UNIT VI Extraction of metals from sulphide ores and concentrates using bio – hydro metallurgical processes. The biological and chemical principles of bioleaching/bio – oxidation processes. Bacteria used in these processes and their characteristics, bacterial leaching mechanism, the parameters affecting bioleaching/bio – oxidation processes and process design

Bio-hydro metallurgical Processes:
Since mid to late 1990’s, bio hydro metallurgy is economically profitable and sustainable technology now finds wide application in a variety of spheres, ranging from metal extraction to environmental remediation. Three main areas of application can be identified: (i) environmental protection; (ii) metal extraction from minerals and rocks: (iii) pre-treatment of minerals to make them amenable to further processing. ENVIRONMENTAL PROTECTION PROCESSES: Environmental protection is one of the main areas of application of bio hydrometallurgy and concerns either the development of remediation techniques aimed at low cost inhibition of dangerous effluents from old stops or dumps or of systems for trapping toxic ions from effluents or for decontaminating polluted soils. Investigations into the properties of cell envelopes as adsorbents, of the so-called microbial derivatives, The interactions between microbes and solid surfaces play a very important role and three papers on the fundamentals of this subject provide a useful background for those intending to advance in this field. The commercial applications rely on the knowledge of the mechanisms and the extent of adsorption of chemical elements or compounds by microorganisms. Providing the required information to the practitioners is the basic task of microbiology. The biological fundamentals: Organisms and microorganisms play the role of ion traps and, to some extent, can be considered the biological equivalents of inorganic exchange resins. This branch of biohydrometallurgy involves not only microorganisms but, more generally, all living things especially plants and algae. This distinctive feature already emerged at the time of what can be considered the First Symposium on Bio hydrometallurgy, held in Braunschweig: on that occasion, the properties of the alga Hormidium fluitans (Gay) were described.

For the time being the prospects of its application as a process in its own right seem to be limited. However, because of its characteristic feature of rapid intrinsic kinetics it is envisaged that bio hydrometallurgy will be successfully integrated into water purification flow sheets consisting of hybrid technologies. For this type of technology the distinction between intrabiotechnological (IBT) or inter technological (IT) depending on the type of associated processes can be helpful. The term IBT refers to bio-sorption, bio-reduction or bio-precipitation, IT to biotechnology-based processes integrated with non-biotechnology based ones such as chemical precipitation, electrochemical processes, etc.

From its origins, in the 1940’s, up to the 1980’s, most bio-hydrometallurgical research work focused on the ambitious target of developing an environmentally and cost effective process that could compete with pyro-metallurgy-based processes for metal extraction from ores and concentrates. There, in 1977, in great secrecy, an Italian mining company entrusted an international team, the task of developing a chalcopyrite flotation concentrate bioleaching flow sheet. Team never succeeded in obtaining a 95% copper leaching in a single STR operated in batch. It was only two decades later that Author began to understand the reasons for failure, which depended simply on ignorance of certain aspects of solid state physics typical of chalcopyrite. Subsequent research carried out in the light of the contributions of solid-state physicists and of new investigation methods like XPS, demonstrated the great potential of bio hydrometallurgy. Pre-treatment of run-of-mine ores or flotation concentrates and recovery of valuable metals: The most encouraging commercial successes have been achieved in the pre-treatment of goldbearing complex sulphide ores - notoriously refractory to conventional processing - for the subsequent cyanidation step. The excellent performance of numerous commercial plants is well documented. Research efforts directed to coal desulphurisation have produced some interesting results. The practical feasibility of coal bio depyritization demonstrated. Removal of the socalled "organic sulphur" from coal, though investigated in depth by the same research groups, was not as successful, but did provide the guidelines for future research. Solving this problem is of great environmental and economic significance, as billions of tons of fossil coal could be utilized were it is possible to remove the organic sulphur there from. Base metal recovery from minerals As per author, no commercial bioleaching plant has ever been built for the extraction of base metals from mineral sulphides concentrates. One of the likely reasons for this is that the state of the art technology cannot yet compete with conventional pyrometallurgical processes. The problem here is obviously one of profitability. Two main factors affect process profitability: bioleaching kinetics and reactor characteristics. Both factors are currently being researched, though bioleaching kinetics has received far more attention and will be dealt with first. The development of analytical expressions that mathematically relate the characteristics of : (i) microbial strains, (ii) solid substrate, (iii) process environment and

(iv) reactor features, and their interactions with process kinetics has been and continues to be the main objective of bioleaching research. The composition of microbial populations and their synergies have been the almost exclusive hunting ground of microbiologists and can reasonably expected to be so in the future. A better understanding of the role played by the solid substrate requires the involvement of several fields of specialized non microbiological knowledge, ranging from mineralogy associated to solid state physics, chemistry, electrochemistry and mineral engineering. Bioleaching is essentially the product of the microbial population interacting with the solid substrate but the process is strongly conditioned by the physico-chemical environment, specifically the liquid phase pH and Eh, and consequently the related electrochemical phenomena, chemical composition, solids concentration, particle size distribution and evolution, and temperature. Bioleaching microbiology Microorganisms can be considered, latu sensu, as the biocatalysts of mineral oxidation and solubilization processes. Up to now the following research lines have been pursued: (i) (ii) (iii) (iv) identification of the microorganisms involved in the process, how microorganisms interact among themselves and with the solid substrate, development of the most suitable microorganisms or microbial associations, enumeration of bioleaching microorganisms.

