Heap Leaching of Copper Ores – State of the Science

Additonal authors: . Book title: Proceedings of the 58th Conference of Metallurgists Hosting Copper 2019. Chapter: . Chapter title:

Proceedings, Vol. Proceedings of the 58th Conference of Metallurgists Hosting Copper 2019, 2019

Petersen, J.

Heap leaching accounts for around 20% of the global production of copper. In heap leaching coarsely crushed ore particles are contacted with an aqueous lixiviant percolating through large packed beds (heaps) of the ore particles, with the loaded solution collected at the foot of the heap for metal recovery, solution make-up and recycle. While dominant for copper oxide acid leaching, it finds application also in copper sulphide (bio) leaching. Despite their apparent simplicity, heaps are in fact complex chemical reactors in which a number of competing sub-processes determine the overall rate of metal extraction. Therefore, meaningful prediction of copper production rates from heaps, as well as operational optimisation and control, all hinge on a comprehensive and quantitative understanding of these complexities. The paper gives a comprehensive overview of the various sub-processes in copper heap leaching and their interactions, including those relating to mineral-particle-solution-gas phase interactions at the micro-scale bulk transport and distribution of solution in unsaturated dense beds at the macro-scale. On the basis of a more fundamental understanding and modelling, the potential for optimized operation offers new opportunities for the extraction of value from both low-grade and complex polymetallic ores. INTRODUCTION Heap leaching is one of the percolation leaching technologies, which includes in situ leaching, dump leaching, heap leaching and vat leaching (Bartlett, 1998). The common phenomenon in all these technologies is the transport of leach solution through a fixed bed of ore particles, which interacts with the solid as it migrates along its path. The target minerals are released into solution and with its flow are carried out of the bed. The targeted dissolved metal species are recovered from solution through various hydrometallurgical techniques, especially solvent extraction (SX), before the barren solution is returned to the leach process. Heap leaching is practised in three main types of applications: sulphuric acid leaching of copper oxide ores, cyanide leaching of gold ores as well as the oxidative acid leaching of secondary copper sulphide ores, usually with the assistance of certain microorganisms and, more recently, in the presence of chlorides (CaCl2, sea water). While gold heap leaching dates back to the 1960s, large scale copper heap leaching commenced in Chile from the 1980s, and sulphide heap leaching emerged essentially as a consequence of acid leaching from mixed oxide/sulphide ores from the 1990s (Watling, 2006).
Keywords: Copper 2019, COM2019