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MEI Online: Biotechnology: Latest News: May 30th 2003


:: Copper to Benefit from New Bioleach Project

A new project addressing important issues in minerals recovery is expected to be of significant benefit to the copper industry.

Project P768, Improved Heap Bioleaching, will investigate important issues in the use of biological agents in the recovery of minerals.

Major benefits to sponsors of the project will be access to quantitative descriptions of the microbial, mineral and transport processes critical to heap bioleach design and operation, a greatly improved predictive model for bioleach processes and preferential access to project resources (expertise, procedures, tools) for sponsors wishing to conduct 1:1 confidential projects.

The new project, initiated at industry request, is being facilitated for industry by AMIRA International, the mineral industries research association.

P768 will be an international research collaboration. It brings together global specialised, complementary skills and experience from University of Cape Town, CSIRO, and University of British Columbia. It will feature work on simulation of heaps from laboratory to industrial heap scale and involve a working heap leach to generate operational data and validation of the experimental program.

An independent evaluation of potential techno-economic benefits of the heap bioleaching project to sponsors in the copper industry concluded that the project could deliver strategies that allow 80% copper recovery from chalcocite in 150 days and 80% copper recovery from chalcopyrite in 250 days.

The potential value of such strategies is 6 US¢ (10 AU¢) per pound copper for a typical Australian operation and 5 US¢ (9 AU¢) per pound copper for a typical South American operation. Typically, a small operation producing 20 million pounds could expect $US 1 million benefit per annum.

Major benefits accrue through:

  • Production of copper from chalcopyrite.
  • Reduction in chalcocite working capital due to faster leaching.
  • Reduction in operating costs of chalcocite heap.
  • Chalcocite mine life extension (Australian case).

Sponsors already include companies from South Africa, Australia, North America such as Rio Tinto, WMC, BHP Billiton, Placer Ltd, Phelps Dodge and Straits Resources. Additional sponsorship is invited.


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