Indirect in situ bioleaching is an emerging tool for accessing deeply buried metal reserves, but can the process be managed? – A case study of copper leaching at 1 km depth

Malin Bomberg, Hanna Miettinen, Réka Hajdu-Rahkama, Aino Maija Lakaniemi, Wojciech Anacki, Kajetan Witecki, Jaakko A. Puhakka, Théodore Ineich, Wickus Slabbert, Päivi Kinnunen

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Abstract

Copper is a strategic raw material widely needed for electrification. One possibility to diversify the supply to answer the market demand is to produce copper with in situ technology. In this study, feasibility of in situ bioleaching of copper was tested in a deep subsurface deposit. During in situ bioleaching of copper, copper is leached using a biologically produced ferric iron solution, which is recycled back to the in situ reactor after valuable metals are recovered, after which the solution is re-oxidized by iron-oxidizing microorganisms (IOB). A rock reactor was constructed in the Rudna Mine at ca 1 km depth and the microbiology and hydrogeochemistry of the water circulated through the reactor after blasting for fracturing the rock was monitored over time. The test site was rich in carbonates requiring large quantities of acid to remove the buffering capacity. The bacterial, archaeal and fungal communities in the rock reactor were monitored and characterized by quantitative polymerase chain reaction (qPCR) and amplicon sequencing, and acidophilic, iron oxidizing activity of the microbial communities during operation and pre- and post-operation phases was tested by cultivation. No acidophilic iron oxidizers were detected in the water samples during construction of the pilot reactor. Acidic leaching solution originating from the underground ferric iron generating bioreactor (FIGB) contained acidophilic IOB, which were also viable after the leach liquor was returned from the rock reactor. In the post-operation phase, when the rock reactor was neutralized with CaCO3/Ca(HCO3)2 solution, to inhibit the acidophilic IOB, iron oxidizing microorganisms were still present in the effluent solution one week after termination of the leaching and start of neutralization. Therefore, the post-operation phase needs further attention to completely stop the activity of added microorganisms. Copper was abundantly leached during the acid wash and leaching phases, proving the concept of deep in situ bioleaching.

Original languageEnglish
Article number103375
JournalEnvironmental Technology and Innovation
Volume32
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - Nov 2023
Publication typeA1 Journal article-refereed

Keywords

  • Acid mine drainage
  • Biomining
  • BIOMOre
  • Copper ore
  • In situ bioleaching
  • Iron oxidation
  • Iron oxidizing bacteria
  • Quantitative PCR
  • Valuable metals

Publication forum classification

  • Publication forum level 1

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Environmental Science
  • Soil Science
  • Plant Science

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