You are on page 1of 6

Intec Ltd ASX Code: INL

ABN 25 001 150 849

Superior and Sustainable Metals Production


Gordon Chiu Building J01
Department of Chemical Engineering Telephone: +612-9351-6741
Maze Crescent Facsimile: +612-9351-7180
University of Sydney NSW 2006 Email: mail@intec.com.au
Australia Website: www.intec.com.au

The Intec Gold Process (IGP)


1. Introduction Halides are weaker ligands than cyanide, requiring
an acidic environment (pH <2) and higher solution
The Intec Gold Process (IGP) has been developed
temperature and potential (Eh) to achieve the same
as a halide-based alternative for the recovery of
gold extraction efficiencies.
gold from refractory sulphide deposits. The
development of such deposits is generally by way of In the treatment of refractory sulphides, the use of
flotation of the ground ore to produce a concentrate, the halide medium allows sulphide oxidation to be
which is subsequently treated to oxidise sulphide performed concurrently with gold dissolution. Once
minerals in a pre-treatment step, culminating in the the gold-laden solution is separated from the
extraction of the gold from the oxidation residue oxidised mineral slurry, the dissolved gold can be
using cyanide. recovered by adsorption onto activated carbon,
which is subsequently eluted with cyanide for the
Commercially available options for the pre-
ultimate recovery of gold metal by electrowinning.
treatment step include roasting, pressure oxidation
(POx) and biological oxidation (BiOx). The IGP The IGP therefore differs from current commercial
differs from the hydrometallurgical POx and BiOx practice where gold is extracted from the oxidation
options in that a halide rather than sulphate medium residue using cyanide, requiring a separate
is used. Gold is insoluble in sulphate, whereas dedicated leach circuit with the costly requirement
halides, like cyanide, form strong complexes with for residual cyanide destruction.
gold to facilitate its dissolution and subsequent
The IGP is put into context in terms of current
recovery by adsorption onto activated carbon.
hydrometallurgical practice in Table 1.
Process Leach Liquor Oxygen Temperature Pressure Retention
Primary Secondary Source (0C) (Atm.) Time
IGP Chloride None air or O2 90-95 1 6-20 hrs
BiOx Sulphate Cyanide * air 45-75 1 100-150 hrs
POx Sulphate Cyanide * O2 >200 >30 1-2 hrs
* Via a conventional CIL/CIP treatment plant.

Table 1: IGP characteristics relative to competing refractory gold processing technologies


