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Simulation technology to support base metal ore heap leaching

C. R. Bennett*1, D. McBride1, M. Cross1, J. E. Gebhardt2 and D. A. Taylor2


A simulation framework is outlined for the analysis of the operation of both the heap and the associated water balance circuit for the leaching of primary metal ores. The heap simulation is based on a detailed computational model of the leaching process. The process chemistry, including reactants in the gasliquidsolid matrix, gas flow, variably saturated liquid flow, species transport in both phases, heat transport, and biomass growth and catalysis, is accounted for in models that are equally applicable to simple and complex geometries. The leaching models are contained within the PHYSICA computational modelling environment that includes a powerful multiphase computational fluid dynamic (CFD) solver enabling reactive flow simulation through arbitrarily complex geometries. Tools have been developed in one-, two- and three-dimensions to capture a variety of aspects of the leaching process behaviour. By careful choice of tools, the framework can be applied to a wide range of leaching problems from small scale (e.g. analysis of column tests and drip emitter spacing) through to full scale heap simulation. An optimised version of the heap leach model is itself embedded within a simulation environment that exploits the BILCO mass balance software to enable dynamic simulation of the water balance within the whole plant circuit.
Keywords: Leaching, Bioleaching, Numerical modelling, Reactive transport

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Introduction
Hydrometallurgical problems, such as stockpile leaching for metal recovery (Bartlett, 1998; Davenport et al., 2002), provide considerable challenges in the development of effective computational models owing to the wide range of physical and chemical phenomena present. These phenomena include a series of interacting physicochemical processes, including the transport of rafnate and air through the porous stockpile, a sequence of highly interdependent gasliquidsolid reactions, including the impact of a bacterial population as a catalyst of the reaction sequence, and the generation and transport of thermal energy. In addition, there are considerable challenges in capturing and managing the data from the plant to parameterise the simulation and the simulation itself, which provides large amounts of detailed information throughout the heap and its lifetime. Typically, such problems concern large heaps (generally with a width and depth of hundreds of metres) of low grade ore reacting over timescales that may be measured in months to years. This means that it is very difcult to evaluate the impact of process design and
1 2

School of Engineering, University of Wales Swansea, Singleton Park, Swansea SA2 8PP, Wales, UK Process Engineering Resources, Inc., 1945 S 1100 E Ste 100, Salt Lake City, UT 84106, USA *Corresponding author, email c.r.bennett@swansea.ac.uk

control systems on the operation of the heap in a reliable fashion. As such, a variety of tools are required to support process engineers in the optimal design and operation of stockpile leaching operations with respect to both overall recovery and efciency. Unsurprisingly, there has been an enduring interest for over 25 years in the development of mathematical models of stockpile leaching processes to provide effective engineering management tools. For example, in the context of copper heap leaching, Wadsworth and co-workers (Braun et al., 1974; Madsen and Wadsworth, 1981) have played a major role in developing the concept of the shrinking core model (Szekely et al., 1976) to characterise the set of chemical reactions that comprise the main phenomena involved. This pioneering work was then utilised rst by Cathles and Apps (1975) and Cathles and Schlitt (1980), and then by Paul et al. (1992a, b) to develop models of copper sulphide heap leaching. More recently, Casas et al. (1993, 1998) have developed a two-dimensional model of the process involving an explicit representation of the biological effects. Although the researchers of these models recognized all the phenomena that must be represented to characterise leaching effectively, a combination of limitations in numerical algorithms and computer technology forced a variety of simplications to enable numerical solutions in practical simulation times. The multiphase transport phenomena represent a signicant challenge in the modelling of stockpile leaching processes, and Ritchie and co-workers have

2006 Institute of Materials, Minerals and Mining and The AusIMM Published by Maney on behalf of the Institute and The AusIMM Received 10 November 2005; accepted 13 December 2005 DOI 10.1179/174328506X91347

