You are on page 1of 26

ABSTRACT Bioleaching is an emerging technology with signicant potentials to add value to the mining industries so as to deliver attractive environmental

and social benets to all the associates. Thiobacillus ferrooxidans and T. thiooxidans are the main chemolithotrophic bacteria which convert insoluble metal sulphides into soluble metal sulphates. Heterotrophic bacteri and fungi also involve in non-sulfide ores and minerals treatment for metal recovery. The production of organic acids and chelating and complexing compounds which excreted into the environment enhances the metal extraction. Nowadays, bioleaching is used for recovery of copper, uranium and gold. There are three main techniques applied in bioleaching which are heap, dump and in situ leaching. The other activities benefits from bioleaching are detoxification of industrial waste products, sewage sludge and soil contaminated with heavy metals. 1. INTRODUCTION Bioleaching is the use of bacterial microorganisms to extract precious metals, such as gold, from ore in which it is embedded. As an alternative to smelting or roasting, miners use bioleaching when there are lower concentrations of metal in ore and they need an efficient, environmentally responsible method to extract it. The bacteria feed on nutrients in minerals, thereby separating the metal from the ore. Other metals that are commonly extracted via bioleaching include silver, zinc, copper, lead and uranium. This process works because of how special microorganisms act on mineral deposits. These microorganisms are catalysts to speed up natural processes in the ore. The types of bacteria most often used in this process include Leptospirillum ferrooxidans, Thiobacillus ferrooxidans and certain species of Acidianus, Sulfolobus and Sulfobacillus.

2. MICROORGANISMS 2.1. Thiobacillus

Genus Thiobacillus is the most active bioleaching bacteria. The bacteria grow under aerobic conditions which they are Gram-negative and non-spore forming rods. Most thiobacilli use the carbon dioxide from the atmosphere for the synthesis of new cell material known chemolithoautotrophic species. The energy derives from the oxidation of reduced or partially reduced sulfur compounds, including sulfides, elemental sulfur and thiosulfate, the final oxidation product being sulphate. In an acid environment, at pH values between 1.5 and 3, bacterial leaching is carried out in which metals ions remain in solution. Therefore the acidophilic species Thiobacillus ferrooxidans and T. thiooxidans are of particular importance. Other thiobacilli which grow only at higher pH values which metal ions do not maintain in solution are also able to oxidize sulfur and sulphides. T. thiooxidans, isolated in 1922 by Waksman and Joffe, is well known for its rapid oxidation of elemental sulfur. Sulfuric acid also generated by the utilization of other partial reduced sulphur compounds then decreasing the pH in the medium to 1.5 to 1.0 and even lower. The intensive sulfuric acid production leads to a rapid decomposition of rocks so that acid-soluble metal compounds can pass into solution as sulfates. However, T. Ferrooxidans play the most important role in bacterial leaching. This bacterium was first isolated in 1947 by Colmer and Hinkle from acid coal mine drainage. The cells are identical to T. Thiooxidans morphologically but they differ from the latter by the much slower course of the oxidation of elemental sulfur. The differences of T. ferrooxidans differs from all other thiobacilli is that besides deriving energy from the oxidation of reduced sulfur compounds ferrous iron can be used as an electron donor. T. ferrooxidans is still able to grow on

reduced inorganic sulphur compounds in the absence of oxygen by using ferric iron as an alternative electron acceptor. There are two new species of acidophilic thiobacilli which are T. Prosperus, represents a new group of halotolerant metal-mobilizing bacteria and T. cuprinus is a facultatively chemolithoautotrophic bacterium which oxidizes metal sulfides but does not oxidize ferrous iron. This microorganism is described as preferentially mobilizing copper from chalcopyrite. Because of their physiological peculiarities both strains may have some potential in bioleaching.

Diagram of activities of T. ferrooxidans in bioleaching

2.2. Leptospirillum The other acidophilic obligately chemolithotrophic ferrous iron oxidizing bacterium is Leptospirillum ferrooxidans was first isolated by Markosyan from mine waters in Armenia. It is more sensitive to copper and unable to oxidize sulphur or sulphur compounds. Compared to T. Ferrooxidans, it is more tolerates to lower pH values and higher concentrations of uranium, molybdenum and silver. L. ferrooxidans cannot attack mineral sulphides by itself and can be done together with T. Ferrooxidans or T. thiooxidans. T. thiooxidans, T. ferrooxidans and L. ferrooxidans are mesophilic bacteria which grow best at temperatures of 2535C.