There are a number of factors that can render a gold-bearing ore refractory, as shown in Table 2.
Type Causes of Refractory Characteristics
Liberation Physical locking in silicates, sulphides, carbon, etc.
Occlusion Passivation due to formation of a chemical layer.
Chemistry Formation of auriferous compounds e.g. gold tellurides and aurostibnite.
Substitution Elemental replacement by gold in mineral lattice e.g. “solid solution” gold in pyritic ores.
Adsorption Adsorption of dissolved gold by ‘active’ carbonaceous material in the ore pulp.
Table 2: Causes of refractory characteristics
The IGP has been developed specifically to treat In the presence of ferric ion, the arsenic acid readily
concentrates produced from those refractory ores forms insoluble ferric arsenate according to the
falling into the latter two categories of following reaction:
“substitution” and “adsorption”. The major
H3AsO4 + Fe3+ Î FeAsO4 + 3H+ (5)
proportion of the world’s gold reserves fall into
these two categories, which are dominated by iron Ferric arsenate formed in the high chloride
sulphides such as arsenopyrite and pyrite, occurring electrolyte and under the operating conditions used
either separately or more commonly in combination. in the IGP is typically crystalline and stable in the
Further complication occurs when “active” carbon environment.
is also present. The action of the Cu2+/Cu+ couple is supplemented
2. IGP Process Chemistry and Flowsheet by the Fe3+/Fe2+ couple as a background
concentration of iron is always present in the
The IGP Process flowsheet and chemistry are
process liquor. The potential achievable under the
described below for the treatment of refractory gold
influence of the Cu2+ and Fe3+ is in the region of
concentrates containing the following mineral types:
850mV (versus SHE) in the presence of oxygen.
• Arsenopyrite This potential is sufficient for the dissolution of
gold, due to the stabilisation of the gold by the
• Arsenopyrite plus pyrite formation of a chloride complex according to the
• Arsenopyrite plus pyrite plus carbon. following reaction:
Arsenopyrite 3Cu2+ + Au + 4Cl - Î AuCl4- + 3Cu+ (6)
The presence of arsenic in refractory gold The oxidation is carried out at a temperature of 90-
concentrates is chiefly in the form of arsenopyrite 95oC in an 8M-chloride electrolyte containing 20-
(FeAsS). Gold is typically “locked” in this 40g/l Cu2+ ion.
arsenopyrite principally as a lattice-bound species, Pyrite
often referred to as solid solution, rather than as
native gold and consequently requires the complete The oxidation of pyrite (FeS2) in the IGP is
destruction of the arsenopyrite lattice for its achieved via the same series of intermediate
liberation. Destruction of the arsenopyrite lattice in reactions as employed for arsenopyrite oxidation
the IGP is achieved by chemical oxidation according to the following overall reaction:
according to the following overall reaction: 4FeS2 + 15O2 + 2H2O Î 8SO42- + 4Fe3+ + 4H+ (7)
FeAsS + 2O2 Î FeAsO4 +S (1) It should be noted that the pyritic sulphur is
The oxygen does not oxidise the arsenopyrite oxidised all the way to sulphate in contrast to the
directly, but acts through several intermediate steps, arsenopyritic sulphur that is only oxidised to the
as its solubility in the process liquor is exceedingly elemental state.
low. Pyrite is more refractory than arsenopyrite,
The oxygen, supplied directly from air sparged into requiring a finer grind size to achieve acceptable
the leach at atmospheric pressure, is initially used to reaction kinetics as explained in Section 3.
generate a soluble oxidant in the form of cupric ion However, individual pyrite samples exhibit variable
(Cu2+) according to the following reaction: reactivity that is thought to be influenced by arsenic
substitution for a portion of the sulphur in the
2Cu+ + ½O2 + 2H+ Ä 2Cu2+ + H2O (2) crystal lattice. Such pyrite is often termed arsenical
This reaction takes place at the interface between pyrite and the higher the arsenic contamination the
the air bubbles and the process liquor. The cupric more the pyrite reactivity approaches that of true
ion then oxidises the arsenopyrite according to the arsenopyrite with an As/S ratio of one. For
following reaction: particularly refractory examples of pyrite, a higher
oxidation potential than is achievable with air may
FeAsS + 7Cu2+ + 4H2O Î H3AsO4 + Fe2+ + S + be needed. In these cases, pure oxygen may be
5H+ + 7Cu+ (3) required.
The ferrous and cuprous reaction products are
subsequently oxidised by further air sparging
according to reaction (2) and the following reaction:
Cu2+ + Fe2+ Ä Cu+ + Fe3+ (4)
Intec Gold Process (IGP)

The reaction proceeds through the Cu2+/Cu+ couple 2Fe3+ + 3H2O Î Fe2O3 + 6H+ (9)
as for arsenopyrite at a temperature of 90-95oC in +
2H + SO42- + CaCO3 Î CaSO4 + H2O + CO2 (10)
the same liquor used for arsenopyrite oxidation
according to the following reaction: Limestone addition is controlled to maintain a stable
solution and to precipitate excess iron.
FeS2 + 14Cu 2+
+ 8H2O Î2SO42- + Fe 2+ +
+ 16H +
14Cu+ (8) Process Flowsheet
The Cu+ and Fe2+ are oxidised by air or oxygen (if The IGP flowsheet for the treatment of mixed
required) sparging according to reactions 2 and 4 arsenopyrite/pyrite gold concentrates is presented in
with the ferric and sulphate formed being Figure 1.
precipitated as hematite and anhydrite by the
addition of limestone to a pH of approximately 1-
1.5 according to the following reactions:

Limestone Water
Gold Concentrate
Leach
SINGLE-STAGE S Residue
LEACH L

Air

GOLD RECOVERY Gold Dore


Activated Carbon Column
Activated Carbon

Limestone Lime By-Product


IMPURITY BLEED
L L
(Zn, Pb, Ni, Cd, Mn,Mg)
S S

Copper Recovery
Plus pH9 Copper
Precipitation pH9
Recovery
Precipitation

Figure 1: IGP simplified flowsheet for the treatment of mixed arsenopyrite/pyrite gold concentrates

Arsenopyrite plus Pyrite plus Carbon (Double conditions. Further, the optimal conditions for
Refractory) pyrite roasting differ from those for arsenopyrite,
necessitating a two-stage roasting process.
The impact of naturally occurring carbon in the
processing of gold concentrates is largely a function The use of the IGP prior to roasting can selectively
of its grade and activity. At the lower range of leach arsenic and sulphur to simplify subsequent
carbon content, organic additives may be used to roasting, which in this instance becomes a simpler
inhibit gold adsorption. In these instances, the single-stage process. Further, the removal of arsenic
oxidation of the arsenopyrite and pyrite is as and sulphur reduces the duty for off-gas cleaning
described previously. from roaster operations as As2O3 and SO2 are
greatly reduced. The impact is thus one of
When the content of carbon becomes significant,
significantly reduced capital and operating costs in
the effectiveness of inhibition is greatly reduced as
the roasting step.
“preg-robbing” of the gold by the naturally
occurring carbon increases. In this instance, the The IGP in the case of a double-refractory
destruction of the carbon by roasting is the main concentrate consists of the five process steps of
treatment option that is practiced. This can be a arsenic leach, pyrite leach, arsenic precipitation,
relatively complex process, as gold extraction from carbon oxidation by roasting and gold leaching as
the resulting calcine is affected by the roasting shown in Figure 2.

3
Intec Gold Process (IGP)

Gold Concentrate
Limestone
Lime
Air
Limestone
Arsenopyrite
Leach Carbon Column
FeAsO4 Bleed
Precipitation Circuit
Thickener
Air Contaminant
By-Products
As2O3
Pyrite (Zn,Pb, Ni, Cd,
Leach Mn, Mg)
H2O L
S

H2O
L
S
Air Recycle Ferric
Wash Water Limestone Arsenate
Fuel
Residue

SOx CaSO4 + CaSO3


Primary Secondary
Roaster Gas Cleaning Gas Cleaning

Air

Gold
Leach

Gold Dore
L
S
Carbon Column Leach Residue

Figure 2: IGP flow diagram for double-refractory gold concentrate.


