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FEMS Microbiology Reviews 20 (1997) 591^604

Bioleaching: metal solubilization by microorganisms
Klaus Bosecker *
Federal Institute for Geosciences and Natural Resources (BGR), Stilleweg 2, D-30655 Hannover, Germany

Abstract
Bioleaching is a simple and effective technology for metal extraction from low-grade ores and mineral concentrates. Metal
recovery from sulfide minerals is based on the activity of chemolithotrophic bacteria, mainly Thiobacillus ferrooxidans and T.
thiooxidans, which convert insoluble metal sulfides into soluble metal sulfates. Non-sulfide ores and minerals can be treated by
heterotrophic bacteria and by fungi. In these cases metal extraction is due to the production of organic acids and chelating and
complexing compounds excreted into the environment. At present bioleaching is used essentially for the recovery of copper,
uranium and gold, and the main techniques employed are heap, dump and in situ leaching. Tank leaching is practised for the
treatment of refractory gold ores. Bioleaching has also some potential for metal recovery and detoxification of industrial waste
products, sewage sludge and soil contaminated with heavy metals.
Keywords: Bioleaching; Biohydrometallurgy; Metal solubilization; Microorganisms; Bacteria; Fungi; Thiobacillus ; Penicillium ; Aspergillus

Contents
1. Introduction . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
2. Microorganisms . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
2.1. Thiobacillus . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
2.2. Leptospirillum . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
2.3. Thermophilic bacteria . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
2.4. Heterotrophic microorganisms . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
3. Bioleaching mechanisms . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
3.1. Direct bacterial leaching . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
3.2. Indirect bacterial leaching . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
4. Factors in£uencing bioleaching . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
4.1. Nutrients . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
4.2. O2 and CO2 . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
4.3. pH . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
4.4. Temperature . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
4.5. Mineral substrate . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
4.6. Heavy metals . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
4.7. Surfactants and organic extractants . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
5. Leaching techniques . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
* Tel.: +49 (511) 643-3102; Fax: +49 (511) 643-2304; e-mail: K.Bosecker@bgr.de
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. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .4. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Industrial applications . . . . . . . . . . . . .592 K. . . . . . . . . . . non-spore forming rods which grow under aerobic . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 1. . 6. . . . . . Gold .2. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .2. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Dump leaching . . . . . . References . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Conclusion . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 5. . . . . . . . . . . . Heterotrophic leaching . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .3. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 2. . . . . . . . . Industrial leaching processes . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .1. . . . . . . . . the ¢nal oxidation product being sulfate [2. . . . . . . . . . . . the most important role in bacterial . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .2. . . . . . it has been known only for about 50 years that bacteria are mainly responsible for the enrichment of metals in water from ore deposits and mines [1]. . Underground leaching . . . . . . . . . . . . . . is well known for its rapid oxidation of elemental sulfur. . . . . . . . . . . Copper . . . . . . . . . . . . .1. .2. . . thiooxidans. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Column leaching .3. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 5. . . . . T. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Bauxite dressing .3]. . . . . . isolated in 1922 by Waksman and Jo¡e [4]. . . . . . . . . . . 6. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 6. . . . . elemental sulfur and thiosulfate. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Bacterial leaching is carried out in an acid environment at pH values between 1. . . . . . . . . . . . . 7. . . . . . . . . However. . Percolator leaching . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Uranium . . . 8. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .2. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Iron . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 7. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 7. 7. . . . .2. . . . . . 5. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . As is the case with many biotechnological processes such methods may have been used since prehistoric times and probably the Greeks and Romans extracted copper from mine water more than 2000 years ago. . 5. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .1. . . including sul¢des. . . . . Microorganisms 2. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Other thiobacilli are also able to oxidize sulfur and sul¢des but they grow only at higher pH values at which metal ions do not maintain in solution. . .1. . .1. . . 5. . .1. Tank leaching . . . . . . . . . . . . .2. . . . . . . . . . . . . . .3. . . . . . . . . . . . . . .2. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Submerged leaching .2. . . . .2. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Most thiobacilli are chemolithoautotrophic species which use the carbon dioxide from the atmosphere as their carbon source for the synthesis of new cell material. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .2. . . . . . . . . 596 596 597 597 597 598 598 598 598 599 600 600 600 600 601 601 601 601 601 602 602 conditions. . .1. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .3. .5 and 3 at which most metal ions remain in solution. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 5. . . decreasing the pH in the medium to 1. . . . . . . . .1. . . . . . . . . . Other partially reduced sulfur compounds are also utilized and sulfuric acid is generated. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 5. . . . . . . . . . . These are Gram-negative. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Heap leaching . . . . 7.1. . . . . Future aspects . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Therefore the acidophilic species Thiobacillus ferrooxidans and T. 6. . . . . . . . . . . . . . However. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .5 to 1 and even lower. . . . . . . . . . . . Biobene¢ciation . . . . . . . . . . The energy derives from the oxidation of reduced or partially reduced sulfur compounds. . . . . . . . . . . . . . The intensive sulfuric acid production leads to a rapid decomposition of rocks so that acid-soluble metal compounds can pass into solution as sulfates. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Industrial waste products . . . Bosecker / FEMS Microbiology Reviews 20 (1997) 591^604 5. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . thiooxidans are of particular importance. . . . . . . . . . . . . . .2. . . . . . . . . . Laboratory investigations . 7. . . . . . . . . . . . . . Introduction Microbial leaching methods are being increasingly applied for metal recovery from low-grade ores and concentrates that cannot be processed economically by conventional methods. . . . .2. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . The solubilization process is called bioleaching and occurs in nature wherever suitable conditions are found for the growth of the ubiquitous bioleaching microorganisms. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Thiobacillus The bacteria most active in bioleaching belong to the genus Thiobacillus. . . . . . . . . . . . 5. . . . .1. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

ferrooxidans and L.20]. atures of 25^35³C. thiooxidans. thiooxidans. lactic acid. Morphologically the presence cells are identical to philic bacteria growing at temperatures above 60³C leaching is played by T. 2.g. but they di¡er from the latter by the much slower course of the oxidation of elemental sulfur. thermo- Karavaiko and Acidianus brierleyi. from all other thiobacilli by T. ferrooxidans. molybdenum and silver than ions from the ore matrix by hydrogen ions and by rooxidans.2. members of the genus gether with are most e¡ective in metal solubilization. phenol derivatives) from mine waters in Armenia [9]. ferrooxidans or T. Ferrous iron is used as the was ¢rst isolated in 1947 by Colmer and Hinkle [1] energy source. An the genus knowledge of excellent overview of the this species was provided current by Leduc tal sulfur and sul¢de minerals. cuprinus is a facultatively chemolithoautotrophic metal This sul¢des but bacterium does microorganism is not which oxidize described oxidizes ferrous as iron. Members of acceptor [5]. manganese leaching. Two new species of acidophilic thiobacilli been described by Huber and Stetter [7. ferrooxidans cannot not have any bene¢t from the metal leaching. Bosecker / FEMS Microbiology Reviews 20 (1997) 591^604 593 T. obligately chemolithotrophic ferrous iron oxidizing gluconic acid) and by compounds with at least two bacterium. unable to but it is oxidize more sensitive sulfur [10. will only occur in the presence of yeast extract. ferrooxidans are mesophilic bacteria which grow best at temper- to the fungi the genera Aspergillus and Penicillium are the most important ones. ferrooxidans Extremely [14^16]. deriving energy from the oxidation of reduced sulfur still able to grow on reduced inorganic sulfur com- [13]. ferrooxidans on and processes the activity are of T. elemental facultatively Archaeon acidophilic sulfur and aerobic. Under anaerobic conditions elemental sulfur is used as an pounds using ferric iron as an alternative electron electron acceptor and is reduced to H2 S. are moderately thermophilic bacteria and grow on pyrite. Leptospirillum to enzymatic reduction of highly oxidized metal com- Leptospirillum ferrooxidans pounds [18] or is e¡ected by the production of oris another acidophilic ganic acids (e. Bioleaching mechanisms so-called Th-bacteria. metal solubilization may be due 2.11].K. which was ¢rst isolated by Markosyan hydrophilic reactive groups (e. In the absence of oxygen iron.8] : have T.3. formerly associated with the genus Sulfolobus [17]. or to sulfur T. ferrooxidans di¡ers the fact that besides of yeast were isolated their co-workers by extract Brierley. Heterotrophic microorganisms preferentially mobilizing copper from chalcopyrite [8]. with regard T. This can only be done to- Among the bacteria. L. citric acid. by itself. Thermophilic bacteria Thiobacillus-like bacteria. is a compounds ferrous iron can be used as an electron T. thiooxidans. As in the case of have some potential in bioleaching.g. 2. but growth is observed only in the from acid coal mine drainage. T. Therefore. Bacillus attack mineral sul¢des. oxalic acid.. pentlandite and chalcopyrite at temperatures At based the present more or time less bioleaching exclusively T. 3.4. ferand the formation of soluble metal complexes and che- compounds lates [19. The same compounds and Ferroni [6]. This microorgan- which are excreted into the culture medium and dis- ism tolerates lower pH values and higher concentra- solve heavy metals by direct displacement of metal tions of uranium. elemen- strains may Heterotrophic bacteria and fungi which require organic supplements for growth and energy supply may contribute to metal leaching.. however. is Norris. pros- perus represents a new group of halotolerant metalmobilizing bacteria [7]. facultatively chem- olithotrophic bacteria oxidizing ferrous iron. thiooxidans . T. The heterotrophic microorganisms do copper L. a Sulfobacillus thermosul- spore-forming facultatively autotro- phic bacterium. Growth. chemolithoautotrophic. growing metal on ex- ferrous sul¢des. ferrooxidans. tremely donor. physiological peculiarities both are used as energy source by ¢dooxidans. This bacterium in the range of 50³C [12]. Because of their Sulfolobus are aerobic. T.

