Scielo RSS <![CDATA[Journal of the Southern African Institute of Mining and Metallurgy]]> vol. 112 num. 12 lang. es <![CDATA[SciELO Logo]]> <![CDATA[<b>Percolation leaching</b>]]> <![CDATA[<b>Meeting of International Mining and Metallurgical Societies</b>]]> <![CDATA[<b>New engineering library to boost mining skills</b>]]> <![CDATA[<b>Mining Indaba<sup>TM</sup> invests in the future of South Africa's education</b>]]> <![CDATA[<b>International Percolation Leaching Conference and Short Course</b>]]> <![CDATA[<b>Review of the role of microbiology in the design and operation of heap bioleaching processes</b>]]> Over the past few decades the commercial application of heap bioleaching technology for the extraction of base metals has become increasingly important, due mainly to the depletion of high-grade ore reserves. Heap bioleaching is widely used for the extraction of copper from secondary copper sulphide ores. The design and engineering aspects of the process have received considerable attention, but issues related to the microbiology of the process have been subjected to less rigorous scrutiny. The major role of micro-organisms in bioleaching processes is to catalyse the regeneration of ferric iron and protons, from ferrous iron and by sulphur oxidation respectively. It is accepted that even the most carefully engineered heaps are heterogeneous in terms of temperature, pH, the presence of anaerobic pockets, irrigation efficiency, and dissolved solutes. Since interactions between solution chemistry, mineralogy, and microbial populations exist in heaps, a better understanding of the correlation between microbial numbers and types with changes in these chemical and physical profiles with time would be beneficial during process design and operation of heaps, and could result in faster start-up times and higher metal recoveries. This paper reviews the role of microbiology in heap bioleaching processes. Aspects such as microbial diversity, identification and monitoring of cultures, inoculation strategies, colonization behaviour, and tolerance to metals and salts are discussed, and the potential contribution of the knowledge to the improvement of the operation and design of heap bioleach processes assessed. Conclusions are drawn with respect to the role of genetic engineering, heap inoculation practises, and remaining areas for future heap bioleaching research and development. <![CDATA[<b>Talvivaara bioheapleaching process</b>]]> The Talvivaara deposits are located in Eastern Finland, within the Kainuu Schist Belt. These polymetallic sulphide deposits are of relatively low grade, but bioheapleaching enables economically profitable nickel extraction from the ore. Zinc, cobalt, and copper are also produced. Talvivaara's production process begins with large-scale open-pit mining and four crushing stages, followed by stacking of the ore in bioleaching heaps. The ore is first leached for 13-14 months on the primary leach pad, after which the leached ore is reclaimed, conveyed, and re-stacked on the secondary heap pad. After secondary leaching, the barren ore will remain on the secondary heaps permanently. In the metals recovery process, the metals are precipitated from the pregnant leaching solution. Construction of the process was begun in spring of 2007 and first metal sulphides were produced at the plant in October 2008. The development of the bioheapleaching process was begun in a 17 000 t on-site pilot heap operated during 2005-2008 and has continued in the industrial heap. At industrial scale, the development measures have focused on improving the permeability and aeration of the heap. Challenges with crushing and aerations systems at the beginning of industrial-scale leaching delayed the increase in metal recovery, but after the first two operational years the leaching results have improved significantly and the process is performing as targeted. <![CDATA[<b>Sustainable issues related to heap leaching operations</b>]]> One of the earliest records of metal recovery by solution leaching is described by Agricola as 'juice of rock' in the 1550s. In these early years of hydrometallurgy and civil engineering, few controls and systems were employed to enhance recovery and protect the environment. Since that time, leaching (dump or heap) operations have made significant strides in increasing metal and solution recovery while protecting the environment, all goals of a sustainable operation. It is now recognized that the design and operation of modern heap leach facilities requires contributions from many fields of study, including hydrometallurgy, civil engineering, geotechnical engineering, unsaturated-flow hydrology, mine planning, geosynthetics engineering, geochemistry, process engineering, mechanical engineering, and electrical engineering. While advancements in these fields have resulted in more sustainable heap leach operations, challenges in the industry still exist. A number of heap leach operations exhibit poor or lower-than-predicted metal recovery, loss of solution flow and control within the ore heap, loss of ore heap stability under leach, failure of liner and/or solution recovery systems, and overtopping of process water ponds. A number of these issues may be the result of several compounding conditions. For example, poor metal recovery may be due to an inadequate scale-up assumption (scaling laboratory tests to field-size heaps), lack of control of the in-heap geochemical environment, changes in ore mineralogy from the original design, changes in mechanical and hydraulic properties of the ore from the original design, ore handling and pre-treatment, inadequate solution management system, and inadequate solution application. The purpose of this paper is to present and discuss issues that may affect the sustainability of a heap leach