Diagram of some species of bacteria involve in bioleaching

2.3. Thermophilic bacteria

Microorganisms can be subdivided into: Bacteria Mesophic Moderate thermophilic Extremely thermophilic Temperature optima 20 40 C 40 60 C Above 60 C

Thiobacillus-like bacteria, so-called Th-bacteria, are moderately thermophilic bacteria and grow on pyrite, pentlandite and chalcopyrite at temperatures in the range of 50C. It used ferrous iron as the energy source, however only in the presence of yeast extract, the growth is observed. Extremely thermophilic bacteria growing at temperatures above 60C were isolated by Brierley, Norris, Karavaiko and their co-workers. Acidianus brierleyi, was originally described as Sulfolobus brieleyi and reclassified as Acidianus brierleyi by Segerer at 1986 year, is chemolithoautotrophic organism, facultatively anaerobic and extremely

acidophilic Archaeon growing on ferrous iron, elemental sulfur and metal sulfides. Elemental sulfur is used as an electron acceptor and is reduced to H2S under anaerobic conditions. Members of the genus Sulfolobus are aerobic, facultatively chemolithotrophic bacteria oxidizing ferrous iron, elemental sulfur and sulfide minerals. The same compounds are used as energy source by Sulfobacillus thermosulfidooxidans, a spore-forming facultatively autotrophic bacterium. However, the growth will only occur in the presence of yeast extract.

2.4. Heterotrophic microorganisms Heterotrophic bacteria and fungi which require organic supplements for growth and energy supply may contribute to metal leaching. Metal solubilization may be due to enzymatic reduction of highly oxidized metal compounds or is effected by the production of organic acids. As in the case of manganese leaching, it is also affected by compounds with at least two hydrophilic reactive groups (e.g., phenol derivatives) which are excreted into the culture medium and dissolve heavy metals by direct displacement of metal ions from the ore matrix by hydrogen ions and by the formation of soluble metal complexes and chelates. From the metal leaching, the heterotrophic microorganisms do not have any benefit. Genus Bacillus is most effective in metal solubilization, with regard to the fungi the genera Aspergillus and Penicillium are the most important ones. Citric and oxalic acids are produced by fungi. The other bioleaching fungi are Spergillus niger, Yarrowia lipolytica and Saccharomyces cervisiae.

3. BIOLEACHING PROCESS AND TECHNIQUES 3. 1 Bioleaching Process The bacteria use a chemical reaction called oxidation to turn metal sulphide crystals into sulfates and pure metals. These constituent parts of ore are separated into valuable metal and leftover sulphur and other acidic chemicals. Eventually, enough material builds up in the waste solution to filter and concentrate it into recoverable metal. The extraction of iron can involve numerous ferrous and sulfur oxidizing bacteria, including Acidithiobacillus ferrooxidans and Acidithiobacillus thiooxidans. For example,

bacteria catalyse the breakdown of the mineral arsenopyrite (FeAsS) by oxidising the sulfur and metal (in this case arsenic ions) to higher oxidation states whilst reducing dioxygen by H2 and Fe3+. This allows the soluble products to dissolve .The contributions of the leaching mechanisms depend on the types of sulphide mineral and on the operating conditions. 3. 2 Bioleaching Techiques The bioleaching technology is a simple and effective for processing of sulfide ores and is used on a technical scale mainly for the recovery of copper and uranium. There are two main techniques which are laboratory investigation and industrial leaching processes In laboratory investigation, percolator leaching is used. The process is determined on the basis of pH measurements, microbiological investigations and chemical analysis of the metals that have passed into solution. Because the oxygen supply is often inadequate and the surface ratio is unfavorable, percolator leaching is not very efficient. Therefore, percolator leaching has been substantially displaced by submerged leaching using fine-grained material which is

suspended in the leaching liquid and kept in motion by shaking or stirring. Other technique is column leaching that operates based on the principle of percolator leaching and is used as a model for heap or dump leaching processes.