cobaltite (CoS). Therefore direct bacterial leaching can be described according to the following reaction: bacteria …4† MeS ‡ 2O2 ÿ! MeSO4 where MeS is the metal sul¢de. Bosecker / FEMS Microbiology Reviews 20 (1997) 591^604 which convert heavily soluble metal sul¢des via biochemical oxidation reactions into water-soluble metal sulfates. there is physical contact between the bacterial cell and the mineral sul¢de surface. In principle metals can be released from sul¢de minerals by direct and indirect bacterial leaching [21]. sphalerite (ZnS). ferrooxidans in direct interaction: covellite (CuS). 3. 3) that is very often associated with uranium ore. 2So ‡ 3O2 ‡ 2H2 O ÿ! bacteria 2H2 SO4 …6† The role of T. and metal solubilization can be described according to the following reaction: MeS ‡ Fe2 …SO4 †3 !MeSO4 ‡ 2FeSO4 ‡ So …5† To keep enough iron in solution the chemical oxidation of metal sul¢des must occur in an acid environment below pH 5. The ferrous iron arising in this reaction can be reoxidized to ferric iron by T. millerite (NiS). A well known example of an indirect bioleaching process is the extraction of uranium from ores. Obviously the bacteria do not attach to the whole mineral surface but prefer speci¢c sites of crystal imperfection. 3. . There is some evidence that the bacteria have to be in intimate contact with the mineral surface. ferrooxidans and as such can take part in the oxidation process again. Indirect bacterial leaching In indirect bioleaching the bacteria generate a lixiviant which chemically oxidizes the sul¢de mineral. ferrooxidans and L. In indirect leaching the bacteria do not need to be in contact with the mineral surface. and the oxidation to sulfate takes place via several enzymatically catalyzed steps. As shown by Lacey and Lowson [27]. molybdenite (MoS2 ). but oxidation by T. ferrooxidans by the oxidation of pyrite (Eq.1. and metal solubilization is due to electrochemical interactions [24^26]. ferrooxidans or L. Besides the indirect leaching of uranium there is some evidence that T.0.36] have shown that the following non-iron metal sul¢des can be oxidized by T.2. thiooxidans in bioleaching obviously consists in creating favorable acid conditions for the growth of ferrous iron oxidizing bacteria such as T. in the range of pH 2^3 bacterial oxidation of ferrous iron is about 105 ^106 times faster than the chemical oxidation of ferrous iron. chalcocite (Cu2 S). ferrooxidans can oxidize UIV to UVI enzymatically and uses some of the energy of this reaction for the assimilation of CO2 [28]. ferrooxidans is much faster. thiooxidans which frequently occurs together with T. The most important reaction steps are summarized in a simpli¢ed form in Eqs. 5) may be oxidized to sulfuric acid by T. They only have a catalytic function because they accelerate the reoxidation of ferrous iron which takes place very slowly in the absence of bacteria. In acid solution this lixiviant is ferric iron.594 K. The mechanism of attachment and the initiation of metal solubilization are not completely understood. The sulfur arising simultaneously (Eq. galena (PbS). ferrooxidans. Direct bacterial leaching In direct bacterial leaching. ferrooxidans. 1^4 given below. stibnite (Sb2 S3 ). In this process. when insoluble tetravalent uranium is oxidized to the water-soluble hexavalent stage of uranium: UIV O2 ‡ Fe2 …SO4 †3 !UVI O2 SO4 ‡ 2FeSO4 …7† The lixiviant may be generated by T. pyrite is oxidized to iron(III) sulfate [22] according to the following reactions: bacteria 4FeS2 ‡ 14O2 ‡ 4H2 O ÿ! 4FeSO4 ‡ 4H2 SO4 …1† 4FeSO4 ‡ O2 ‡ 2H2 SO4 ÿ! bacteria 2Fe2 …SO4 †3 ‡ 2H2 O …2† The direct bacterial oxidation of pyrite is best summarized by the reaction: 4FeS2 ‡ 15O2 ‡ 2H2 O ÿ! bacteria 2Fe2 …SO4 †3 ‡ 2H2 SO4 …3† Investigations by Torma [23.

