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Thermodynamic and experimental analysis of copper sulfide precipitation in copper-cyanide solutions

Minerals & Metallurgical Processing , 2015, Vol. 32, No. 1, pp. 22-29

Jimenez-Velasco, C.; Nava-Alonso, F.; Uribe-Salas, A.; Alonso-Gonzalez, O.


Most of the gold produced worldwide is still obtained by cyanidation, in spite of the difficulties encountered in the processing of some gold ores such as the dissolution of copper-bearing minerals in cyanide solutions. The leached copper forms complexes with cyanide and causes several operating problems, which have led to the development of copper removal/recovery processes, among them the industrially accepted SART process (sulfidization, acidification, recycling and thickening). Although the SART process is in use in gold production plants around the world, new challenges are appearing with the continuous varying of the mineralogy of ores (such as higher copper grades, changing the solution composition and complexity). The optimal SART operating conditions for a specific solution are not the same when the composition of the solution changes; consequently, the efficiency of this process can decrease. The present study is a thermodynamic approach, corroborated by laboratory experiments, to explain how the main variables of the process affect the efficiency of copper precipitation as cuprous sulfide (Cu2S). The variables considered were pH value, copper concentration, cyanide/copper molar ratio and sulfur/copper molar ratio, all of which were varied within the limits encountered in typical cyanidation solutions presenting the problem of copper. It was found that the variable that most affects the efficiency of the process was the pH value, since poor or no control of it can cause cuprous sulfide redissolution. The S/Cu molar ratio is also important: raising this ratio increases copper removal, but high ratios will also cause sulfide and cyanide losses. The effect of changing the CN/Cu molar ratio was negligible between 4 and 8. For a solution containing 300 mg/L copper and 490 mg/L cyanide, copper removal as high as 98.8% can be obtained with the addition of 0.6 moles of sulfide per mole of copper at pH = 6.