In industrial leaching processes, bioleaching technology is used for the treatment of lowgrade ores which generally contain metal concentrations below 0.5% (w/w). The simplest way of conducting microbial leaching is to load the material in heaps, allow water to filter through the heap and collect the seepage water (leachate). Since the bacterial oxidation of sulfides is much slower than other biotechnical processes the leachate is recirculated. There are three main procedures in use: dump leaching, heap leaching and underground leaching. Heap leaching is mainly used for fine-grained ores that cannot be concentrated by flotation. The leaching is practised in large basins containing up to 12000 tons of ore. In some heap leaching operations, pipes are placed in strategic positions within the heaps during its construction to provide the deeper portions of the heap with sufficient amounts of oxygen. Heap leach mining works well for high concentrations of less ores, as less Earth needs to be ground onto leach pads in order to extract the same amount of materials. It also requires less energy consumption to use these methods, which many consider to be an environmental alternative.

Figure 1 : Heap leaching

Dump leaching is the oldest process. The size of the dumps varies considerably and the amount of ore may be in the range of several hundred thousand tons of ore. The top of the dump is sprinkled continuously or flooded temporarily. Before recirculation, the leachate may pass through an oxidation basin, in which the bacteria and ferric iron are regenerated. Dump leaching is similar to heap leaching, however in the case of dump leaching, ore is taken directly from the mine and stacked on the leach pad without crushing where, in the case of gold and silver, the dump is irrigated with a dilute cyanide solution that percolates through the ore to dissolve gold and silver. The solution containing gold and silver exits the base of the dump, is collected and precious metals extracted. The resultant barren solution is recharged with additional cyanide and returned to the dump. This method of leaching is usually suitable for low grade ores because it is very low cost. However, it operates with slow kinetics and may take up about 1 to 2 years to extract 50% of the desired mineral. Lastly, underground leaching is a method of mining a useful mineral in which the mineral is selectively dissolved by chemical reagents in the ore body of the place of occurrence and then removed to the surface. Underground leaching is used for mining nonferrous metals and rare elements, and its use is feasible for mining phosphates and borates as well. It is usually done in abandoned mines. Galleries are flooded or unmined ore or mine waste in side tunnels are sprinkled or washed under pressure. The water collects in deeper galleries and shafts and is then pumped to a processing plant at the surface. The best known application of this procedure is at the Stanrock uranium mine at Elliot Lake in Ontario, Canada. The procedure requires sufficient permeability of the orebody and impermeability of the gangue rock so that any seepage of the pregnant leaching solution is prevented.


Figure 2: Underground leaching 4. FACTORS INFLUENCING BIOLEACHING The leaching effectiveness depends largely on the efficiency of the microorganisms and on the chemical and mineralogical composition of the ore to be leached. The maximum yields of metal extraction can be achieved only when the leaching conditions correspond to the optimum growth conditions of the bacteria. There are seven (7) factors affecting bioleaching which are; (1) nutrients, (2) oxygen and carbon dioxide gases, (3) pH, (4) temperature, (5) mineral substrate, (6) heavy metals, and (7) surfactants and organic extractants.




The first main factor influencing the bioleaching process is nutrientsneeded to the involved bacteria. Microorganisms used for metal extraction from sulphide materials are

chemolithoautotrophic bacteria. By definition, this type of bacteria using autotrophic processes for obtaining nutrients and chemotrophic process for obtaining a primary energy supply. Chemotrophic processes are involved in deriving a primary energy supply from exogenous chemical sources. Therefore only inorganic chemicals compounds are required as energy sources for their growth survival. In general the mineral nutrients and the necessary carbon for metabolic processes are obtained from their surrounding environment and from the material to be leached in bioleaching process. For optimum growth of chemolithoautotrophic bacteria, nitrogen, iron and sulphur compounds may be supplemented together with ammonium, phosphate and magnesium salts. 4.2 Oxygen and Carbon dioxide Gases The second factor that involves in accelerating process of bioleaching is the existing of oxygen and carbon dioxide gases. An adequate supply of oxygen is a prerequisite for good growth and high activity of the leaching bacteria. In the laboratory this can be achieved by aeration, stirring, or shaking process. As most of the metal leaching bacteria are aerobic and chemolithotrophic in nature, aeration takes care of the supply of both oxygen and carbon dioxide gases to the leaching system. Sucient carbon dioxide in air serves as a source of carbon needed for biomass generation. Interior of heap, if not properlyaerated, is prone to anaerobic conditions. Aeration of bio-heaps can accelerate bio-oxidation reactions by reducing the time of leach cycle for which the supply of oxygen is very important for viability and activity of leaching