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. necessary for the growth of the leaching bacteria. However. A particle size of about 42 Wm is regarded as the optimum [36]. 4. On a technical scale.4. will undoubtedly occur in concert.2. Mineral substrate The mineralogical composition of the leaching substrate is of primary importance. these iron(III) ions enable the bacteria to attach to the pyrite surface by an electrochemical mechanism. 4. ferrooxidans may be adapted to even lower pH values by increasing addition of acid [32]. The maximum yields of metal extraction can be achieved only when the leaching conditions correspond to the optimum growth conditions of the bacteria. pH The adjustment of the correct pH value is a necessary condition for the growth of the leaching bacteria and is decisive for the solubilization of metals. 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.5. Bosecker / FEMS Microbiology Reviews 20 (1997) 591^604 Altogether. The function of leaching bacteria is thought to be in maintaining a high redox potential by keeping the ferric iron in the oxidized state to optimize the indirect attack on the metal sul¢de. In addition. phosphate and magnesium salts. or shaking. ferrooxidans will occur but T. Nutrients Microorganisms used for metal extraction from sul¢de materials are chemolithoautotrophic bacteria and therefore only inorganic compounds are required for growth.3. Carbon dioxide is the only carbon source required. The rate of leaching also depends on the total surface of the substrate. but this may not only cause the formation and precipitation of gypsum but will also a¡ect the cost of the process. At pH values below 2. 4. pH values in the range of 2. su¤cient supply with oxygen may cause some di¤culties. ferrooxidans.1. Low pH values. can be achieved by external addition of acid. nickel and zinc was observed [35]. . but there is no need for addition of CO2 . but even at 4³C bacterial solubilization of copper. particularly in the case of dump or heap leaching.34]. The degradation is mediated or at least initiated by the ferric iron being complexed in the exopolymeric compounds of T. O2 and CO2 An adequate supply of oxygen is a prerequisite for good growth and high activity of the leaching bac- 595 teria. In general the mineral nutrients are obtained from the environment and from the material to be leached. 4.0. 4. cobalt. a considerable inhibition of T.K.5 are optimum for the bacterial oxidation of ferrous iron and sul¢de. Particular importance must be attributed to the cycle of ferrous and ferric iron. ferrooxidans and L.0^2. At lower temperatures a decrease in metal extraction will occur. Temperature The optimum temperature for ferrous iron and sul¢de oxidation by T. referring to newest publications by Sand and co-workers [29^31] there is some doubt whether a direct leaching mechanism does exist at all. At higher temperatures (50^80³C) thermophilic bacteria can be used for leaching purposes [12^16]. The authors have indications that pyrite is degraded to sulfate via thiosulfate in a cyclic mechanism. For optimum growth iron and sulfur compounds may be supplemented together with ammonium. In the laboratory this can be achieved by aeration. stirring. Factors in£uencing bioleaching The leaching e¡ectiveness depends largely on the e¤ciency of the microorganisms and on the chemical and mineralogical composition of the ore to be leached. ferrooxidans is between 28 and 30³C [33. in a classical way. In nature and in technical application both mechanisms. the direct and the indirect leaching. bioleaching is based on the interaction of biological and chemical oxidation processes. 4.

6. Percolator leaching Details of laboratory test methods are described by Bosecker [41] and Rossi [42].1. The e¡ectiveness and economics of microbial leaching processes depend highly on the activity of the bacteria and on the chemical and mineralogical composition of the ore. 4.1. In the simplest case. In general the leaching organisms. processes tested on individual types of ores cannot be transferred to other ones. 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. Before a Fig. 1. The ore packing is irrigated or £ooded with a nutrient inoculated with bacteria. Di¡erent strains of the some species may show completely di¡erent sensitivities to heavy metals. The ¢rst experiments on bacterial leaching were carried out in airlift percolators. Laboratory investigations 5. Heavy metals The leaching of metal sul¢des is accompanied by an increase in metal concentration in the leachate. Leaching techniques The bioleaching of minerals is a simple and e¡ective technology for the processing of sul¢de ores and is used on a technical scale mainly for the recovery of copper and uranium. The leach liquor trickling through the column is pumped up by compressed sterile air to the top of the column for recirculation. 55 g/l Cu or 112 g/l Zn. Very often it is possible to adapt individual strains to higher concentrations of metals or to speci¢c substrates by gradually increasing the concentration of metals or substrates [37].7. Bosecker / FEMS Microbiology Reviews 20 (1997) 591^604 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 but the dissolution of certain compounds which have an inhibitory or even toxic e¡ect on the growth of leaching bacteria will increase as well. Therefore. the percolator consists of a glass tube provided in its bottom part with a sieveplate and ¢lled with ore particles (Fig. To monitor the course 4.596 K. Leaching of low-grade copper ore in air-lift percolators. 5. 5. Simultaneously the stream of air takes care of the aeration of the system. especially the thiobacilli. Solvent extraction is currently preferred for the concentration and recovery of metals from pregnant solution.1. mainly because of a decrease in the surface tension and reduction of the mass transfer of oxygen [38^40]. 1). . have a high tolerance to heavy metals and various strains may even tolerate 50 g/l Ni. Surfactants and organic extractants Surfactants and organic compounds used in solvent extraction generally have an inhibitory e¡ect on the leaching bacteria. technical application is possible the optimum leaching conditions have to be elaborated for each type of ore.

