfate, chloride and perchlorate ions on the adsorption ofgold on the carbon. It can be seen that the presence of theseanions caused a decrease in gold recovery. The decrease ingold adsorption in the presence of these anions is alsoattributable to a decreased diffusivity of gold species causedbythe anions [15].Though not investigated in the present work, it is known thatthe addition of cyanide ions in the system has a positiveinfluence, increasing the adsorption of gold onto thecarbon [1].
Table 4
Effect of different anions on the adsorption of gold on carbon 
Anion% Gold adsorption
a
S
2
O
32-
(1.02x10
-4
M)55.4S
2
O
32-
(0.2M)13.2Cl
-
(0.5M)41.0ClO
4-
(0.5M)46.5
After 8 h. Other experimental conditions were the same as for Figure 2 
Time, hours
1009080706050403020100
      %     g      o       l      d     a       d     s     o     r    p       t       i    o     n
0 2 4
6
81 3 570.2M0.05M1.02x10
-4
MS
2
O
32-
 
Figure 2
The percentage of gold adsorbed on activated carbon at various thiosulfate concentrations. Aqueous phase: 10mg/l gold, 0.8M NH 
OH and various thiosulfate concentrations at pH 10.5. Added activated carbon: 0.3g. Temperature: 20°C 
0 2 4
6
8
Time, hours
1009080706050403020100
      %     g      o       l      d     a       d     s     o     r    p       t       i    o     n
35 mg/L25 mg/L10 mg/LGold
Figure 3
The percentage of gold absorbed on activated carbon as a function of initial gold concentration in solution. Aqueous phase: various gold concentrations and 0.8M NH 
OH at pH 10.5. Added activated carbon: 0.3g. Temperature: 20°C 
(4)(5)

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