microorganisms. On a technical scale, particularly in the case of dump or heap leaching, carbon dioxide is the only carbon source required, but there is no need for additional of this gas supply.

4. 3 pH

pH is the third factor contributing in influencing bioleaching process. The adjustment of the correct pH value is a necessary condition for the growth of the leaching bacteria and is significant for the solubilization of metals. The example of leaching bacteria is T. ferrooxidans. T. ferrooxidans is an acidophile, living in environments with an optimal pH range of 1.5 to 2.5. Thus, pH values in the range of 2.02.5 are optimum for the bacterial oxidation of ferrous iron and sulfide. At pH values below 2.0, a considerable inhibition of T. ferrooxidans will occur but T. ferrooxidans may be adapted to even lower pH values by increasing addition of acid.At acidic pH, elemental sulfur is inert to abiotic oxidation, although other reduced inorganic sulphur species such asthiosulfate and tetrathionate are oxidised abiotically. In the absence of sulphur oxidisingmicroorganisms, more than 90% of sulde sulphur is transformed to elemental sulfur. The role of sulfur oxidising microorganisms in the oxidation of mineral suldes at low pH is therefore very important.

4.4 Temperature

Another important factor that can induce the bioleaching process is temperature. The optimum temperature for ferrous iron and sulfide oxidation by T. ferrooxidans is between 28 and 30C. Normally, below the optimum temperature the microbes become inactive, but at temperatures above it, they are rapidly destroyed. In this situation, at lower temperatures a decrease in metal extraction will occur, but even at 4C bacterial solubilization of copper, cobalt,


nickel and zinc was observed. At higher temperatures between 50 C to 80 C thermophilic bacteria can be used for leaching purposes.

4.5 Mineral substrate

Other valuable influencing factor in bioleaching process is mineral substrate itself. The mineralogical composition of the leaching substrate is of primary importance. At high carbonate content of the ore or gangue material the pH in the leaching liquid will increase and inhibition or complete suppression of bacterial activity occurs. Low pH values, necessary for the growth of the leaching bacteria can be achieved by external addition of acid, but this may not only cause the formation and precipitation of gypsum but will also affect the cost of the process.Gypsum is a common white soft or colourless mineral consisting of the hydrated calcium sulphate, usually used to make cements and plasters for building.

The rate of leaching also depends on the total surface of the substrate. A decrease in the particle size means an increase in the total particle surface area so that higher yields of metal can be obtained without a change in the total mass of the particles. In short, the relationship between particle size of the substrate and metal yield is non-perpendicular. A particle size of about 42 m is regarded as the optimum. An enlargement of the total mineral surface area can be obtained also by an increase in pulp density. An increase in the pulp density may result in an increase in metal extraction, its relation is perpendicular but the risk is, the dissolution of certain compounds which have an inhibitory or even toxic effect on the growth of leaching bacteria will increase as well by increasing the pulp density.


4.6 Heavy metals

Concentration of heavy metals also one of the influent factor to the of bioleaching process.The leaching of metal sulfides is accompanied by an increase in metal concentration in the leachate. In general the leaching organisms, especially the thiobacillus sp., have a high tolerance to heavy metals and various strains may even tolerate 50 g/l Nikel, 55 g/l Copper or 112 g/l Zinc. Different strains of the some species may show completely different sensitivities to heavy metals. Very often it is possible to adapt individual strains to higher concentrations of metals or to specific substrates by gradually increasing the concentration of metals or mineral substrates.

