Journal of the Southern African Institute of Mining and Metallurgy
On-line version ISSN 2411-9717
GERICKE, M.; NEALE, J.W. and VAN STADEN, P.J.. A Mintek perspective of the past 25 years in minerals bioleaching. J. S. Afr. Inst. Min. Metall. [online]. 2009, vol.109, n.10, pp. 567-585. ISSN 2411-9717.
SYNOPSIS The microbial leaching of metal sulfides is now an established biotechnological technology. Over the past 25 years, refinements in the engineering design of bioleaching processes have paralleled advances in our understanding of the diversity and role of the micro-organisms driving the process and the mechanisms by which micro-organisms enhance metal sulfide oxidation. Commercial success started with the treatment of refractory gold concentrates using mesophilic micro-organisms, followed by the development of tank bioleaching processes for the treatment of base metal concentrates. This was, initially, a mesophilic process with limited potential for recovery of copper from chalcopyrite concentrates due to slow rates and low copper extractions. The exploitation of thermophiles represents a major breakthrough in the development of bioleaching technology for the treatment of chalcopyritecontaining ores and concentrates. This development also opened the route to heap bioleaching of chalcopyrite ores, which is now a major focus of research programmes and piloting campaigns. This paper reviews the historical development of minerals bioleaching processes and gives an update on the current status of commercial tank and heap bioleach operations around the world.