Thermophilic mineral bioleaching performance: a compromise between maximising mineral loading and maximising microbial growth and activity

Journal Article


Permanent link to this Item
Journal Title

SAIMM Journal

Journal ISSN
Volume Title

The Southern African Institute of Mining and Metallurgy


University of Cape Town

Thermophilic bioleaching, conducted at temperatures in excess of 65°C, provides considerable benefit over mesophilic bioleaching, particularly through extending the extent of leaching of base metal minerals such as chalcopyrite. Thermophilic bioleaching is facilitated through a group of micro-organisms known as the Archae, well adapted to extreme environment. In order to maximize the space time utilization of the stirred tank reactor in the thermophilic bioleaching process, it is desirable to maximize the loading of the finely divided mineral phase present while not adversely affecting the microbial performance. In this paper, the effect of the loading of the solid particulate phase on the bioleaching performance of Sulfolobus metallicus was studied in a stirred tank reactor. Emphasis was placed on the effect of the concentration of the finely divided solid phase (35 – 75 µm). A model system comprised of 3% (w/v) pyrite in the presence of varying quantities of quartzite in the range 0 to 24% (w/v) was used to obtain the different solids concentrations. The bioleaching experiments revealed similar bioleaching performance in the presence of 3 to 18% (w/v) total solids. Above 18% (w/v) total solids (15% quartzite loading), bioleaching was impaired progressively with increasing solids concentration. At the highest solids loading studied of 27% (w/v), bioleaching was still observed. In terms of mass transfer, oxygen transfer potential was not significantly influenced in the bioleaching process over the range of solids investigated.