4.7 Surfactants and organic extractants

The last factor affecting the leaching effectiveness process is surfactants and organic extractants.Surfactants and organic compounds used in solvent extraction generally have an inhibitory effect on the leaching bacteria, mainly because of a decrease in the surface tension and reduction of the mass transfer of oxygen. Solvent extraction is currently preferred for the concentration and recovery of metals from pregnant solution. When bacterial leaching and solvent extraction are coupled the solvents become enriched in the aqueous phase and have to be removed before the barren solution is recirculated to the leaching operation.


5.0 INDUSTRIAL APPLICATION 5.1 Background The results of natural microbial leaching have been known since ancient times. Pliny the Elder (2373 AD), who had a passion for observing the wonders of nature, wrote in his article about a glass-like substance (vitreolus quasi vitrum) that was found on rocks on natural history. One of the earliest records of utilizing the effects of bioleaching is from the island of Cyprus. Galen, a Greek physician from Pergamum, in 162 A.D., is reported to have collected cuperiferous solutions from mine water from the mines of Skouriotissa and concentrated them by evaporation to form crystals of copper sulfate. Recent findings have revealed evidence that prove this anecdote. In China, during the East Han Dynasty (206 BC220 AD), observations have been made on the natural leaching of copper and the formation of gall springs. The Gall-Copper Process was recorded as being used during the Song Dynasty (9601271AD). Copper was precipitated from solution by dipping iron into the blue vitriol solution which is a process identified as early as 150 BC in China. Therefore, presumably, the recognition of a natural copper leaching process can be identified as early as that date. But, it was in 1947 that these phenomena were attributed to bacteria. Once identified, however, rapid steps were taken to commercialize the process. Commercial application of bacterial leaching began in the late 1950s at the Kennecott Utah Copper Companys Bingham Canyon Mine near Salt Lake City, Utah where it was observed that blue copper-containing solutions were running out of waste piles that contained copper sulfide minerals. It is something that should not have happened in the absence of


powerful oxidizing agents and acid. Investigation revealed that naturally occurring bacteria were oxidizing iron sulfides in the piles, and the resulting ferric sulfate and sulfuric acid was acting as an oxidizer and leachant for copper sulfides. These bacteria were given the name ferrooxidans for their ability to oxidize iron sulfides. A second set of bacteria was also identified and given the name thiooxidans for their ability to oxidize sulfur to yield sulfuric acid. The bacteria, which were native to the soil, in effect created a completely natural metallurgical processing plant. 5.2 Introduction Bioleaching using microorganisms is widely practiced in commercial operation to process ores of copper, uranium, cobalt, zinc as well as in gold processing and coal desulfurization. At present, bioleaching is being used commercially only for the recovery of copper, uranium and gold. In copper leaching, the microorganisms catalyze the oxidation of iron sulfides to create ferric sulfate and sulfuric acid. Ferric sulfate is a powerful oxidizing agent. So, the copper sulfide minerals are oxidized by the ferric sulfate which is formed by the oxidation of iron sulfides. Then, the copper contained is leached by the sulfuric acid formed. In the case of uranium, the microorganisms are used for the oxidation process to form ferric sulfate and sulfuric acid. However, the ferric sulfate oxidizes the tetravalent uranium oxide which is insoluble in acid to its soluble form, hexavalent uranium oxide. Then, the hexavalent uranium oxide is leached by the sulfuric acid. In gold processing, the microorganisms are used to oxidize, to make a soluble iron sulfide matrix in which the gold particles are imbedded. Thus, the gold is available for cyanide leaching.


