Additonal authors: Ruan, R. M.. Book title: Proceedings of the 58th Conference of Metallurgists Hosting Copper 2019. Chapter: . Chapter title:
During bioleaching processes of sulfide minerals, the sulfide minerals act as the natural habitats for acidophiles, of which, most are autotrophic iron and sulfur oxidizing microbes. These microbes acquire energy by oxidation of sulfide minerals, and play crucial role in bioleaching processes. In the industrial bioleaching heaps, microbial community and their activity are highly related to engineering configurations, while the optimized industrial operation can help to fast dissolution of aim minerals and acid/iron balance under optimized microbial condition. Microbial community succession and activity formation, the function of microbes to mineral dissolution, the mechanisms to promotion and inhibition of sulfide minerals oxidation, and the industrial instances for microbial community regulation were reviewed. For these instances, promoted microbial activity helped to fast pyrite oxidation for sulfuric acid generation, which realized zero sulfur acid addition to the irrigation solution in the initiation of a bioleaching heaps. High microbial activity by optimized operation parameters improved Cu leaching efficiency during the heap bioleaching process. And also by inhibition of microbial activity, especially the iron oxidizing microbes, the excessive pyrite oxidation can be inhibited, which helped to the acid/iron balance during heap bioleaching.
Around the world, high grade copper ore are exploited, while barely new high-grade deposits are succeeded, the copper grade of ore deposit is constantly decreasing. The increasing copper demands worldwide requests to process these low-grade ore deposits. Processing of low-grade ores are not economical by usual extraction processes. Heap leaching is a cheaper process for recovery of low-grade ores, and has been applied to extract valuable metals from sulfide minerals worldwide, such as copper, gold, uranium and nickel (Gericke et al., 2009). Heap leaching process has greatly decreased the economic grade and expanded the recoverable ore reserve worldwide (Brierley, 2008). It is usually carried out in the open environments, and could process huge amount of ore (usually in millions of tonnes in one reactor) in the heap reactor (Gericke et al., 2009). For copper sulfide, especially the secondary copper sulfides, heap (dump) bioleaching is successfully applied. Heap bioleaching process is cost saving, and sometimes can be achieved without adding chemical into heaps, by microbial fixing of the atmospheric N2 and CO2, and generating oxidant Fe3+ and sulfuric acid in heaps from oxidation of sulfide minerals. Also heap bioleaching is environment friendly by cycling use of the leaching solution, and without exhaust emission.