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The search for salt-tolerant microbes for improved bioleaching

By Paul Grad |

In response to water scarcity and declining grades of ore, the mineral processing industry has been investigating ways to improve processes, such as bioleaching to deal with increased impurity concentrations in process streams. Advantages of bioleaching for low-grade ores, such as chalcopyrite, are well known. However, the efficiency of bioleaching is dramatically reduced in moderately brackish or saline water, because anions (for instance Cl– and SO4–2) can acidify microbial cells responsible for bioleaching, resulting in loss of activity or even cell death, and decreasing the overall yields of the process. Researchers from the Environmental and Industrial Biotechnology Team at CSIRO (Perth, Western Australia; www.csiro.au) and the University of Western Australia (Perth; www.uwa.edu.au) are studying how increasing sulfate concentrations can affect the efficiency of chalcopyrite bioleaching with the intent to improve process yields in saline conditions. Using chalcopyrite concentrate sourced from Mount Isa Mines in Queensland, the team studied the efficiency of chalcopyrite bioleaching at mesophilic (30°C), moderately thermophilic (45°C), and thermophilic (60°C) temperatures in the presence of elevated sulfate concentrations. The…
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