The microbial ecology of moderately thermophilic mineral leaching reactors: the effect of solids loading and organic carbon supplementation on reactor performance

Journal Article


Permanent link to this Item
Journal Title

International Biohydrometallurgy Symposium, October 2015, Bali

Journal ISSN
Volume Title

Trans Tech Publications


University of Cape Town

Tank bioleaching of refractory sulphidic gold ores is well established, with potential to expand application to base metal concentrates. With increasing commercial tank bioleaching operations, understanding their microbial consortia is essential for process robustness. Recently, it has been shown that the consortia implicated in tank mineral bioleaching of gold-containing pyritic ores are dynamic, responding to the leaching environment. Factors driving the microbial dynamics of these consortia are under investigation, with emphasis also placed on determining the metabolic role of the key players in these consortia. Here, the combined influence of solids loading and organic carbon availability on microbial community dynamics and performance has been studied in agitated, aerated slurry bioreactors at 45°C. The control (autotrophic) and experimental (organic carbon added) reactors performed comparably at low solids loadings (4%, 7% and 10%). At 20% solids loadings, higher ferric iron concentrations (31 g/L vs 25g/L) and sulphide oxidation (66% vs 45%) were observed in the experimental reactor over the control. Under operating conditions used, a shift from bacterially-dominated cultures with L.ferriphilum as major species towards increasing archaeal abundance was observed. Archaeal abundance was higher in the organic carbon supplemented reactor at all solids loadings. The increased microbial diversity with organic supplementation appears to contribute to increased community robustness and associated leaching with increasing stress.