lined concrete. in a more sophisticated manner.1. Fig. Column leaching Column leaching operates on the principle of percolator leaching and is used as a model for heap or dump leaching processes. percolator leaching is not very e¤cient. 3. At various distances most column systems have devices for taking samples or for installing special instruments for measuring temperature. Besides mechanically stirred systems an air-lift reactor has been proved suitable for the treatment of ore concentrates. ferrooxidans. 2. humidity. 5.2. (Particle size 6 600 Wm. allow water to trickle through the heap and collect the seepage 5. Column leaching facilities.5% (w/w). . percolator leaching has been substantially displaced by submerged leaching using ¢ne-grained material (particle size 6 100 Wm) which is suspended in the leaching liquid and kept in motion by shaking or stirring. Submerged leaching Because the oxygen supply is often inadequate and the surface ratio unfavorable. pH. plastic. microbiological investigations and chemical analysis of the metals that have passed into solution.2. Extraction of uranium during leaching with T. Suspension leaching can be carried out in Erlenmeyer £asks or. T. 2).1. 3). and a mixed culture of both strains. This gives information about what has to be expected in heap or dump leaching and how the leaching conditions can be optimized.K. Higher rates of aeration and a more accurate monitoring and control of the various param- Fig. 5. thiooxidans. pulp density 5% (w/v)) of the leaching process liquid samples are taken at intervals and the state of the leaching process is determined on the basis of pH measurements. industrial waste products and for the bio-desulfurization of coal [43^46]. or steel (Fig. in a bioreactor. Depending on their size. Their capacities range from several kilograms to a few tons. Therefore. the columns may be made of glass. The simplest way of conducting microbial leaching is to pile the material in heaps. oxygen or carbon dioxide. Industrial leaching processes Currently bioleaching is used on an industrial scale for the treatment of low-grade ores which generally contain metal concentrations below 0.3. Bosecker / FEMS Microbiology Reviews 20 (1997) 591^604 597 eters favor the growth and the activity of the bacteria so that the reaction times are considerably shortened and the metal extraction substantially increases (Fig. Bacterial leaching of uranium ore in shaking £asks. fairly slow and series of experiments lasting 100^300 days are not unusual.

Solutions containing the appropriate bacteria are injected into boreholes in the fractured orebody. Tank leaching Fig. The procedure is similar to that of dump leaching. 4). 4. 5.1. in which the bacteria and ferric iron are regenerated. pipes are placed in strategic positions within the heaps during its construction to provide the deeper portions of the heap with su¤cient amounts of oxygen. Tank leaching .3. Underground leaching Underground leaching is usually done in aban- Fig.42]. acidi¢ed water or acid ferric sulfate solution from other leaching operations on the same mining property [26. Flow sheet of a dump and in situ leaching process [41]. In some heap leaching operations. The best known application of this procedure is at the Stanrock uranium mine at Elliot Lake in Ontario. Bosecker / FEMS Microbiology Reviews 20 (1997) 591^604 water (leachate). 5). Since the bacterial oxidation of sul¢des is much slower than other biotechnical processes the leachate is recirculated. heap leaching and underground leaching (Fig. After a su¤cient time for reaction. 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 procedure requires su¤cient permeability of the orebody and impermeability of the gangue rock so that any seepage of the pregnant leaching solution is prevented. The water collects in deeper galleries and shafts and is then pumped to a processing plant at the surface. The leaching is practised in large basins containing up to 12 000 tons of ore. 5. The top of the dump is sprinkled continuously or £ooded temporarily (Fig. Considering the high yields in metal extraction by submerged leaching the change from shake £asks to bioreactors was tested very early [48]. Dump leaching Dump leaching is the oldest process.2. Canada [47]. Irrigation of leaching dumps (A) by sprinklers. (B) by £ooding.2. Heap leaching This procedure is mainly used for ¢ne-grained ores that cannot be concentrated by £otation. the leachate is pumped from neighboring wells or collected in drifts.2. Depending on the ore the lixiviant may be water. Galleries are £ooded or unmined ore or mine waste in side tunnels are sprinkled or washed under pressure. 5.598 K.2.4. There are three main procedures in use: dump leaching. the leachate may pass through an oxidation basin.2. 5. doned mines. 5. Before recirculation. Ore deposits that cannot be mined by conventional methods because they are too low-grade or because they are too small can be leached in situ.

