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It has been mentioned several times that oxidation leaching may be

regarded as an electrochemical reaction including the cathodic
reduction of the oxidant and the anodic oxidation of the sulphide.
Many sulphides are leached electrochemically and this behaviour
may be described by the model of the mixed potential which
originally describes corrosion processes but its validity has also
been expanded to the leaching kinetics of sulphides.
When considering the model of the mixed potential in leaching
kinetics, it is assumed that the potential at the interface on the side
of the solid (the region of the spatial charge) remains constant so
that the potential difference will be realised only through the
Helmholtz layer. This behaviour is typical of metals and may be
concluded that the coefficient of charge transfer of a single electron
in the ideal case is 0.5. However, many sulphide minerals show
semiconductor behaviour and the semiconductor model assumes that
the majority of the potential gradient is located in the region of the
spatial charge in the ideal case with the charge transfer coefficient
of 1. This means that the results will differ if the leaching kinetics
is described by the model of the mixed potential or by the chemical
Garrett and Brattain [1] were amongst the first researchers who
investigated in detail the semiconductor-solution interface and laid
foundations of semiconductor electrochemistry. Three semicond-
uctor–solution interfaces were proposed:
• idealised model [2];
• recombination models [3, 4];
• the model of the connected Fermi levels [5].

Effect of the electronic structure on leaching of sulphide semiconductors

Band semiconductor theory

The band structure of semiconductors is characterised by the
forbidden band between the filled valency band and empty
conductivity bands. In a semiconductor there are two types of
charge carriers: the electrons in the conductivity band and holes in
the valency band. The probability of formation of some quantum
state of the band occupied by the electron or a hole is controlled
by the Fermi–Dirac distribution law.
The band model of the surface of the semiconductor differs from
the model of the surface of the metal because of the excess density
of the surface charge of the solid referred to as the spatial charge
layer. The density of the charge and the surface increases as a
result of completion of the spatial structure resulting in the
formation of Tamm or Shockley states on the surface. Excess
charge density in the region of the spatial charge results in the so
called bending of the band at the interface. This means that the
bands in the volume are thinner than those on the surface if the
potential difference is positive, and, conversely, if the potential
difference is negative. The ‘single atom’ band model of a type n
semiconductor as shown in Fig. 10.1. The concentration of charge
carriers on the surface is an exponential function of the potential
difference between the surface and the volume of the
The majority of the sulphides may exist as non-stoichiometric
compounds and, consequently, affect the electronic properties of the
solid. Compounds with an excess of metal, such as, for example,
chalcopyrite, show n-type semiconductivity whereas compounds
with an excess of anions show p-type semiconductivity.

Model of the energy level of ions in the solution

The energy description of the ions in a solution is far more
complicated than in solids or on their surface. The energy levels of
the ions in the solution are separated as a result of thermal
fluctuations of dipoles which surround the ion during solvation.
Electrostatic polarisation theory indicates that the separation of the
energy levels is of the Gauss parabola type. The probability of
transfer of an electron between the electrode and the ion in a
solution depends on the energy level of the ion at the moment of
transfer, indicating the importance of fluctuations [7]. The energy
required for reaching the activated state of the ion is the difference
of the energies between the oxidant E ox and E * and the probability


Surface states Layer of

or holes spatial

+ +–

Type n +– –
semiconductor –

+ + +–
– –
+– Excess
– – ions
+ +–
layer ~0.3 nm Oriented
d dipoles

Surface ionized
Conductivity band states
+ + + +
Ep Non-compensated
Eg donors
+ Holes

Valency band

Fig. 10.1 Diagram of the distribution of the charge and energy on the interface between
the type and semiconductor and the solution [6].

W ox , and the energy level will be E * according to the relationship

−1  ( E − E * )2 
Wox = (4 πλkT ) 2 exp  − ox  (10.1)
 4 λkT 

where λ is the energy including the energy of contributions from

expansion of the bands inside the co-ordination sphere and the
rotation of the molecules of the solvent in the external sphere, k
is the Boltzman constant and T is temperature. These energy

Effect of the electronic structure on leaching of sulphide semiconductors

fluctuations are not small and the standard deviation (λkT) 1/2 may
amount to several tens of electron volts. The values of λ for a large
number of oxidants and reduction agents were published in [8].
The energy levels of the ions in the solution may be determined
from the standard redox potential of the redox pair E redox , equal to
1/2 (E red +E ox ) and are directly proportional to the redox potentials
presented in tables in handbooks [9].