The double-refractory concentrate is firstly fed to an arsenic precipitation. The solids are washed and
arsenic leach, where arsenopyrite is oxidised sent to the subsequent roasting operation.
according to equation 3, using the high-potential
The liquor from the two leach operations are
cupric solution generated during the arsenic
combined and passed through carbon columns to
precipitation step. Temperature for reaction is
recover any gold from solution that has not been
typically 90-95oC and retention time is 3 to 4 hours.
“preg-robbed” by the active carbon in the
When reaction is complete, the slurry is separated in
concentrate prior to passing to arsenic precipitation
a thickener with the arsenic-bearing thickener
where air is sparged to precipitate arsenic and
overflow sent to gold recovery and arsenic
regenerate the cupric solution for return to the
precipitation as described below and the underflow
arsenic leach according to equations 2, 4 and 5.
sent to the pyrite leach.
Excess acid is neutralized with limestone according
Pyrite oxidation then proceeds according to to equation 10.
equation 8 using a portion of the liquor from arsenic
Limestone is added only after air addition is
precipitation, however the acid generated from
complete in order to maintain a high iron
sulphate formation is not neutralized as described in
background during iron arsenate formation, which
equation 10, but utilized to maintain all leached iron
further enhances its environmental stability. The
in soluble form. The high oxidation potential of the
precipitated solids are separated by pressure
liquor has the added benefit of oxidising residual
filtration where they are washed prior to discharge.
arsenopyrite with the high acidity maintaining the
The filtrate represents the regenerated solution for
arsenate formed in solution.
leaching operations.
Retention time in the leach is a function of the
The calcine produced during the roasting operations
pyrite grade and reactivity and ranges from 6 to 20
for carbon oxidation is now suitable for the leaching
hours. At the completion of the pyrite leach, the
of gold using the same regenerated leach liquor
solids are largely depleted of iron, arsenic and to a
used for both the arsenopyrite and pyrite leaches as
lesser extent sulphur (arsenopyritic sulphur is only
described in Section 2. The leached gold is
oxidised to the elemental state and is not further
recovered from the liquor on activated carbon after
oxidised during the pyrite leach). The pyrite-leach
leach residue filtration and washing, with the barren
slurry is sent directly to pressure filtration, with the
liquor sent to the arsenic precipitation circuit.
cupric/ferric solution directed to gold recovery and

4
Intec Gold Process (IGP)

3. Concentrate Grind Size Gold loading onto the carbon is typically 2-5% w/w
due to the relatively high gold concentrations in
Concentrates are typically received in the size range
such solutions (typically 10-100mg/l), which are a
of 80% passing 70-100 microns. Tests have
consequence of the typical high gold grade of the
indicated that reaction kinetics are significantly
concentrate. The gold is recovered by conventional
enhanced when concentrates are reground to a finer
elution or by burning of the carbon, with the choice
size that is dependent on the characteristics of each
depending on the economics of the individual
individual concentrate.
situation.
Where arsenopyrite is the sole gold-bearing mineral,
The IGP’s ability to dispose of by-products such as
a size of 80% passing 30-40 microns has proven
arsenic and sulphur in a responsible manner is of
adequate to achieve good gold extraction and an
similar environmental importance. Roasting creates
acceptable leach retention time.
toxic arsenic trioxide (As2O3), which must be
Where gold is locked in pyrite, the grind size will carefully stored and eventually disposed of at
principally depend on the reactivity of the pyrite, considerable expense. In contrast, the IGP creates
which as previously explained, can vary greatly. crystalline ferric arsenate (FeAsO4.2H2O) in its
For a highly active pyrite, the grind employed for most stable form, similar to the naturally occurring
arsenopyrite is used, but more refractory pyrite mineral scorodite.
examples require finer grinding. This may extend
The presence of impurities in the feed concentrate
to an ultra-fine grind in the most refractory cases.
(such as Cd, Mn, Mg, etc.) has no detrimental effect
4. Environmental Advantages of the IGP on either the leaching or arsenic precipitation
In addition to optimising project economics, the operations. Nevertheless, a method for the
gold industry’s worldwide focus on the management of impurities is required. This is
development of improved processing techniques for achieved via precipitation from a bleed of the
refractory gold deposits has also been driven by the regenerated cupric solution with the purified brine
need for more environmentally acceptable returned to the process. It is important to note that
processing routes. the IGP does not generate any liquid effluents or
gaseous emissions and that all impurities are
Conventional processes treat the entire concentrate produced as solid by-products.
feedstock with cyanide such that the final residue
(after gold extraction) is contaminated with the Limestone is added to the bleed to adjust the pH to
cyanide leachant. Thus the residues suffer from 3.5, precipitating residual iron and copper, which
numerous inherent risks – both real and perceived – are removed by filtration and recycled to the leach.
associated with cyanide usage and disposal and Impurities, such as Cd, Mn and Mg, are then
some projects have been vetoed for this reason. removed via slaked lime addition at pH 9 to form
Cyanide is invariably disposed of into open-air insoluble oxides that are recovered by filtration for
tailings dams from whence it is lost, either ideally disposal.
by natural decay or by unwanted leakage. In oxidising arsenopyrite and pyrite, the IGP
Alternatively, it is expensively destroyed by produces elemental sulphur and anhydrite
chemical oxidants such as hypochlorites. On the respectively. These are stable residues compared
other hand, the IGP leach residue contains only with the sulphate residues produced by pressure
minor residual chlorides and is essentially the same oxidation and the even less stable sulphate residues
as the residue from the Intec Copper demonstration produced by bacterial oxidation.
plant that passed under EPA test procedures in New
5. Materials of Construction
South Wales as being suitable for disposal in a
landfill. The IGP unit operations are virtually the same as
those of the Intec Copper Process that has been
The IGP therefore has a major advantage over all
operated at a 1tpd demonstration-plant scale for
other refractory gold processes in that it is
approximately 1 year. The same materials of
unnecessary to include a secondary cyanide leach to
construction as were proven in that plant will be
recover gold from pre-treated materials; rather the
utilized for the IGP.
gold is recovered directly onto conventional carbon
from the primary leach solution. Retention time for These materials include conventional fibreglass-
gold adsorption is 10-15 minutes, which is similar reinforced plastics (FRP) for tanks and piping and
to conventional practice for cyanide systems. conventional plastics for pumps.

