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Journal of the Southern African Institute of Mining and Metallurgy

On-line version ISSN 2411-9717
Print version ISSN 0038-223X


LUPO, J.F.. Sustainable issues related to heap leaching operations. J. S. Afr. Inst. Min. Metall. [online]. 2012, vol.112, n.12, pp.1021-1030. ISSN 2411-9717.

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.

Keywords : heapleaching; sustainability; recovery; or characteristics..

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