Reactive oxygen species generated in the presence of fine pyrite particles and its implication in thermophilic mineral bioleaching

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Applied Microbiology and Biotechnology

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Springer Verlag


University of Cape Town

In the tank bioleaching process, maximising solid loading and mineral availability, the latter through decreasing particle size, are key to maximising metal extraction. In this study, the effect of particle size distribution on bioleaching performance and microbial growth was studied through applying knowledge based on medical geology research to understand the adverse effects of suspended fine pyrite particles. Small-scale leaching studies, using pyrite concentrate fractions (106–75, 75–25, −25 μm fines), were used to confirm decreasing performance with decreasing particle size (D50 <40 μm). Under equivalent experimental conditions, the generation of the reactive oxygen species (ROS), hydrogen peroxide and hydroxyl radicals from pyrite was illustrated. ROS generation measured from the different pyrite fractions was found to increase with increasing pyrite surface area loading (1.79–74.01 m2 L−1) and Fe2+ concentration (0.1–2.8 g L−1) in solution. The highest concentration of ROS was measured from the finest fraction of pyrite (0.85 mM) and from the largest concentration of Fe2+ (0.78 mM). No ROS was detected from solutions containing only Fe3+ under the same conditions tested. The potential of ROS to inhibit microbial performance under bioleaching conditions was demonstrated. Pyrite-free Sulfolobus metallicus cultures challenged with hydrogen peroxide (0.5–2.5 mM) showed significant decrease in both cell growth and Fe2+ oxidation rates within the concentration range 1.5–2.5 mM. In combination, the results from this study suggest that conditions of large pyrite surface area loading, coupled with high concentrations of dissolved Fe2+, can lead to the generation of ROS, resulting in oxidative stress of the microorganisms.