Bosecker / FEMS Microbiology Reviews 20 (1997) 591^604 599 Fig. heap. 2: solvent extraction for copper concentration. 3: collecting pond for the concentrated leaching solution. C: Irrigation by perforated tubes.K. 6. Bioleaching of copper ore in Chile. Tank leaching is more expensive to construct and to operate than dump. D: Dump leaching area. was found to be most e¡ective for the treatment of ore concentrates and more than 80% of the total zinc was extracted from a zinc sul¢de concentrate [49]. especially for the treatment of low-grade ores [50]. . or in situ leaching processes. 6. covered for insulation. B: Preparation of dumps for leaching. A: Open-cast mining of copper ore. E: Overall view of the leaching operation plant (1: dump leaching area. But the rate of metal extraction is much higher and currently this technique is successfully used for bioleaching of refractory gold ores. 4: electrowinning). Industrial applications During the last 25 years bioleaching of minerals has opened up new opportunities for extractive metallurgy and biohydrometallurgy is now practised in the copper and uranium industries.

ations in the underground uranium mines in the Elliot Lake district of Canada including the Stanrock. cadmium. A bio-oxidation plant in Ghana. Many of these deposits are refractory Commercial application of bioleaching of uranium and tend to resist cyanidation. zinc. The ¢rst copper annually (Fig. the U. The plant capacity is reported to be 300 tons/ terial leaching will be operated. South Africa. UT. nickel. con- about 16% of the present total copper production structed during 1994.S. USA. After bioleaching more than 95% of the gold is 4200 m above sea level (Quebrada Blanca) bioleach- extracted depending on the mineral composition of ing is being operated and will produce 75 000 tons of the ore and on the extent of pretreatment. The are recalcitrant to direct cyanidation processes and contents of the dumps stored there were estimated decomposition of the mineral sul¢de matrix is re- at more than 3. Copper ing arsenopyrite. saving transport costs. lead. Because the price copper producing country and even of gold has risen many mineral companies now take 6. At that time the annual 7.K. the leaching conditions. cobalt and molybdenum curred.3. Inferior lead sul¢de concen- tory gold ores. should be of great interest for developing countries [52]. has a capacity of 720 tons of in Chile [52]. Milliken and Denison mines.54]. these processes will become 1980s a distinct drop in uranium production oc- important for zinc. pyrite and pyrrhotite. copper production was recovered by bacte- low-energy alternative. has been developed to an industrial application and several tank In the 1970s the largest plant for microbial leach- leaching operations are being run in South Africa. The processing plant ing and 347 tons of uranium with a value of over can be built in the immediate vicinity of the ore US$ 25 million were produced from the leaching deposit.6 quired before the gold can be extracted. Bioleaching o¡ers a from low-grade ores has been practised since the new low-cost alternative for oxidizing these refrac- 1960s [53]. gold-bearing concentrate per day. Uranium a second look at deposits that were once considered uneconomical. ing was that for dump leaching of the Kennecott Brazil and Australia [50. Refractory gold ores Copper Corporation at Bingham. various traditional methods for the treatment of re- Torma suggested that at that time up to 25% of fractory ores but bioleaching was found to be a new. e. In 1984 Denison Mines started new activities recovery. there is increasing interest in the insoluble metals left in During the past 10 years biotreatment of refrac- the residues. in the next years several industrial applications of bac- 1986. Investment and operating costs are much and in 1988 90 £ood leaching stopes were in various lower than for conventional pyrometallurgical and stages of operation or in preparation for £ood leach- hydrometallurgical processes. With the present reduction in not complicated and are easy to control. . At the beginning of the In the future. 6.54^56]. Future aspects production of uranium from the Stanrock Mine was about 50 000 kg U3 O8 whereas 60 000 kg U3 O8 was At present.g. Best known are the in situ leaching oper- tory ores.2. Gold Besides the metals recovered in the leachate. 6).1. Bosecker / FEMS Microbiology Reviews 20 (1997) 591^604 600 6. Meanwhile Chile is the world's less than 50% of the gold is recovered by cyanida- major at tion.. The procedures are operation [53. which contain ¢nely disseminated trates can be transformed into high-value concen- gold particles associated with sul¢de minerals includ- trates by leaching of metals (e. bioleaching is being used commercially produced in the Milliken Mine after improvement of only for the recovery of copper. It is expected that within industrial plant started at Fairview. This technology level and Denison Mines have stopped production. uranium and gold.. Without pretreatment usually rial leaching [51]. There are U 109 tons and about 200 tons of copper were recovered every day by bioleaching. yielding 250 000 tons month of a pyrite concentrate containing 100^150 g of cathodic copper per year which will be equal to Au/ton [56].g. however. extensive world demand for uranium the prices are at a low technical knowledge is not required.

