Enrichment and characterisation of thermophilic acidophiles for the bioleaching of mineral sulphides

CSIRO Land and Water, Western Australian Laboratory, Private Bag No. 5 Wembley WA 6913, Australia; A.J. Parker Cooperative Research Centre for Hydrometallurgy, CSIRO Minerals, PO Box 90, Beutley, WA 6982, Australia; CSIRO Marine Research, GPO Box 1538, Hobart, Tasmania 7001, Australia
Minerals Engineering (Impact Factor: 1.71). 11/2002; 15(11):787-794. DOI: 10.1016/S0892-6875(02)00117-6

ABSTRACT Thermophilic acidophilic Archaea were enriched from samples collected from geothermally active sites in Papua New Guinea. Pure cultures (JP2 and JP3) were obtained from mixed culture enrichments and were characterised and tested for their bioleaching ability. All cultures possessed Sulfolobus-like morphology, and the presence of distinctive cyclized tetraether lipids. The two pure cultures were identified by their 16S rRNA gene sequences as being most closely related to Sulfolobus solfataricus. Each isolate was able to oxidise both Fe2+ and sulphur, and grow on both pyrite and chalcopyrite under autotrophic conditions. Leaching experiments showed that the isolates were capable of rapidly leaching a chalcopyrite concentrate (up to 91% Cu release in 108 h). Optimal temperatures for growth and chalcopyrite leaching were determined for each strain. Chalcopyrite dissolution rates for JP2 at different temperatures were determined using a previously described kinetic model. An Arrhenius plot to investigate the relationship between dissolution rate and temperature, showed that for JP2, an increase in temperature from 70 to 83 °C resulted in a 6.6-fold rate increase. Studies with both mixed and pure cultures showed that these cultures were capable of rapidly leaching a chalcopyrite concentrate at very high temperatures (up to 90 °C), but also were capable of bioleaching at 50 °C. These thermophilic acidophiles possess the ability to bioleach over a wide range of temperatures. They are potentially well suited to industrial leaching applications where considerable temperature fluctuations limit the growth of other non-thermophilic bioleaching microorganisms.

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