Semiconductor–solution interface
The semiconductor–solution interface consists of a double layer in
which the charge of the solid is balanced in the volume of the
solution in the vicinity of the surface. Charges are concentrated in
the region of the spatial charge, in the Helmholtz area and the Gouy
layer and may be described quite accurately by approximations as
condensers connected in series. A typical interface is shown in Fig.
The semiconductor and solution are in equilibrium when the
electrochemical potential of the electron in the solid is equal to the
solution potential, i.e. E F = E 0 redox. When a solid is immersed in the
redox solution of an electrolyte the existing charges are redistributed
to the interfacial region so that the excess density of the charge
in the solution is modified by the same density of the charge in the
solid (the layer of the spatial charge) to equilibrium [2, 10].
For the majority of semiconductors it was found that the
potential depends greatly on pH as the shift of 0.59 V per unit pH
as a result of the adsorption of OH – or H + . Similar shifts of pH
were recorded on sulphide electrons as a result of the effect of HS –
and H + [11].

Charge transfer between the semiconductor and the solution

Electron transfer may take place only between the states with the
same energy level, i.e. without transfer of energy by radiation or
in a coating. Using the expressions of the fluctuating energy model,
the ion must show a very high probability of fluctuation to the
energy level of the band in which electron transfer takes place. For
electron transfer to take place, E 0redox must be close to the
conductivity or valency interface. Comparison of the interface of
the valency band E vs , and conductivity band E cs with E 0redox provides
a qualitative image as to whether electron transfer is possible or
not. The redox pair may cause exchange by only one of the bands.
If the redox potential reaches the value E 0redox > 0.5 V, the processes


take place in the valency band, and if E 0redox < 0 V, they take place
in the conductivity band.
The rate of electron transfer from the semiconductor to the
solution is proportional to the number of occupied positions in the
semiconductor D sc (E)f(E–E sc ) and the number of unoccupied
positions in the redox electrolyte, D ox (E), at the same energy E.
The value D sc (E) is density of positions in the semiconductor, f(E–
E sc) is Fermi’s function describing the number of occupied positions,
and D ox (E) is the density of the positions in the oxidant in the
solution. The total current from the semiconductor to the electrolyte
is the integral of this probability in the range of the total energy

j − = q ν − ( E ) Dsc ( E ) f ( E − Esc ) Dox ( E )dE

where ν – (E) is the transfer coefficient, D ox (E) = C ox W ox , where

C ox is the concentration of the oxidant in the solution.
The current–voltage dependence of the semiconductor-solution
ideal system is often described as Schottky’s barrier [12].
Substitution of (10.1) into (10.2) integration gives

 qV 
jv = jv ,0  s  −1 (10.3)
 kT 

where j v is the current density of the valency band, and j v,0 is the
change of current density. This equation is valid for type p
The characteristic feature of Schottky’s barrier is that only the
cathodic process is affected by the potential in the conductivity
band and in the valency band only the anodic process depends on
voltage. The anodic process in type n semiconductors is limited by
the diffusion of carriers (holes) on the surface and represents
limiting current. This shows that the rate of anodic dissolution of
type n minerals is lower than that of type p minerals.
The voltage–current curves for the reaction of the single
electron on the surface of an ideal semiconductor, equation (10.3),
assume the charge transfer coefficient of 1 and the Tafel constant
of 0.059 V. However, if the number of surface positions exceed
10 13 positions per cm 2 , the Fermi level in the semiconductor is
constant and the electron potential gradient forms through the

Effect of the electronic structure on leaching of sulphide semiconductors

Helmholtz layer. In this case, the Fermi layer is disrupted, the

transfer coefficient is equal to 0.5 and the Tafel constant is 0.118
V decade –1 which represents the behaviour of charge transfer in
the metal-electrolyte system. Similar Tafel constants are determined
in degeneration of the semiconductors. However, on the whole it
may be said that even pure element semiconductors show deviations
from the ideal behaviour.