thiooxidans the pH falls only gradually so that the metals pass into solution at di¡erent rates corresponding to their solubilities and can be separated from the leaching suspension selectively. are present mainly as oxides rather than as sul¢des.75% Fe2 O3 . Thiobacilli have also some potential for the detoxi¢cation of sewage sludge. Another advantage consists in the fact that as a consequence of the sulfuric acid production during growth of T. copper and zinc sul¢des. depending on the mineralization [19. 601 Studies on silicate nickel ores have shown that nickel is dissolved by organic acids produced by microorganisms.2. Mineral industrial waste products which often contain high amounts of valuable metals cannot be treated in that way because most metals. Industrial waste products The industrial application of microbial leaching is related mainly to the chemolithotrophic iron-oxidizing bacteria T. Among the fungi Aspergillus and Penicillium were found to be the most e¡ective ones.. In some cases. arsenic.2. 7.63]. Similar procedures are being investigated for the extraction of silver and other precious metals that are ¢nely disseminated in iron. The `silicate' bacteria are related . carbonate and silicate ores limits are set for the use of thiobacilli. chromium. The impurities can be removed by chemical as well as by microbiological methods. kaolins and clays often contain iron oxides which lower the quality of these mineral raw materials. Most of the bacteria active in iron removal are related to the genera Bacillus and Pseudomonas.2. chemical leaching is easier.49% Fe2 O3 to 0. ferrooxidans. Various other valuable metals. ferrooxidans and L. Bosecker / FEMS Microbiology Reviews 20 (1997) 591^604 copper) that interfere with conventional processes for the recovery of the lead [57]. copper. As a consequence the whiteness of the kaolins increased.3. research is being done on the use of heterotrophic bacteria and fungi. Depending on the metal compounds in the residues. heterotrophic microorganisms can also be used for upgrading mineral raw materials by removal of impurities. the iron content of some sands was lowered to less than 0. up to 80% of the nickel was extracted. Iron Removal of iron may be practised in the presence of the microorganisms or in a two-step process as already described by Groudev et al. gold. Bioleaching using T. for the treatment of aluminosilicates [65]. 7. the latter being based on bacterial and fungal production of organic acids and other chelating metabolic agents.K. vanadium. manganese and uranium.1. Experiments have shown that the metal oxides in such residues can be leached by acid produced by T. 7.012% Fe2 O3 and the residual sand was suitable for the production of high quality glass. The iron content in kaolins was reduced from 1. can also be leached by heterotrophic microorganisms.1. e. The most e¡ective was citric acid. soil and sediment contaminated with heavy metals and may contribute to diminishing some of our environmental problems [59^61]. copper and zinc can be almost completely recovered [58].2. Quartz sands. Best results were achieved when oxalic acid and citric acid were the main components in the leach suspension [64]. Biobene¢ciation Beside the recovery of valuable metals from nonsul¢de minerals. thiooxidans is advantageous if inexpensive sulfur is available so that transportation costs for shipping the acid needed for chemical leaching can be avoided. acidi¢cation to pH 0. 7. Bauxite dressing So-called silicate bacteria are known which can solubilize silicon from silicates and silicate bearing minerals and rocks. In this case metals are dissolved by organic acids or complexing or chelating agents produced by the bacteria or fungi [62]. titanium. The metal sul¢des are ¢rst removed by microbial leaching and the precious metals are then recovered from the residue. 7. chromium.g. Using the two-step procedure. Heterotrophic leaching In the case of oxide. however much development remains to be done. The ¢nal product was suitable for the production of high-quality porcelain and could be used in the paper industry.2.5 and thermal treatment at 90³C. With nickel-tolerant strains of Penicillium. For such ores. aluminium. for example in £y ash and slag. thiooxidans.

