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Leaching characteristics of copper refractory ore in sulfate media

Minerals & Metallurgical Processing , 2011, Vol. 28, No. 4, pp. 208-214

van der Merwe, R.; Kasaini, H.


Refractory copper ores (CROs) in Central Africa contain copper minerals that are locked up in a micacious solid matrix or associated with carbonate, sulfide and phosphate minerals. Several researchers have reported that the recovery of copper from CRO material by an acid-leaching process is not economically feasible, due to the presence of excess gangue-acid-consuming minerals such as calcites, dolomite, asbolane and iron oxides. Since the proportion of acid-insoluble copper (CuS) is about 28% of total copper and total free sulfur is extremely small, sulfide flotation was considered unfavorable. Consequently, hundreds of millions of tons of CRO material have been stockpiled specifically at the Nchanga mine of Zambia. In terms of copper distribution in CRO material, a significant portion of total copper exists as carbonates (39%) and oxides (17%), while 28% of the copper is acid-insoluble (CuS). The rest of the copper is in the form of carbonates (16%) and (hydr) oxides (17%). This means that only about 72% of total copper is recoverable through the non-oxidative acid-leaching process. In this study, batch leach tests were performed on CRO solids (d95 = 95%) to establish the gangue acid consumption values at different feed pH values and to evaluate the leaching characteristics of copper, manganese and iron within the CRO material. Subsequently, continuous leach tests were performed on CRO solids (106 um, 80% passing) using optimum leach conditions derived from batch tests. This paper aims to show that sustainable copper recovery can be achieved by selecting leaching conditions whereby gangue acid consumption (GAC) values become significantly small and the final concentration of manganese and iron in the leach solution are appreciably low.