5
Intec Gold Process (IGP)

Mixers are made from titanium to withstand the


100
corrosive environment as is standard practice in
pressure oxidation processes. 90

US$ per tonne of concentrate


80
Many years of operating experience have been
gained by the nickel industry in the production of 70
nickel metal from nickel sulphide matte in a very 60
similar chemical matrix, which significantly reduces 50
the level of risk associated with the IGP. 40
6. Economic Advantages of the IGP 30
20
Intec has commissioned a comparative cost analysis
comparing the economics of the IGP against BiOx 10
and Pox based on first quarter 2004 costs. Roasting 0
was not included in the comparative cost analysis IGP BiOx POx
for the reasons outlined earlier. Figure 4: Comparative operating costs for
J R Goode and Associates, an internationally 50,000tpa of gold concentrate
respected gold metallurgical consulting company As shown above, the IGP has a significant cost
based in Toronto, Canada, undertook the process advantage over both BiOx and POx in the
costing for BiOx and POx. H.G. Engineering (also processing of refractory gold concentrates.
of Toronto) undertook the process costing for the
IGP. Both analyses assumed a North American 7. Conclusion
location and a concentrate feed material that was an The IGP represents a new approach to the recovery
average based on analysis of 19 different refractory of gold from refractory sulphide deposits that offers
gold concentrates (gold grade of 59 g/t and 20.2% significant benefits in reduced capital and operating
sulphur). The battery limits for the study included costs.
the oxidation and gold recovery circuits but
excluded flotation and concentrate regrinding. The Significant environmental benefits also flow from
degree of regrinding needed for each of the the elimination of cyanide that in some countries is
processing routes will differ depending on the becoming more and more difficult to permit.
mineralogy of each concentrate type. The IGP Intec’s successful conclusion to the laboratory-scale
oxidation circuit assumes the use of air as the source development of the IGP has led to the design of a
of oxygen. pilot-scale plant in Sydney, which will be
The results of the comparative cost analysis are constructed and commissioned during the second
presented in Figures 3 and 4 for a gold concentrate half of 2003.
throughput rate of 50,000tpa.

20
18
16 Enquiries should be directed to:
US$ million

14
Mr A John Moyes
12 Technical Director
10 Intec Ltd
8 Gordon Chiu Building J01
6 Department of Chemical Engineering
4
Maze Crescent
University of Sydney NSW 2006
2
Australia
0
IGP BiOx POx Telephone: +612-9351-6741
Facsimile: +612-9351-7180
Figure 3: Comparative capital expenditure for Email: john@intec.com.au
50,000tpa of gold concentrate Website: www.intec.com.au