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MEI Online: Biotechnology: Latest News: April 23, 2014


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:: Low-cost Bacterial Gold Extraction Suits Rural Setting

Written by Geoff Vivian


A metallurgist based at Curtin University has helped develop a hydrometallurgical method of extracting gold, palladium and platinum from crushed ores using bacteria and chemical leaching.

Prof Jacques Eksteen, who was formerly the group consulting metallurgist at Lonmin Platinum in South Africa, says the research began as a way of addressing costs where conventional smelting methods are not economical.

“We had a deposit in southern Africa which was complex from a metallurgical point of view to extract," he says.

He says they were looking for a method that cuts out capital-intensive operations like milling, floatation, smelting, pressure-leaching; as well as water intensive, electricity intensive and labour intensive operations which have high skills requirements.

Rather than feeding the ore into a smelter, it is crushed, heaped into PVC columns, and inoculated with a thermophile bacterium that generates heat while digesting the ore, leaving the precious metals exposed.


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