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made a signicant contribution to this problem using commercial computational uid dynamic (CFD) technologies (Davis and Ritchie, 1986; Pantelis and Ritchie, 1992; Anne and Pantelis, 1997). Aside from using models to assess the impact of the generation and transport of heat in heap leach operations (Dixon and Hendrix, 1993a, b; Dixon 2000), Dixon and co-workers have also made signicant contributions to full process models with simplied uid mechanics. Bouffard and Dixon (2003) described work on refractory gold ores, and Dixon (2003) and Dixon and Petersen (2003) examined chalcocite based ores. Recently, Leahy et al. (2003, 2004, 2005) have developed models of chalcocite leaching processes involving unsaturated ow, chemical reactions, component transport and thermal processes using the CFX CFD software technology (www.ansys. com). While these and others have made important contributions to heap leach modelling, the complexity of the process and the resulting mathematical model formulations have so far resulted in limited success in the development and application of fully comprehensive simulation tools. The objectives of the work reported here include the development of a suite of simulation tools to support the comprehensive computational modelling and process analysis of heap leach systems, as a basis for process design and optimisation.

1 Overview of HeapNET heap leach simulation technology

Heap leach simulation tool set


The main tools and component models contained within a simulation environment for the comprehensive modelling and analysis of heap leaching systems are as follows: (i) liquid flow and species transport, including dealing with variably saturated flow through heterogeneous media (ii) gas flow and species transport through heterogeneous media with varying saturation levels (iii) chemical reactions within and between mass transfer between the gas liquid and solid phases, including the dissolution of primary minerals of interest, gangue reactions, precipitation reactions, regeneration of reagents within the liquid phase, partitioning of species between liquid and gas phases, e.g. oxygen and water vapour (evaporation/condensation) (iv) bacterial catalysis of chemical reactions, including bacterial population growth, death and transport, andmultiple bacteria types for catalysis of different chemistry and potentially for different temperature regimes (v) heat transport, including heat from chemical reactions, external weather effects, and heat transport by movement of gas and liquid phases (vi) modelling of the water balance in natural environments with high and variable precipitation to ensure the efficacy of the arrangements made to cope with extreme weather and operational events (vii) data input and output, and usability, covering a suitable user interface for data input; data management including management of past simulations; and data output in the form of: plots of species output in the pregnant leach solution recovered from the modelled system, plots of mineral reactions and reagent use

against time, contour plots showing remaining minerals and solution inventory in space and in time, and animations showing system behaviour over time. In the present paper, a simulation environment is outlined to address all the above issues in a coherent fashion and in particular, to manage the raw data and information associated with all aspects of the process relevant to its analysis. This environment is based on four main software tools: (i) a CFD simulation software tool in this case, the flow module of the PHYSICA multiphysics simulation are employed (www.physica.co.uk) (ii) a CFD modelling support environment to provide geometry definition, mesh generation and results visualisation tools in this work, FEMGV (www.femsys.co.uk) has been used (iii) an interactive simulation toolkit for resolving mass and material balances in complex flow sheets the tool used here is Bilco (www. processeng.com). A user environment to encapsulate the information required for data rationalisation, structuring and storage in a database, simulation set-up, management and results analysis this is achieved here in the HeapNET environment (www.processeng.com) which itself is built within Visual Studio.NET using SQL as the core database technology and employing Excel as a results analysis tool. A representation of the heap leaching simulation technology is shown in Fig. 1. HeapNET manages all the communication with the other tools used within the environment. Importantly, it provides the user with opportunities to specify simulation scenarios, to control which simulation results are saved and then to dialogue with the visualisation tool to obtain the graphical plots (and movies). The user is only aware of using the HeapNET user environment; this generates a variety of scripts dynamically to call the mesh generation, visualisation and solver tools to build, run and explore the results of a simulation series for all applications, but the full 3D simulations (although this is currently under development). The simulation tools currently consist of the following: (i) a 1D simulation of laboratory columns; this is a key tool both with respect to parameterising a specific ore with respect to reaction rates, and also as a vehicle for validation