5.3 Copper Following early development work and application in the United States, Chile has become a major developer of bioleaching on an industrial scale. Chile is the world's major copper producing country. The first Chilean plant to be put into operation was S.M. Pudahuel. In this country, bioleaching is still being operated even at 4200 m above sea level in Quebrada Blanca. The production of copper in Chile is 75000 tons annually. In 2001, bioleaching constituted approximately 10% of copper production in Chile meanwhile the heap and dump leaching, in general, constituted approximately 30% of Chiles production. In the 1970s, the largest plant for microbial leaching was that for dump leaching of the Kennecott Copper Corporation at Bingham, UT, USA. The contents of the dumps stored there were estimated at more than 3.6109 tons and about 200 tons of copper were recovered every day by bioleaching. It is expected that within the next years, several industrial applications of bacterial leaching will be operated. It will lead to the yield of 250000 tons of cathodic copper per year which will be equal to about 16% of the present total copper production in Chile. Copper ores include copper (II) oxide and copper (II) sulfide. Some copper ores are called low-grade ores because it contains less than 1% copper. However, it is still valuable. To extract copper from its low-grade ores, bioleaching is applied. The separation of the metal from the ores is done by some bacteria which can live using the energy by the bond between sulfur and copper. The bacteria that involve in copper bioleaching are iron-oxidizing bacteria, sulfuroxidizing bacteria and heterotrophic bacteria. Mesophiles and thermophiles are also used in copper bioleaching process. The bioleaching process in copper extraction is more efficient


because it consumes less energy than the traditional methods. But, it is a slow process and it is time-consuming. 5.4 Uranium Uranium could also be recovered by certain microorganisms that can catalyze the oxidation of uranium. Commercial application of bioleaching of uranium from low-grade ores has been practiced since the 1960s. Industrial-scale bioleaching of uranium is performed by spraying stope walls with acid mine drainage and the in-situ irrigation of fractured underground ore deposits. Best known are the in situ leaching operations in the underground uranium mines in the Elliot Lake district of Canada including the Stanrock, Milliken and Denison mines. At that time, the annual production of uranium from the Stanrock Mine was about 50000 kg U3O8 whereas 60000 kg U3O8 was produced in the Milliken Mine after improvement of the leaching conditions. The increase of interest in uranium bioleaching is because it is simple, effective, low energy consumption and environmentally friendly. It does not require expensive tools. The presence of microorganisms in leaching operations has been found to be beneficial in catalyzing the uranium dissolution process. The modest nutritional requirements of microorganisms are provided by the aeration of mineral suspension containing iron and sulfur in water or by the irrigation of a heap. The optimum factors of nutrients, pH and temperature are very essential to maintain the intended growth and activity of the microorganisms. For example, Acidithiobacillus group of bacteria utilizes the energy from Fe3+ in acid medium in the presence of oxygen at an optimum pH of 1.5-2.5 at ambient temperature to leach 70-98% metal content of the substrate.


5.5 Gold During the past 10 years, bio-treatment of refractory gold ores has been developed to an industrial application. There are several tank leaching operations in South Africa, Brazil and Australia. The refractory gold ores contain finely disseminated gold particles associated with sulfide minerals including arsenopyrite and pyrite. The decomposition of the mineral sulfide matrix is required before the gold can be extracted. There are various traditional methods for the treatment of refractory ores. However, bioleaching was found to be a new, low-energy alternative. Without pretreatment usually less than 50% of the gold is recovered by cyanidation. After bioleaching, more than 95% of the gold is extracted depending on the mineral composition of the ore and on the extent of pretreatment. The first industrial plant started at Fairview, South Africa, in 1986. The plant capacity is reported to be 300 tons/month of a pyrite concentrate containing 100150 g Au/ton. A biooxidation plant in Ghana, constructed during 1994, has a capacity of 720 tons of gold-bearing concentrate per day. Because the price of gold has risen many mineral companies now take a second look at deposits that were once considered uneconomical. Many of these deposits are refractory and tend to resist cyanidation. Bioleaching offers a new low-cost alternative for oxidizing these refractory ores.


6.0 FUTURE ASPECTS At present, bioleaching is being used commercially only for the recovery of copper, gold and uranium. It is hoped in the future bioleaching can be applied for mining of zinc, nickel, cobalt and molybdenum. This technology should be of great interest for developing countries. It has a lot of advantages compared to conventional method such as hydrometallurgy. Bioleaching requires low cost of investment and operating procedures. It saves transport costs as the processing plant can be built in the immediate vicinity of the ore deposit. The procedures are not complicated and are easy to control and there is no requirement of extensive technical knowledge. There is an increase in interest in the insoluble metals that left in the residues, e.g. lead besides the metals recovered in the leachate. Leaching of metals e.g. zinc, cadmium, copper that interfere with conventional processes for the recovery of the lead can transform inferior lead sulfide concentrates into high-value concentrates. Similar procedures are being investigated for the extraction of silver and other precious metals that are finely disseminated in iron, arsenic, copper and zinc sulfides. The metal sulfides are first removed by microbial leaching and the precious metals are then recovered from the residue. 6.1 Waste Products