operation. Since sustainability encompasses a broad range of topics and issues, the focus of this paper will be on issues affecting metal and solution recovery, solution flow and containment, and stability of the ore heap. <![CDATA[<b>Patenting in the field of percolation leaching</b>]]> Within the technology field generally known as biological heap leaching or percolation leaching, lies a wealth of technological knowhow that is potentially patentable and therefore can form the subject matter of patent applications. An organization often overlooks the potential for generating intellectual capital during its research by dismissing the possibility that what it is working on may be novel and inventive and therefore patentable. The organization labours under the misconception that there is nothing patentable in its work mainly because the novel aspect is overlooked against the general background state of the art or, if identified, is not recognized as having sufficient inventive merit. In the field of biological heap leaching, patents have issued on inventions that extend across a large range of technology, including microbiological inventions-for example a particular strain of microbe used in a heap leach application, electro-mechanical inventions, for example a column simulator that simulates the heap leach environment, and thermodynamic inventions such as methods of generating and maintaining heat in a heap. <![CDATA[<b>SART for copper control in cyanide heap leaching</b>]]> Copper cyanide is a common component of cyanide-treatable precious metal ores. The copper concentration in production heaps can be predicted from laboratory column tests, but the exact correlation is not necessarily intuitive. Generally, heap leach operators like to keep copper concentrations in solution below 300-500 ppm and may note problems with gold recovery and cyanide consumption when copper concentrations exceed this amount. There are several methods of copper removal from cyanide solutions including ion exchange; direct electrowinning; acidification, volatilization, and recovery (AVR); and sulphide precipitation such as the sulphidization, acidification, recycling, and thickening (SART) process. SART involves acidification with addition of soluble sulphide, separation of the resulting copper sulphide precipitate, and addition of lime to re-establish alkalinity prior to returning the solution to the leaching process, recovering both copper and cyanide as valuable products. In principle SART is very simple. Yet some SART plants that have been built may have been unnecessarily complex. This paper explores the basics of SART and makes the case for a simple plant design as applied to the heap leaching circuit. <![CDATA[<b>Advances in high-temperature heap leaching of refractory copper sulphide ores</b>]]> Acid heap leaching has been extensively applied to the processing of copper oxide ores, with recovery of copper by solvent extraction and electrowinning. Heap leaching has also been extended to the treatment of secondary sulphide copper ores, where oxidative conditions are generated in aerated heaps by the bacterially-assisted oxidation of ferrous iron to ferric iron. The treatment of low-grade chalcopyrite ores has recently been the focus of research, with Mintek playing a prominent role. When processing chalcopyrite ores, more complex column test work is performed, which incorporates the prediction and simulation of temperature behaviour in pyrite-containing heaps. Mintek has devised a trade-marked column leaching apparatus (SmartCohimnTM) for the simulation of the natural temperature profile development in pyrite-containing heaps. As heap leach applications are becoming more complex, the parameters that need to be built into the design and operation of heap leach plants are growing in number, and the amount of data to be collected and processed, and the number of decisions to be taken daily, are also increasing. Mintek has therefore developed the HeapStar® administrative advisory software, as a guidance system to ensure that the correct protocols are implemented at various stages of the leach cycle. <![CDATA[<b>Potential for bioleaching copper sulphide rougher concentrates of Nchanga Mine, Chingola, Zambia</b>]]> Laboratory investigations were conducted to establish the feasibility of bioleaching a mixed copper oxide/sulphide rougher concentrate from Nchanga Mine on the Zambian Copperbelt. The objective was to determine the kinetics and extent of copper extraction for this material. Batch experiments were conducted under different solution conditions in stirred tank bioreactors. The progress of (bio)leaching was monitored through measurements of soluble ferrous and ferric iron, copper, pH, and redox potentials, while bacterial activity was monitored online through O2 and CO2 gas utilization rates. About 20 per cent copper was solubilized within 2 hours in all cases of non-oxidative (abiotic), oxidative (abiotic), and bioleaching experiments. This was attributed to the dissolution of mainly copper oxides. Subsequently, bioleaching experiments resulted in an overall copper extraction of 93 per cent, with up to 8 g.L-1 copper after six leaching days, compared to 58 per cent copper extraction in the abiotic oxidative acid leaching experiments. However, there was little effect of time (i.e. poor dissolution kinetics) on copper recovery for abiotic non-oxidative acid leaching of the material. Hence, the rate of sulphide leaching increased due to the activity of bacteria. Thus, the material is potentially bioleachable under mesophilic conditions. However, more exhaustive test work needs to be conducted to establish the effect of bioleaching variables and heat requirement. <![CDATA[<b>Optimization of the transition from open-pit to underground operation in combined mining