Anodic corrosion of semiconductors

The bonds between adjacent atoms in the crystal exist as a result
of the interaction of binding orbitals of adjacent atoms. The binding
electronic state with the valency band of the solid and the presence
of holes in this band indicate that one of the binding electrons has
been removed and the bond weakened. The holes may be replaced
by internal electrons as a result of electric current or in the case
of corrosion and leaching they may be brought by the oxidant into
the valency sphere.
In semiconductors with the forbidden band larger than 1 eV,
anodic dissolution takes place almost completely by the supply of
holes to the valency sphere [13]. Table 10.1 shows the contribution
of holes to the anodic breakdown reaction.
Oxidation breakdown of M + S – sulphide semiconductors take
place in the following stages:
(M δ+ δ−
S ) s
= X → ( MX ) + •Ss + e −

(M δ+
S δ− )
= X + h + → ( MX ) + •Ss

• S s + Y → ( SY ) + e −

• S s + Y + h + → ( SY )

• S s + • S s → ( S − S )s (10.4e)

•Sn + •Ss → Sn +1 (10.4f)

where h is the hole, X and Y represent the ion substances in the
solution. It may be assumed that the electropositive component,
M + , i.e., the element associated with the conductivity band, is
transferred into the solution whereas in many cases the more
electronegative element undergoes a recombination reaction by
which this element is transferred to the zero valency state.


Table 10.1. Contribution of holes to anodic dissolution of semiconductors [13]

Pro duc t o f Ho le
E g [ e V] o x ida tio n c o ntributio n
bre a k do wn [% ]

Ge 0.66 Ge 4 + 55–70

Si 1.09 S i2+ (S i4+) ~ 100

Ga As 1.35 Ga 3 + , As 3 + ~ 99.8

C d Te 1.5 C d 2+, Te 4+ ?

C dSe 1.74 C d 2+, S e ~ 96

C uO 1.95 C u2+, 0 . 5 O 2 ?

C dO 2.2 C d 2+, 0 . 5 O 2 ?

Ga P 2.35 Ga 3 + , P o r P 3 + ~ 100

C dS 2.4 C d 2+, S ~ 100

ZnO 3.3 Zn2+, 0 . 5 O 2 ~ 100

The general requirement on steady-state corrosion is that the

anodic and cathodic current should be equal j + = j – . The surface
electrical field of the metal has the reversed effect on these two
processes and ensures identical current conditions. Corrosion may
be described by the superposition of anodic and cathodic currents.
In semiconductors, this equality means that

jc+ + jv+ = jc− + jv− (10.5)

and the current in every band will have the reversed sign

jc+ + jv− = jc− + jv+ (10.6)

However, to understand fully the leaching processes it is

necessary to consider the crystal structure and its behaviour, the
type of semiconductor, and the characteristics of the semiconductor-
solution interface.

10.1. Leaching kinetics and electrochemistry of sulphides

Koch [14] and Hiskey and Wadsworth [15] investigated the

Effect of the electronic structure on leaching of sulphide semiconductors

electrochemistry of metal sulphides and Wadsworth [16] and

Dutrizac and MacDonald [17] published a review of the leaching
of metallic sulphides. Burkin [18] published data on the occurrence
of phase transformations in the solid state in the leaching of
sulphides, stressing the formation of the solid interfacial product at
the leaching interface preventing further reaction, and Peters [19]
discussed experimental procedures in the investigations of
electrochemical phenomena in leaching of sulphides. Shuey [20]
published a review of the electronic properties of all minerals and
Vaughan and Craig [21] discussed the mineral chemistry of
The metal sulphides are characterised by a wide range of
structural and electronic properties, as shown in Table 10.2.

10.1.1. Leaching of chalcopyrite

Anodic leaching of chalcopyrite is governed by the equations

CuFeS2 → Cu2 + + Fe3+ 2SD + 5e − (10.7)


CuFeS2 + 8H 2 O → Cu2 + + Fe3+ 2SO24− + 16H + + 17e − (10.8)

The majority of sulphide sulphur is transferred into the elemental

form, the remainder (3–15%) to the sulphate form. The results
obtained by several authors show that the oxidation products are

Table 10.2. Properties of some metallic sulphides [15]

R e s is ta nc e S e mic o nduc to r R e s idua l

M ine ra l Fo rmula Ω m]
[Ω ty pe po te ntia l
[ V]