Two famous iron-oxidizing bacteria that are always related with industrial application of microbial leaching are Thiobacillus ferrooxidans and Lectospirillum ferrooxidans. Most of mineral industrial waste products are present mainly as oxides rather than as sulfides. Thus they cannot be treated through that way. Experiments have shown that the metal oxides in such residues can be leached by acid produced by T. thiooxidans. Depending on the metal compounds

in the residues, vanadium, chromium, copper and zinc can be almost completely recovered. In some cases, chemical leaching is easier. Bioleaching using T. thiooxidans is advantageous if inexpensive sulfur is available. Another advantage consists in the fact that as a consequence of the sulfuric acid production during growth of T. thiooxidans the pH falls only gradually so that the metals pass into solution at different rates corresponding to their solubilities and can be separated from the leaching suspension selectively. Thiobacilli have also some potential for the detoxification of sewage sludge, soil and sediment contaminated with heavy metals and may contribute to diminishing some of our environmental problems.

6.2 Heterotrophic Leaching Thiobacilli cannot be used in the case of oxide, carbonate and silicates ores. Thus, for these ores, research is continuing done by using of heterotrophic bacteria and fungi. These bacteria and fungi will dissolve the metals by organic acids or complexing or chelating agents produced by them. There were studies on silicate nickel ores showed that nickel is dissolved by organic acids produced by microorganisms. The most effective one was citric acid. With nickeltolerant strains of Penicillium, up to 80% of the nickel was extracted, depending on the mineralization. Various other valuable metals, e.g. gold, titanium, aluminium, chromium, copper, manganese and uranium, can also be leached by heterotrophic microorganisms, however much development requires to be done. Besides that, heterotrophic microorganisms can also be used for upgrading mineral raw materials by removing the impurities. Iron oxides can lower the quality of quartz sands, kaolins and clays. The impurities can be removed by chemical as well as by microbiological methods. Microbiological method is based on bacterial and fungal production of organic acids and other chelating metabolic agents. Most of the bacteria active in iron removal


are related to the genera Bacillus and Pseudomonas. Among the fungi Aspergillus and Penicillium were found to be the most effective ones. 6.3 Looking Forward The current progress of bioleaching in developing countries is encouraging. It is expected that in the coming years several new commercial-size bioleaching plants will be installed. It is likely that heap leaching will continue to be the choice for low-grade ores and tailings, while tank bioleaching technology will probably increase its application for gold, copper and other base-metal concentrates. The use of thermophilic bacteria and archea will be a major contribution that can increase the leaching rates and metal recoveries. Developing countries should increase their efforts in research and development in bioleaching technology, as they have comparative and competitive advantages in this area. International cooperation should also be considered in the establishment of new operations that can significantly contribute to the economic and social development of these countries.


7. CONCLUSION Bioleaching is not being considered today only with respect to its ability to recover valuable metals. There is a demand for less expensive and more environmentally friendly processes. Further development is necessary with respect to both technical and biological aspects. The latter includes increasing the rate of leaching and the tolerance of the microorganisms to heavy metals. Genetic improvement of bioleaching bacteria, whether by mutation and selection or by genetic engineering, will bring results more quickly than conventional procedures like screening and adaptation, and in the mean time, considerable progress has been made on the development of a genetic system for T. ferrooxidans.


REFERENCES natures_way_bioleaching.html ronment/Environmental%20Biotechnology/biotech_eb_microbial_leaching.php Aeration, page 191 N. Pradhan, K.C. Nathsarma, K. SrinivasaRao, L.B. Sukla, B.K. Mishra. Heap bioleaching of chalcopyrite: A review,2008Minerals Engineering 21 (2008) 355365



MATRIC NO: 1. 0912274 2. 0911684 3. 0919950 4. 0910392 5. 0910250