using (0-1) integer programming</b>]]> There are many near-surface deposits with considerable vertical extent that have the potential to be mined by a combined method of open-pit and underground methods. In this regard, there is often a point called 'transition depth' where a decision has to be made whether to continue deepening the pit or change to underground methods. Recently, optimization of the transition from open-pit to underground operation has become an important challenge in mining engineering. Optimally, to model the transition problem on the basis of maximization of the profit from open-pit and underground mining, (0-1) integer programming has been used. In this method, block economic values of open-pit and underground methods should be imported to the transition model. A hypothetical example is presented in order to assess the model in detail. <![CDATA[<b>Optimal cut-off grade determination based on variable capacities in open-pit mining</b>]]> SYNOPSIS Optimal cut-off grade is one of the most critical parameters in open-pit mine design because it defines the ore and waste and thus determines the maximum net present value possible from the mining operation. Although the algorithm presented by Lane (Choosing the optimum cut-off grade. Colorado School of Mines Quarterly, vol. 59, no. 4, 1964. pp. 811-829) is the most common one in the literature, it does assume constant capacities of the mine, processing, and refinery. In this paper, Lane's original algorithm has been modified to consider variable processing capacities in order to determine the optimal cut-off grade in open-pit mines. The new algorithm proposed here is compared to both Lane's original algorithm and to a previous modification that incorporated rehabilitation costs into the cut-off grade estimation. The algorithm proposed here that permits variable processing capacities is shown to be superior for the determination of optimal cut-off grade to both these previous versions. In addition, a computer-based program was developed in Microsoft Office Excel© to calculate the optimal cut-off grade as proposed here. <![CDATA[<b>A newly developed plaster stemming method for blasting</b>]]> In this study, a newly developed plaster stemming method is studied and compared with the usual dry drill cuttings stemming method for surface blasting in mines and quarries. Drill cuttings are generally used in open pits and quarries as the most common stemming material since these are most readily available at blast sites. However, dry drill cuttings eject very easily from blastholes without offering much resistance to blast energy. The plaster stemming method has been found to be better than the drill cuttings stemming method due to increased confinement inside the hole and better utilization of blast explosive energy in the rock. The main advantage of the new stemming method is the reduction in the cost of blasting. In one series of blast tests, blasting costs per unit volume of rock were reduced to 16 per cent by increasing burden and spacing distances. Also, better fragmentation was obtained by using the plaster stemming method. Blast trials showed that plaster stemming produced finer material. In the same blast tests, +30 cm size fragments reduced to 5.4 per cent of the total, compared to 37.7 per cent in the conventional method of drill cuttings stemming. With this method of stemming, vibration and air shock values increased slightly due to more blast energy being available for rock breakage, but these increased values were small and under the permitted limit for blast damage criteria. <![CDATA[<b>Characterization and alternative dissolution of tantalite mineral samples from Mozambique</b>]]> Qualitative analysis of three mineral samples from northern Mozambique was accomplished by X-ray diffraction (XRD), microscopy, scintillation, and magnetic determination. Chemical characterization was accomplished using ICP-OES and pressed powder XRF after dissolution using microwave-assisted digestion and flux fusion. The samples consisted of a mixture of minerals with tantalite as the major component, with minor amounts of microlite, quartz, mica, accessory garnet, and tourmaline. Incomplete dissolution was obtained using microwave digestion, with maximum recoveries of 90.25 ± 0.06% and 88.90 ± 0.04% for Nb2O5 and Ta2O5 respectively. Complete dissolution using Li2B4O7 resulted in recoveries of 98.5 ± 0.2% Nb2O5 and 100.4 ± 0.3% Ta2O5. <![CDATA[<b>The estimation of greenhouse gas emissions from South African surface and abandoned coal mines</b>]]> Gas samples were taken from a wide range of target areas on dumps arising from coal mining activities. Some of the dumps had largely burned out, some were still burning, some were in the process of rehabilitation, and on others rehabilitation was essentially complete. It was found that rehabilitation was very effective in reducing emissions to tolerable levels. Even incomplete rehabilitation reduced the CO2 emissions to less than about 1 kg/m²/a, whereas some unrehabil-itated areas showed emissions of over 100 kg/m²/a. Some areas where there was active combustion taking place were also sampled, and they showed as much as 7 000 kg/m²/a, but the areas concerned were very small and their total contribution accordingly low. Analyses were also made for SOx, NOx, NH3, and CH4, but these were generally (and unexpectedly) at very low levels. The mines sampled represented 53 per cent of all surface coal mining activity. Accordingly the estimated total emissions were scaled up, to arrive at estimates of 1 950 000 ± 350 000 t/a CO2, 2040 ± 580 t/a SOx, 306 ± 85t/a NOx, and 31 ± 9 t/a NH3 for all surface mines. Methane was detected only from burning coal, and due to the difficulty in sampling, no reliable estimate could be made of these methane emissions.