Large particle effects in chemical/biochemical heap leach processes – A review

The application of heap leach technology to recovery of economically important metals, notably copper, gold, silver, and uranium, is wide-spread in the mining industry. Unique to heap leaching is the relatively coarse particle size, typically 12–25 mm top size for crushed and agglomerated ores and larger for run-ofmine dump leaching operations. Leaching from such large particles is commonly assumed to follow shrinking core type behaviour, although little evidence for the validity of this assumption exists. This review investigates the current state of knowledge with respect to the understanding of the characteristics and mineralogy of large particles and how these influence leaching in a heap context and the tools to characterize these. This includes the study of ore and particle properties, visualization techniques for ore characterization, the connection between comminution and leaching behaviour, as well as particle models within heap leach modelling. We contend that the economics of heap leaching are strongly governed by the trade-off between the slow rate and limited extent of leaching from large particles and the cost of crushing finer. A sound understanding of the underlying large particle effects will therefore greatly inform future technology choices in the area of heap leaching.