p yrite F eS 2 0 . 1 – 3 · 1 0 –2 n, p 0.63

c ha lc o p yrite C uF e S 2 0 . 2 – 9 · 1 0 –3 n 0.53

c ha lc o c ite C u2S 1 0 –2– 1 0 –5 p 0.44

c o ve llite C uS 1 0 –4–1 0 –6 me ta llic p 0.42

ga le nite PbS 1 0 –5 n, p 0.28

sp ha le rite ZnS 1 0 5– 1 0 7 - –0.24


resistant to further leaching. Sulphur [22], semiconductors of the

type p or n such as CuS and polysulphides with a shortage of
metals [23, 24] inhibit the transfer of electrons or ions to the
Chalcopyrite is a good conductor with a resistance of
approximately 10 –3 m [20]. It is a type n semiconductor taking into
account the surplus of metal with the forbidden band of
approximately 0.6 eV. The model of ion bonding of chalcopyrite is
regarded as Cu+Fe 3+ (S 2– ) 2 . Of course, in this case there is no
direct covalent bond between the anions, but there is high covalency
between the cations and the anions [20]. Unfortunately, direct
calculations of the energy band in chalcopyrite is difficult because
of its antiferromagnetisms [25]. However, studies have been
published of other compounds of a simpler type indicating that the
lower part of the conductivity band of chalcopyrite is mostly Fe3d,
and the upper part of the valency band is Cu3d and S3p. The
appropriate ‘single-electron’ band diagram is shown in Fig. 10.2.
Parker, et al. [26] carried out extensive electrochemical studies
of chalcopyrite leaching in a chloride medium in the temperature
range 70–90°C and the potential range 0.2-0.6 eV. They found that
the rate of reduction of the oxides can be arranged in the following

Br2 ,CuCl2 , Fe ( CN )6 > FeCl3 > Fe 2 ( SO 4 )3 ,Cl 2


The location of the bands and redox potentials of these oxidants is

shown in Fig. 10.2. In order to ‘keep’ the electron or add a hole,
the energy level of the oxidant must be sufficient to overcome the
edge of the conductivity or valency band. The diagram shows that
the rate of reduction of CuCl 2 and I3– is high and is determined by
the energy level of these ions overlapping the edge of the
conductivity band; the rate of reduction of Br 2 is also high because
the energy level of bromine extends through the edge of the valency
band. On the other hand, the levels of the ferric chloride and
sulphate are located inside the forbidden band and their reduction
rate is low.
Parker [26] also published the data on the anodic saturation
currents typical of type n semiconductors in which the number of
holes is the limiting factor for migration and oxidation of Fe 2+ in the
solution. Similarly, Beckstead, et al. [27] published results confirming
that the leaching rate increases with an increase of the amount of
Fe 3+ and then reaches a steady value indicating saturated currents.

Effect of the electronic structure on leaching of sulphide semiconductors


Fig. 10.2. Diagram of the energetic level of chalcopyrite indicating the contribution
Cu3d to the valency band and the contribution of Fe3d to the conductivity band.

The presence of the saturated currents has not been confirmed for
I3– and CuCl –2 , but the energy levels of these ions exceed the edge
of the conductivity band. Consequently, it may be concluded that
the interactions I –3 /I – , CuCl 2 /CuCl –2 and Fe(CN) 3–6 /Fe(CN) 4–6 are the
processes taking place in the conductivity band, whereas Fe 3+ /Fe 2+
and Br 2 /Br – take place in the valency band. Zevgolis and Cooke
[28] published the results indicating the existence of the anodic
limiting current as a result of migration of holes in type n
The addition of CuCl 2 to the FeCl 3 solutions increases the current
density of the chalcopyrite electrode. Table 10.3 gives the data
showing that the anodic dissolution of chalcopyrite takes place with
the contribution of holes in the valency band and of electrons in the
conductivity band. This is the case of many semiconductors, for
example Ge, with the size of the forbidden band smaller than 1 eV

Formation of a layer on the surface of chalcopyrite in leaching

The positive potential on the chalcopyrite electrode induces anodic
current leading to electrode oxidation. If the electrode is connected


Table 10.3. Comparison of corrosion currents of chalcopyrite [26]

Ecorr jcorr
Ox Re d
[V] [kA/m2]

