Electrochemical Applications in Metal Bioleaching
Biohydrometallurgy comprises the recovery of metals by biologically catalyzed metal dissolution from solids in an aqueous solution. The application of this kind of bioprocessing is described as “biomining,” referring to either bioleaching or biooxidation of sulfide metal ores. Acidophilic iron- and sulfur-oxidizing microorganisms are the key to successful biomining. However, minerals such as primary copper sulfides are recalcitrant to dissolution, which is probably due to their semiconductivity or passivation effects, resulting in low reaction rates. Thus, further improvements of the bioleaching process are recommendable. Mineral sulfide dissolution is based on redox reactions and can be accomplished by electrochemical technologies. The impact of electrochemistry on biohydrometallurgy affects processing as well as analytics. Electroanalysis is still the most widely used electrochemical application in mineralogical research.
Electrochemical processing can contribute to bioleaching in two ways. The first approach is the coupling of a mineral sulfide to a galvanic partner or electrocatalyst (spontaneous electron transfer). This approach requires only low energy consumption and takes place without technical installations by the addition of higher redox potential minerals (mostly pyrite), carbonic material, or electrocatalytic ions (mostly silver ions). Consequently, the processed mineral (often chalcopyrite) is preferentially dissolved. The second approach is the application of electrolytic bioreactors (controlled electron transfer). The electrochemical regulation of electrolyte properties by such reactors has found most consideration. It implies the regulation of ferrous and ferric ion ratios, which further results in optimized solution redox potential, less passivation effects, and promotion of microbial activity.
However, many questions remain open and it is recommended that reactor and electrode designs are improved, with the aim of finding options for simplified biohydrometallurgical processing. This chapter focuses on metal sulfide dissolution via bioleaching and does not include other biohydrometallurgical processes such as microbial metal recovery from solution.
KeywordsAcidophilic bacteria Bioleaching Biomining Electrochemical processing Mineral sulfides Passivation
Atomic force microscope
Energy dispersive X-ray spectroscopy
Extracellular electron transfer
Electrochemical impedance spectroscopy
Metallic cation (divalent)
Open circuit potential
Oxidation reduction potential (solution redox potential)
Saturated calomel electrode
X-ray photoelectron spectroscopy
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