Identification of the microorganisms involved in the bioleaching process that began with Temple and Hinkle’s discovery in 1948 still continues today. Major breakthroughs include the discovery of Leptospirillum ferrooxidans and of the ability of Sulfolobus to bioleach metal sulphides. These discoveries opened up a whole new world that continues to be investigated today. Incidentally, the discovery of L. ferrooxidans, may well be cited as yet another example of serendipity, because later investigations showed the organism to be quite atypical compared to those species that turned out to be so important in commercial operations. The pioneering work on the physiology of Thiobacilli carried out by Kelly, the application of the theory of chemiosmotic mechanism to A. ferrooxidans proposed by Ingledew, Cox and Helling. Another group of methodologies are those based on immunological methods. Testing of different strains for developing an industrial bioleaching process. A major drawback of these methodologies is the need for fairly specialized equipment and skilled personnel. The sophisticated van that housed a fine mobile laboratory where Dutch team very effectively carried out real time monitoring of the microorganisms used in the Porto Torres coal bio de-pyritization semi-commercial scale pilot plant. This type of monitoring is very difficult to propose for a normal industrial operation. Investigation is the development of kind of "diagnostic kit" that requires training accessible to technicians with a bachelor degree education background. The same considerations can be made for enumeration methodologies. The interactions between components of the micro flora present in leaching operations were brought to light many years ago. In more recent times the existence and importance of this interaction seem to have been confirmed, in relation for instance to the role played by

chemoorganotrophic microorganisms, such as Acidiphilium. as a possible stimulating agent of Extracellular Polymeric Substance (EPS) excretion by Leptospirillum ferrooxidans and as a kind of mineral surface scavenger/cleaner of the residual EPS after detachment of microorganisms as well as the predatory activity of some protozoa on Thiobacilli. There is no doubt that the advances made, on the microbial capsula and its importance in cell attachment to solid surfaces, The mechanism by which microorganisms enhance metal sulphides oxidation and leaching are still surrounded by controversy. The discovery of the extracellular polymeric substance (EPS) has given rise to some discrepancy in the interpretation of its function between the supporters of the purely electrochemical mechanism and those who uphold a (surface-) chemical process where EPS is the localized environment cell/mineral surface for the action of an energy carrier (e.g. cysteinebased sulphur carrier) produced by some chemically-induced mechanism in the microorganism or for the local artificial increase in the concentration of an electron extracting agent (Fe3+). Similarly, further work is required to gain a better understanding of the ability of Thiobacillus ferrooxidans to excrete cysteine or other thiol group compounds. Hence, at least until the enzyme mediating the direct attack of the mineral by the microorganism is discovered, it seems quite appropriate to replace the term “direct attack” with the more cautious "direct contact" coined several decades ago in the very early days of Biohydrometallurgy. The observation, that as commercial biohydrometallurgical operations are not sterile, the risk of modified organisms being released into the environment may discourage or even prohibit the resort to such a technique is quite realistic.

Chemical leaching experiments
Chemical leaching experiments were carried out in 250-ml Erlenmeyer flasks on an incubated rotary shaker at 200 rpm at 30°C. In all the cases, 1 g of properly crushed nodule of 50 -75 μm size fraction was used and the solid: liquid ratio was kept at 1:100 (W/V). HCl, HNO3 and H2SO4 solutions of 2.5M concentrations were used as leaching agents. H2SO4 solution (pH 2.0) alone or with reducing agents like sodium thiosulfate was employed for leaching also. After leaching, leach liquor was filtered using Whatman 42 filter papers and the collected residue was digested in 1:1 HCl at 60-70°C. The resultant solution, after proper dilutions were made, was analyzed for Cu, Co, Ni, Mn and Fe with an Inductively Coupled Plasma spectrophotometer (ICP). All chemicals used were of reagent grade.

