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Advances in the cyanidation of silver

Minerals & Metallurgical Processing , 2011, Vol. 28, No. 1, pp. 37-43

Deschenes, G.; Rajala, J.; Pratt, A.R.; Guo, H.; Fulton, M.; Mortazavi, S.


Silver minerals are known to have slow leaching rates and low overall extraction and require a high concentration of cyanide and a long retention time to maximize leach extraction. Their response to cyanidation is considered mild to moderately refractory, largely due to complex mineralogical compositions. New research on improving the dissolution of silver minerals in cyanide was performed using high-purity minerals, as well as a high-grade ore sample from the Kupol property, owned 75% by Kinross Gold. The high-purity silver minerals studied in the leach investigations included acanthite, stephanite and pyrargyrite, which were also the predominant silver minerals in the Kupol ore sample. Dissolution of silver from acanthite produced only 37% extraction in 48 hours of leaching with 500 ppm NaCN. Analysis of the leached acanthite surface showed appreciable formation of polysulfide species, which can interfere with silver leaching. Adding lead nitrate into a pretreatment stage increased the acanthite silver extraction to 86.2%. No polysulfide species were formed with the addition of lead nitrate from the surface analysis. Cyanidation of stephanite and pyrargyrite produced very low dissolutions of silver, only 12.6% and 10.4%, respectively, in the absence of lead nitrate. Silver extraction from stephanite improved to 98% by adding lead nitrate directly to the leaching stage, whereas pyrargyrite required a pretreatment with lead nitrate to extract 83.2% Ag. With the addition of lead nitrate, the mineral surfaces had a PbO species and minor amounts of Pb(OH)2 and antimony was oxidized on the stephanite and pyrargyrite surfaces during leaching. There was a much greater concentration of Sb(V) on stephanite relative to pyrargyrite. Therefore, lead forms a redox couple on silver mineral grains and favors the oxidation of silver minerals. The high-grade Kupol sample assayed 22.6 g/t Au and 359.3 g/t Ag following treatment by gravity separation. Gold and silver extractions from the Kupol sample were 94.5% and 82.9%, respectively, using 500 ppm NaCN and 250 g/t lead nitrate. The findings to improve the extraction of silver from the ore sample with lead nitrate addition were congruent with those to improve the extraction of silver from the individual high purity minerals. Pretreatment did not, however, improve gold or silver extraction significantly with the ore sample.