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(ii) a 2D slice simulation of full heaps; this is where a vertical plane through the heap using depth averaged properties is used to examine a variety of phenomena, particularly the coupling between the liquid and gas flows, and the emerging thermal distributions (iii) the water balance model that contains a reduced 3D model of the heap; here the focus of the tool is on the evaluation of the solution distribution not only through the heap, but also in the complete circuit, particularly to examine the impact of operational strategies on pond volumes against available capacity. Scenarios, such as 100 year weather events and/or drain down owing to operational malfunction, are of special interest to process operations (iv) a full 3D model of the heap which captures the full behaviour over its lifetime; not only does this enable an ongoing audit of performance of a heap and accurate prediction of its future performance, but also enable the evaluation of a number of future operational strategies for the most beneficial options with respect to a number of possibly conflicting criteria. Each of the above tools has a specic role. Obviously, their use is inuenced by both the volume of data that they produce versus that which is required for a specic purpose and the time taken for the computations. Typically: (i) the 1D simulation of laboratory column experiments involving a ,150 day operation require ,2 min of elapsed time on a current generation PC (ii) a 2D slice simulation involving three lifts over 450 days operation could take on the order of an hour with the same PC (iii) the water balance model with the reduced dimension simplified heap leach model would take about a minute for a days worth of operation (iv) the full 3D model with ,250 K cells takes ,4 h of simulation for each months worth of operational time.

2 Heap leach model computational generic macrosolution procedure

In the case of gold heap leaching by cyanide, the principal reactions are cyanide with gold, silver, copper and gangue minerals. There are no substantial thermal effects and owing to the low oxygen requirements, the system is not dependent on gas ow. In this case, the heat transport, gas ow and bacteria tools are not required for an adequate gold heap model. In the case of copper sulphide ore, leaching is highly dependent on bacterial activity to catalyse the dissolution of copper through the generation of ferric (Fe3z), which is the dominant reagent, from ferrous ions (Fe2z) and oxygen. Many of the reactions are exothermic and thermal effects can be signicant. In this case, a comprehensive model will depend on all of the above tools as oxygen and, therefore gas ow, are of crucial importance. The representation of the component phenomena comprising the phenomenological physical model and the approach to their solution is briey summarised in the following sections. However, there are more detailed discussions of the model formulations and solution strategies described in Bennett et al. (2003a, b), Cross et al. (2005) and McBride et al. (2005a, b).

Variably saturated liquid flow


Heaps under leach are subject to an application of a solution of reactants and occasional rain events. Heaps may internally be made up of different ores leading to considerable heterogeneity, leading to widely varying ow conditions and therefore levels of saturation. Other phenomena that can inuence ow conditions include decrepitation of the substrate, compaction, precipitation of salts from the liquid phase and transport of nes (e.g. clay). Compaction can, to a certain extent, be modelled through appropriate use of heterogeneity. Decrepitation would only be an issue where large proportions of the solid phase are soluble, which is not typical for these kinds of problems addressed here. Precipitation is easily modelled and nes can be dealt with through the use of appropriate rules. Flow through variably saturated porous media is typically characterised by the Richards equation. The mixed form of the Richards equation is written in terms of two unknown variables, moisture content h and the pressure head h, where K is the hydraulic conductivity Lh LK (h) ~+K (h)+hz (1) Lt Lz there are a number of potential models to use to describe

Underlying computational modelling approach


The computational modelling approach requires the solution of coupled liquid and gas ows through porous media, reactions between the phases and with the host solid media, resulting in the exchange of mass and the generation or loss of heat. These phenomena are best modelled these days by CFD simulation tools that facilitate the modelling of ow based transport processes. The approach adopted here exploits the CFD module within the multiphysics modelling software environment PHYSICA, which employs state of the art nite volume methods on an unstructured mesh in one-, two- and three-dimensions and has the added benet of running scalably in parallel should simulation run times become signicant (www.physica.co.uk). Figure 2 illustrates the generic macrosolution procedure for the heap leach model.