Bioleaching experiments
In view of continuous depletion of land-based resources along with increasing consumption of valuable metals in India, development of environment friendly technologies for tapping alternate sources of metals has gained importance lately. One of them is recovery of strategic metals Cu, Ni and Co from poly metallic Indian Ocean nodules, by biological processing. extensive review of processing and extraction of valuable metals from manganese nodules discussing both hydro and pyrometallurgical routes. High porosity of the nodules resulting in high moisture content coupled with polluting effluent gases pose major hurdles in pyrometallurgical processing of the nodules. Therefore, hydrometallurgical techniques are potentially viable for extraction of metals from nodules. But often, slow kinetics and poor recovery with dilute acids and corrosiveness of the concentrated ones restrict application of hydrometallurgical extraction. Researchers have studied addition of reducing agents with either mineral acids or ammonia. The reducing environment, so created, enhances leaching, by breaking up the nodule matrix occluding the valuable metals. These processes have varying degrees of success. However, most require high temperature pretreatment and/or costly, corrosive reagents to obtain a sizeable amount of metal recovery with favourable kinetics. As the nodules are low-grade ores of Cu, Co and Ni, use of costly chemical reagents as reducing agents may not be economically viable for large-scale runs. Growing cultures of Bacillus 29 are able to reduce MnO2 aerobically and anaerobically using glucose as an electron donor. However, microbial ecology of the Indian Ocean nodules has not been studied in detail until now; Bioleaching : Leaching with growing culture: One g of pre-sterilized, pulverized ocean nodule was placed in 90 ml of sterilized Artificial Sea water nutrient broth (ASWNB) media in 250 ml conical flasks; 10% v/v actively growing culture (109 cells/ml) of the marine isolate was added as inoculum. Growth flasks were removed from the rotary shaker after appropriate time intervals and the solution analyzed for leached metal content.

Leaching with cell-free growth supernatant: To obtain cell free growth supernatant, a
fully-grown culture (after 10 hours of growth) was centrifuged at 10,000 rpm for 15 minutes followed by pressure filtration using Millipore ultra-filtration unit. The absence of any cells in the resultant supernatant was assured by observing under phase contrast microscope. One g of pulverized ocean nodule was added to100 ml of the growth supernatant and solid: liquid ratio was kept at 1:100. To optimize recovery of metals in leaching, pH of the growth supernatant was varied from an acidic to an alkaline range by adding 10N H2SO4 or 0.1N NaOH. The duration of leaching was kept constant at four hours. The size fraction of the crushed nodules was in the range of 50 to 75 microns for all tests.

Leaching with starch added to the growth supernatant:
To observe the effect of starch addition to the growth supernatant, increasing proportions of starch were added to 100 ml of cell free growth supernatant and the solid: liquid ratio was kept constant at 1:100. The duration of leaching was maintained at four hours. The size fraction of the crushed nodule was in the range of 50 to 75 microns. Solution pH in all the cases was within

8 - 8.5 ranges In all the above tests, leach liquor collected after appropriate time intervals wasfiltered using Whatman 42 filter papers and the residue was digested in 1:1 HCl at 60 - 70°C. The resultant solution, after proper dilutions were made, was analyzed for Cu, Co,Ni, Mn and Fe by an ICP spectrophotometer.

Biohydrometallurgical processing of concentrates of various mineral types:



Since 1986, the bacterial leaching of refractory gold ore and concentrates has been employed for gold recovery at a commercial scale. At present, more than 10 commercial plants are operating in the world. In Russia, the first plant was commissioned in 1997 at the Olimpiada gold deposit, The bacterial leaching is carried out around the year under severe climatic conditions, at winter temperatures of -25 to -45°C. The main gold-bearing sulfide minerals in concentrates are arsenopyrite and pyrite. The concentrate contains also pyrrhotite. The quantitative predominance of one or another mineral in decreasing order allows to distinguish three main mineral types of refractory goldsulfide concentrates: arsenopyrite - pyrite concentrates and ; pyrite - arsenopyrite concentrate ; pyrrhotite - pyrite - arsenopyrite concentrate. Gold grade in concentrates is 21.6 - 150 g/t, silver 2.3 - 160 g/t. Total sulfur actually occurs in the sulfide form amounting to 5.68-28.8%; the content of elemental sulfur in pyrrhotite-free concentrates is insignificant (0.11-0.15%) while its grade in yrrhotite-bearing concentrate is higher by an order – 1.3%. Arsenic occurs, mainly, in the form of sulfide arsenic amounting to 4.5-18.9%. The concentrates also contain non sulfide constituents, such as (%): 9.15 – 51.6 SiO2, 0 – 8.16 CO2, 0.54 – 4.5 C organic. The mineral composition of concentrates (Table 1) is represented by various contents of the main gold-bearing sulfide minerals - arsenopyrite, pyrite and pyrrhotite as well as sulfides grading 17 to 74.8%. Pyrrhotite is abundant (39%) only in the concentrate; antimonite (1.7%) is also contained, mainly, in the concentrate . The grain size of concentrate samples is within the range of 80-90% of the class – 0.044 mm.

Microorganisms The research on bacterial oxidation of the concentrate employed mesophilic bacteria: the Acidithiobacillus (A.) ferrooxidans monoculture with concentration of 1,0 x 107cells/ml and

mixed culture of A. ferrooxidans and A. thiooxidans with corresponding content of 2.5 x 107 and 2.5 x 104 cells/ml. (Table 2).

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