Fe3+ Fe2+ 0.39 55

Fe3+/Cu2+ Fe2+ 0.48 110

Cu2+ Cu+ 0.28 2 .5

to an open circuit, and the application of the potential results in

reactivation and high current which again decrease with time. This
was interpreted [26] as the formation of a polysulphide layer with
a shortage of metal on the leached surface which reduces the rate
of transfer of Cu + and Fe 2+ ions into the solution. It is assumed that
this layer degradates by the reactivation of the electrode producing
elemental sulphur.
Munoz et al. [30] concluded that the kinetics of leaching of
chalcopyrite in sulphate solutions is controlled by diffusion through
the layer of elemental sulphur coating the leached surface. The high
value of the activation energy was attributed to the rate-controlling
transfer of electrons through the sulphur layer and the kinetics
were described by Wagner’s theory. However, on the other hand,
this sulphur layer is porous and also contains a large amount of
impurities. The removal of sulphur [31] from the leached surface
slightly increases the leaching rate but not as expected. This shows
that it is not clear whether the formation of elemental sulphur on
the surface is an inhibiting factor.
McMillan et al. [32] published the values of anodic currents
which decrease with time. They used a series of potential pulses
in the range 0.2–0.6 V in relation to the standard electrode and
observed a blue layer product which was regarded as a copper-
enriched sulphide phase. This was interpreted as an example of the
formation of a protective layer through which the rate-limiting ions
must diffuse. The authors also compared the electrochemistry of the
specimens of semiconductors of type n and p. However, their
conclusion according to which the type of semiconductor has no
effect on the behaviour of the electrode appears to be slightly
premature. The main reason for this is that they used natural
crystals and their type p specimens contained quite large quantities
of pyrite inclusions which probably induced possible galvanic
The formation of the layer on the surface increases the value

Effect of the electronic structure on leaching of sulphide semiconductors

of the Tafel constant above 0.118 V decade –1 [33]. McMillan et al.

[32] obtained a value of 0.2 V decade –1 as a result of the formation
of a clearly visible blue CuS layer or non-stoichiometric sulphides
of Cu x S type. However, if such a layer forms on the electrode
surface, the current should decrease until a stable layer of copper
sulphide appears.
The layer of copper sulphide or some other layer does not
reduce the leaching rate in chloride solutions until the thickness of
the layer reaches a steady value. This results in linear kinetics and
a strong dependence on the ferric chloride concentration. The layer
formed in sulphate solutions apparently inhibits leaching and the
kinetics is parabolic. The differences may be given by the capacity
of chloride ions to be adsorbed on the surface; sulphate ions do not
have this capacity. The formation of chloride species is also
important. This may result in the formation of surface states inside
the forbidden band of the layer which may support the passage of
current and, consequently, catalyse electrochemical dissolution of
the layer.
It is assumed that the formation of the sulphate as a final
product of chalcopyrite sulphur takes place by the mechanism in
which the added holes, as the contribution of Cu3d to the valency
band, are capable of oxidising water and OH radicals oxidise
directly the sulphur of the valency band to the sulphate. The rate
of oxidation of elemental sulphur is very low and is not regarded
as the factor forming the sulphate.

Galvanic interactions during leaching

If two minerals with different potentials are in contact, the mineral
with the more positive potential is reduced and that with the more
negative potential oxidised. There potential difference is the driving
force of galvanic corrosion.
Although there are large number of experimental studies, the
majority of the results have been interpreted only semi-
quantitatively. The potential differences of galvanic pairs of natural
minerals forming the sequence: galenite–pyrite > chalcocite > pyrite
> chalcocite–chalcopyrite > galenite–chalcopyrite > chalcopyrite >
pyrite, are known.
Hepel [34] considered the effect of a strong bond between two
semiconductor minerals of the type p and n on the galvanic
corrosion current. The polarisation of the p–n mineral junction
depends obviously on the potential of each mineral. The potential


of each mineral is determined by measuring the Fermi level or the

electrochemical potential of the electrons in the solid taking into
account the effect of the half-cell. The potentials of the open
circuit of the substances of the type p and n of the same mineral
differ in the differences in the Fermi level and the maximum is
shown by the energy of the forbidden band is maximum. This is
observed in pyrite and galenite. If the potential of a mineral of type
p is higher than that of mineral of type n the potential difference
at the junction is small and high currents may flow. If the type p
mineral has more negative potential than type n mineral, the
potential difference at the junction is high and may be sufficiently
high to prevent any current at the junction. Hepel [34] derived a
general relationship for determining the electrochemical parameters
of the system and the coefficient of anodic acceleration. The
experimental results published by Hepel confirm the directional
properties of the galenite–galenite, galenite–chalcopyrite and
chalcocite–pyrite electrodes, although they did not show ideal
Schottky’s barriers. The formation of surface states and disruption
of the Fermi level was also detected. Despite the presence of a
large number of impurities in the natural minerals, it is also
necessary to consider the ohmic and semiconductor properties of
the minerals forming the solid bond, if galvanic interactions are
Figure 10.3 shows the galvanic interaction between chalcopyrite
and metallic copper [35].

H2S H+

H2 S



Cu2 S, Cu1-xS

Fig.10.3. Example of galvanic interaction between chalcopyrite and opper.

Effect of the electronic structure on leaching of sulphide semiconductors


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