The bacterial leaching of a low-grade chalcopyrite waste rock in a lixiviant containing thermophilic, Sulfolobus-like microorganisms at 60°C and a lixiviant containing Thiobacillus ferrooxidans at 28°C has been compared with the leaching in sterile lixiviant in terms of copper solubilized in elapsed time and the conversion of Fe3+ Fe2+. Bacterial action has been shown to drastically increase the ratio Fe3+ Fe2+ with elapsed time of leaching. Direct observations of the associated pyrite and chalcopyrite surface corrosion, utilizing scanning electron microscopy, showed that during the leaching of these sulfides as separate, non-contacting phases, the pyrite corroded more rapidly than the chalcopyrite in both sterile and inoculated media. This effect was more pronounced at elevated temperature and in the presence of bacteria. When the pyrite and chalcopyrite were in contact, the resulting galvanic interaction caused the chalcopyrite to corrode more rapidly than the pyrite, which was effectively passivated. The leaching of chalcopyrite is thereby enhanced in contact with pyrite. This effect is accelerated in the presence of bacteria. The corrosion of chalcopyrite was also markedly enhanced as a result of the oxidation of elemental sulfur (formed during the reaction) to sulfuric acid. This reaction was also accelerated by bacterial catalysis. The important implications of the enhanced chalcopyrite corrosion by galvanic interaction in the leaching of low-grade chalcopyrite waste and other galvanic-contact regimes involving metal sulfides are identified and discussed.
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Geochemistry and Petrology
- Geotechnical Engineering and Engineering Geology