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the unsaturated hydraulic conductivity. The model most commonly employed by the hydrology community and used within in the present work is that of van Genuchten (1980), where the moisture h and hydraulic conductivity K are dened by ( hsat {hres h v0 : hres z 1 m zjahjn (2) h~ h 0 hsat K~  Ksat h{hres hsat {hres 1=2 ( h{hres 1{ 1{ hsat {hres "  1=m #m )2 (3)

air injection or air convection via its exposed slopes. Air ow will also inuence the heat balance. Air ow within the heap is subject to the same range of heterogeneous ow conditions as the liquid phase but in addition, must respond to liquid ow and saturation. There is essentially a one way coupling between liquid and gas phase ow (with liquid ow inuencing gas ow but not the reverse) through the alteration of the voidage owing to changing moisture levels. The basic continuity equation for gas phase ow is Lrg zdiv rg vg ~Sg (5) Lt where rg is the gas density, Sg a source term for gas and vg the gas velocity, given by vg ~{ kin kg (S) g +p zrg g+z eg mg (6)

where a and n are material parameters that affect the shape of the soil hydraulic functions and m5121/n. The equation for solute transport through porous materials has been described by Bear (1972). The transport algorithm is coupled with the ow module through the moisture content h and Darcy ux

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qxi ~{k(h)

L(hzz) Lxi

with kin is the intrinsic permeability of the porous media, eg is the volume fraction of the gas phase, mg is the gas viscosity and kg(S) is the unsaturated permeability of the gas at liquid saturation (S), related to the liquid unsaturated permeability kl(S) by kg (S )~1{kl (S) (7)

where z is the elevation head. Modelling this type of ow has presented something of a challenge to the computational community. Saturated and unsaturated ows have individually been well described but systems containing both saturated and unsaturated regions offer considerable problems. Various versions of the classical Richards equation have been proposed in the past and used to provide the basis of specic numerical solution procedures. A method originally suggested by Celia et al. (1990) combined with a transformation and proposed by Pan and Wierenga (1995) has been shown to have the potential to be a fast, numerically robust scheme. A computational procedure based on an extension of the above method into a fully unstructured context has been implemented for modelling variably saturated ow in leach systems with variable material properties and arbitrarily complex three-dimensional geometries by McBride et al. (2005b), and forms the basis of the liquid ow scheme for the heap leach models used in the present work. The production and consumption of species is given by the reaction module and enters the transport equation as a source term S. The continuity equation for convectivedispersive transport of multiple solutes in porous media is given by L(hC i ) (4) {+(hD+C i )z+(qC i )~S i Lt where Ci is the concentration of species i in the solution phase and Si the production or consumption of species i. Dij is the dispersion coefcient that only becomes signicant in fully saturated ows.

the gas source term combines the effects of thermal gradients, the mass of gas displaced by any change in volume in the element owing to a change in liquid phase saturation, boundary conditions, evaporation and condensation, and mass transfer between gas and liquid phases. An equation of the same form as equation (4) is used to transport the species in the gas phase.

Heat balance
Factors affecting heat balance in the heap are heat generated by chemical reactions, the heat of liquid and gas entering the heap, external temperature and solar radiation, and evaporation and condensation. The heat balance in the heap can be solved using the temperature conservation equation L rcp T (8) zdiv rucp T ~divK +T zST Lt where cp is the specic heat, r the density, u the velocity vector, K the thermal conductivity, T the temperature and ST any heat source, incorporating heat of reaction, evaporation and condensation, rafnate and gas temperature, and weather effects. A single mixture temperature is calculated for the whole system with properties dependent on average thermal properties based on the solid, liquid and gas fractions present in each element. Heat energy generated (or lost) from all of the implemented chemical reactions is then converted into a temperature rise.

Gas phase transport


Oxygen can be important in any system containing signicant sulphurous minerals, such as many copper ores and pyrite containing ores. In these leach environments where oxygen is an important reagent, a gas transport model will be crucial. Although the primary species transported via gas ow is oxygen, water vapour, controlled by condensation and evaporation, may also be of interest. Oxygen mainly enters the heap through

Chemical reactions
Mineral reactions are solved by dividing the ore into discrete size fractions with characteristic radii and mineral concentrations. Solid reaction kinetics are modelled using a shrinking core reaction to link pore diffusion and rate kinetics, both being heavily dependent on the particle diameter, then solved for each mineral across a set of size fractions. The equation used to calculate the rate of dissolution of a particular mineral is

