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Biomining &


Prepared By:
Vijay Singh Kunwar1
• Biomining is a broad term that describes
the processing of metal containing ores
and concentrates of metal containing
ore using microbiological technology.

• It is an alternative to more traditional

physical-chemical methods of mineral
Biomining plant
• Commercial biomining are usually
partitioned into two main process

1. Mineral bio-oxidation= process applied

to extract bit expensive metals

2. Bioleaching= applied to the base metal

(inexpensive metals)
• These two terms can be used interchangeably.

• Both of these processes are carried out by

naturally occurring microorganisms.

• So, bio-oxidation and bioleaching are

commercial and economic alternatives to
smelting, roasting, and pressure oxidation.
We will be dealing with

 history of biomining and bioleaching

 what is the nature of micro-organism
 what are the bio-technical process
used to extract the metal?
 what advantages and disadvantages
of the process?
• The application of biomining processes
predates by centuries the understanding of the
role of micro-organism in metal extraction.

• It appears to have been carried out in China at

least 100-200 BC and in Europe and
Scandinavia at least as far back as the second
century AD
History (continued)
• However, the modern era of
biomining began with the discovery
of the bacterium Thiobacillus

The natural habitat of all micro-

organism used in bioleaching are
acid, hot springs, volcanic areas,
natural outcroppings of sulphide
minerals etc.
Microorganisms used in
have several things in

• Are single-celled organisms that multiply

by simple cell division.

• Derive energy for growth and cell

functioning by oxidizing iron and sulfur.
• Obtain carbon for their cellular bodies from
carbon dioxide.

• Require oxygen.

• Requires a sulphuric acid environment to

grow. i.e. pH less than 2

• The microbes can be conveniently

grouped within temperature ranges at
which they grow and where they are
found in the natural environment:
• Ambient temperature bacteria

• grow and function from 10°C to 40°C .

• cylindrical-shaped
• about 1 micrometer (μm) long and ½ μm in

. E.g.. Acidithiobacillus ferrooxidans

Leptospirillum ferrooxidans
Moderately-thermophilic (heat-
• 40-60°C
• Somewhat larger than mesophiles.
• E.g. species of Sulfobacillus and
Acidithiobacillus caldus
Extremely thermophilic
• While similar in size, have different molecular
• Spherical shaped
• Lack rigid cell wall, instead cell contents are
enclosed by a membrane.
• 60-85°C
• E.g.: Acidianus brierleyi, Sulfolobus
metallicus and Metallosphaera sedula.
Fig.: 1 Fig.: 2 Fig.: 3

Fig: 1- Strain of Leptospirillum, Fig: 2- Moderately

thermophilic bacteria, Fig: 3- Acidianus brierleyi
• Leaching widely used extractive
metallurgy technique which converts metal
into soluble salts in aqueous media.2

• Bioleaching uses bacterial micro-organisms

to extract metals from their ores.

• Bacteria feeds on nutrients in minerals,

thereby separating the metal, then the
metal can be collected in the solution.
Series of micrographs showing the
leaching of pyrite in presence of
Bioleaching process applied to
gold extraction

• The extraction of gold from its ore

involves numerous ferrous and
sulphur oxidizing bacteria, including
Acidithiobacillus ferroxidans and
Acidiobacillus thiooxidans.
Stage 1

• Bacteria catalyzes the breakdown of the mineral

arsenopyrite by oxidizing sulphur and metal ( arsenic
ions) and reducing dioxygen by H2 and Fe 3+ .

• This allows the soluble particle to dissolve.

• This process occurs in the bacterial cell membrane.

• The electrons pass into the cell and are used in the
biochemical processes to produce energy for the
bacteria to reduce oxygen molecules to water.

• Reaction involved:

2+ 3+ 6+
FeAsS(s) →Fe (aq) +As (aq) +S (aq)
Stage 2

• bacteria oxidize Fe2+ to Fe3+( while reducing O2)

Fe2+  → Fe3+

• Then they oxidize metal to higher positive oxidation

M3+  → M5+
• With the electrons gained, they reduce Fe3+  to
Fe2+  to continue the cycle.
• Gold is now separated from the ore in solution.
Advantages and
 Advantages:
• Ores and concentrates of lower metal concentration
can be treated economically.
• Arsenic in the concentrates can be removed in an
environmentally stable form.
• Can be applied to smaller deposits in remote locations
due to low infrastructures costs.
• Rapid start up, easy and reliable
• Process takes place at atm.
pressures and low temperatures.
• No emission of SO2 gas.
 Disadvantages:
• Bioleaching is a slow process as
compared to smelting.
• Toxic chemicals like H2SO4 and H+ ions
are produced in the process whose
leakage into the ground and surface
water turns into acidic and causes
environmental damage.
• Are the microbes used in biomining
processes genetically altered?

• Are the microbes used in biomining

processes genetically altered?

• Can biomining be effectively used

extreme environments such as high
altitudes and in cold environments?