An Investigation of Leaching Chalcopyrite Ore
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The abiotic leaching behavior of a chalcopyrite ore, from Asarco’s Ray-Mine, was conducted in shake flasks and miniature columns at elevated temperatures. The shake flask tests, with an ore particle size of 1.18mm-2.38mm, found the highest Cu extraction was obtained using 1M NaCl in a 9.8g/L sulphuric acid solution at 60°C, with 69% Cu extracted in 16 days. The next highest extraction, 59% Cu extracted in 16 days, was achieved by adding fine pyrite at a 4:1wt ratio with the chalcopyrite content, in a 9.8g/L sulphuric acid solution at 60°C. Flask tests using other lixiviants and additions found copper extractions in the range of 30-40% Cu after 16 days. In the mini-column tests, the rates of copper extraction were similar for all test conditions. The rate of Cu extraction, even with a small particle size of 1.18mm-2.38mm and an elevated temperature of 50°C, was slow for all test conditions with an average rate of ~0.15% Cu per day. The conceptual engineering of a hot, abiotic heap-leach for low-grade chalcopyrite ore, including hypothetical heat and mass balances was conducted. The leaching time for a commercial operation was estimated from published data on laboratory column leaching of chalcopyrite ores and extrapolated to a commercial heap-leach by analogy with known leaching times for chalcocite ores. In commercial abiotic heap-leaches of chalcopyrite ore, the partial oxidation reactions generate insignificant heat to maintain an elevated heap temperature therefore the heat required to maintain the elevated temperature must be provided externally. In commercial biotic chalcopyrite heap-leaches, the in-situ total oxidation reaction generates more heat than the abiotic reactions but is still insufficient to rapidly raise and maintain an elevated heap temperature. For a low-grade Chalcopyrite heap-leach the most practical method of providing this heat is by injecting steam into the base of the heap using current air injection pipes. An external oxidant is required and for an abiotic heap-leach external ferric generation will be required.