T.R. 239^256. 479^485. Z. 16. 55^66. R. 253^262.. After leaching the residue was characterized by a References higher Al2 O3 :SiO2 ratio and was suitable for con- [1] Colmer. and Zenneck. and Marsh. O.nov. The removal of silicon was more e¡ective in the presence of growing cells than with resting cells. II. (1973) A chemoautotrophic . Chem. Environ. Nauk Armj. (1992) Evaluation of 8. [9] Markosyan. Some of them be- bacteria.A. 195^213. Microbiol. nov. [4] Waksman. ways be considered to be economically attractive. Microbiol. Weinheim.. [3] Trudinger. P. Trans- lated from : Akad. 1401^ 1406. K. (1972) Ein neues eisenoxidierendes Bakterium ^ Leptospirillum ferrooxidans nov.K. A. 56. K. (1989) FEMS Microbiol. XXV. [14] Brierley.. H. a novel facultatively organotrophic metal-mobilizing bacterium. W. M. and Imai. C. M. G. J. 523^525. The latter includes increasing the rate of leaching and the tolerance of the microorganisms for leaching. processes which are technically feasible will not al- [5] Sugio. will bring results more quickly lated to ing Bacillus circulans. re¢ned sugars which are used in the laboratory as substrates for the growth of the heterotrophic microorganisms are too expensive as carbon sources for technical leaching purposes. Biotechnol. Environ. ronmentally friendly processes. nov. 21. Bacteriol. food and beverage industries. and Stetter. (1922) Micro-organisms concerned with the oxidation of sulphur in soil. K.. Microbiol. Conclusion Bioleaching as far as the recovery of valuable metals is concerned is not being considered today only thermophilic mineral-oxidizing bacteria. Symp. Bioeng.L. Therefore special interest should be focused on less expensive alternatives such as organic waste products from wood processing. bacterium 14. 3^4. 85^92.. J. However. G. C. The commercial application will be decided ¢nally by the supply and demand of raw materials and their costs. (1978) Thermophilic iron-oxidizing bacteria found in copper leaching dumps. 36. 106. Armen. Munakata. (1947) The role of microor- ventional treatment (Bayer process) for recovering ganisms in acid mine drainage . Microbiol. T.S. Thiobacillus a new sulphur oxidising organism isolated from the soil. Microbiol. 151. [11] Norris. [12] Brierley.R. Appl. Rev. represents a new group of halotolerant metal-mobilizing bacteria isolated from a marine geothermal Arch. S. Bioleaching of non-sul¢de ores and minerals is feasible and may be used for the recovery of valuable metals from ores and minerals as well as to the bene¢t of mineral raw materials. W.W.E. is necessary with respect to both technical and biological aspects.). 17.M. Thiobacillus cuprinus sp. Pure Appl. (1977) A facultative thermophilic There is a demand for less expensive and more envi- pyrite. Parrott. Verlag Chemie. [6] Leduc.O. 103^120. [2] Vishniac. and Santer. Silicate dissolv- bacteria have successfully been used than conventional procedures like screening and for adaptation. Thiobacillus-like In : Conference bacterium : oxidation of iron and Bacterial Leaching (Schwartz. J. considerable prog- upgrading low-grade bauxite ores which contained ress has been made on the development of a genetic silica to such an extent that conventional methods system for T. W. Bacteriol. Tano. and Le Roux. J. H. and Ferroni.A. P. L. L. 58. I.A.G. at (1985) Role of ferric reducing system in sulfur oxidation of least not at present. K. others are reBacillus mucilaginosus [66]. [7] Huber. (1957) The Thiobacilli. C. pp. [8] Huber. whether by mutation and selection or by long to the species genetic engineering.E. thiooxidans. [10] Sand. Further development Leptospirillum ferrooxidans Environ.O. No. Science aluminum. and Stetter.. Sobotke. 7. SSR Biol. (1994) The chemolithotrophic Thiobacillus ferrooxidans. For example. (1967) The metabolism of inorganic sul- phur compounds by Thiobacilli. 49. B.D. Rohde. ferrooxidans [54. Ed. Genetic improvement of bioleaching not represent a taxonomic unit. Appl. Thiobacillus ferrooxidans. 26^29. 315^322. Appl. and Hinkle. (1986) Moderately with respect to its ability to recover valuable metals. Rev. Environ. spec. N. [13] Brierley. Thiobacillus prosperus sp. and Jo¡e. 253^256. Bosecker / FEMS Microbiology Reviews 20 (1997) 591^604 602 to di¡erent genera of heterotrophic bacteria and do to heavy metals.67]. for bauxite dressing were considered not to be suitable... Microbial leaching of non-sul¢de ores which contain no energy source for the microorganisms to grow on represents a new challenge which needs to be answered. (1990) environment. gen. and Brierley. Rev. and in the mean time. Disposal of these waste products causes environmental problems which are reduced if such products can be used as organic substrates in the heterotrophic leaching.A. Bol.A. Domatsu. a preliminary report. Appl.

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