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A bioleaching process moves closer to commercialization

By Gerald Ondrey |

In February 2009, Talvivaara Mining Company Plc. (Espoo, Finland; www.talvivaara.com) delivered its first in a series of commercial shipments of metals to Norilsk Nickel Harjavalta refinery in Finland. Talvivaara expanded the crushing circuit and has restarted the metals precipitation process in September of 2009. Talvivaara expects to continue its production ramp-up targeted at eventually achieving up to 50,000 m.t./yr in nickel production in 2012 at the multi-metals ore deposit in Sotkamo, Finland. The operations — consisting of mining, crushing, leaching and metals recovery — utilize a bioleaching process developed in collaboration with several companies and research institutions, including Tampere University of Technology. Bioleaching is said to be more environmentally friendly for extracting metals than traditional smelting because it generates no gaseous emissions and requires less energy. In the process (diagram), the crushed ore is piled on a pad into 8-m-high stacks. Piping at the bottom of the heap supplies aeration to the stacked ore. A leach solution, containing mesophilic and thermophilic bacteria indigenous to the region, is circulated through the stack from the top. As the bacteria oxidize large quantities…
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