Bioleaching to reprocess sulfidic polymetallic primary mining residues: Determination of metal leaching mechanisms

Agathe Hubau*, Anne Gwénaëlle Guezennec, Catherine Joulian, Carmen Falagán, David Dew, Karen A. Hudson-Edwards

*Corresponding author for this work

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The mining of non-ferrous metals produces the largest volume of metal-containing, extractive waste in Europe, and about 29% of all the waste produced in the EU-28. In the framework of the European project NEMO (Near-zero-waste recycling of low-grade sulfidic mining waste for critical-metal, mineral and construction raw-material production in a circular economy), new ways to valorize sulfidic tailings are being developed through the recovery of valuable metals and critical raw materials and the transformation of the residual in clean mineral fraction to be used for the mass production of cement, concrete and construction products. The first step of the NEMO concept consists of removing the sulfides remaining from primary bioleaching and extracting the metals in the residual material (known as ‘secondary ore’) using either enhanced bioleaching or an alkaline autoclave conversion processes. This paper focuses on one of the project case studies, the secondary ore, obtained from an operating heap leaching plant (Terrafame, Finland). This material still contains several sulfide minerals (pyrrhotite, pyrite, sphalerite, pentlandite, violarite, chalcopyrite) and significant amounts of metals (Zn, Ni, Cu, Co, rare earth elements). The study aimed to characterize the mineralogy of the secondary ore and perform bioleaching in 2 L-stirred tank reactors, with three microbial cultures growing at 42, 48 and 55 °C. These results were compared to abiotic experiments, performed under the same conditions. Nickel was released very quickly, suggesting that part of Ni dissolved in the primary heap was re-precipitated and remained in the secondary ore. By contrast, Cu dissolution was much slower but the kinetics were substantially improved when the temperature was increased to 55 °C. Cobalt dissolution kinetics were highly improved by the bacterial activity, whatever the consortium. This is consistent with the presence of Co in the pyrite in the secondary ore.

Original languageEnglish
Article number105484
Number of pages14
Early online date20 Sept 2020
Publication statusPublished - Nov 2020


  • Bioleaching
  • Chalcopyrite
  • Mine waste
  • Nickel
  • Pyrrhotite
  • Temperature


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