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4 Copper and ferric output from column 3 Copper recovery against time

given by drm ~ dt 3rm Mi Deff co Am { 2 4pr2 o rore xi 3Deff ro co z2(ro {rm )rm (1{ep )Am

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(9)

where ro is the initial particle radius, rm the current mineral radius, Am comes from the kinetic rate equation for the current mineral, R is the gas constant, T the temperature in Kelvin, Deff the effective rock diffusion coefcient, ep the rock voidage, rore the ore density, Mi the molecular weight of the mineral and xi the mass fraction of the mineral. The value of Am comes from the general expression for the kinetic rate equations, such as those produced by Paul et al. (1992a, b), where the general form is db ~A: exp ({B=RT ) (10) dt where b is the fraction of mineral reacted, and A and B are functions of the individual kinetic rate equation. Liquid phase reactions, including precipitation, are modelled using individual kinetics for each reaction.

code to provide an environment that is tailored to the requirements of the particular model. This enables features of the model that do not concern the user to be hidden and allows the required data input to be broadly accessible through forms. The same approach can be stretched to govern databases of simulation sets and manage data output, which can be in the form of spreadsheets, contour plots and even animations through the use of appropriate visualisation software. More details of the user environment design and performance are described in Gebhardt et al. (2005). For complex 3D geometries, building the discretised domain or mesh that describes the problem requires additional third party mesh generation tools; in the present work, FEMGV (www.femsys.co.uk) was used for both this task and the results visualisation.

Applications
Column simulation
A common practice in testing minerals for heap leach suitability is column testing. Typically, these tests are carried out in a combination of columns from 0.05 m diameter and ,1.5 m high to 2 m in diameter and up to 6 m high. The experimentally measured parameters are typically the grade of the ore, the particle size distribution and the bulk density (equivalently the voidage). Column tests results provide the rate of ow and contents of the pregnant solution throughout the leach cycle. These tests are ideal for parameterising and validating the core model as they are performed under well controlled conditions. Typically, the model is parameterised using the small scale laboratory tests and validated on data from a 2 m column test. Because the solution ow is greatly simplied in these cases, the main emphasis is on validating the chemical components of the model. The example presented here is for a run of mine chalcocite ore in a 6 m tall column under ferric (Fe3z) leach. Air is pumped in through the base so that there is plentiful oxygen. Over the course of the test, the ferric solution is applied on a cycle of 90 days on, 30 days off, 30 days on then a nal rest period of 10 days. The ore contains 0.65% copper in the form of chalcocite (Cu2S), 2% pyrite with a particle size distribution whose average diameter is in the order of 10 cm. The solution applied contains 4 g L21 of ferric and is at pH 0.8. There has been signicant interest in modelling chalocite heap leaching in recent times and so one

Bacteria kinetics
In copper sulphide and pyrite systems, bacteria drive the oxidation of ferrous ions to the primary reactant of ferric and also oxidise sulphur to form acid. There may be some resident population of bacteria, such as acidothiobacillus ferro-oxidans, naturally occurring in the heap, but in the case of copper heap leaching, it is common to inoculate the reactant solution. There are numerous bacteria species that catalyse these reactions so it is difcult to model individual species. Instead, bacteria are modelled as generic ferrous or sulphur oxidisers. Each bacteria species can exist in the liquid phase or attached to mineral surfaces and can transfer between the two states, allowing the bacteria to build up a healthy population and spread through the heap when the conditions are conducive. The specic model implemented in the present work is not dissimilar from that of Leahy et al. (2005) using ideas originally drawn from Neuburg et al. (1991) and developed by Petersen and Dixon (2003).

Data input and output, and usability


Visual Studio.NET technologies can be used to create a user interface that wraps around the core simulation

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7 Saturation under steady state conditions

5 Schematic of 2D slice model test case

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would expect to see a good comparison between the predicted and measured overall recovery and indeed, Fig. 3 shows just such a match. However, more difcult to match is the daily recovery and composition of the pregnant solution leaving the column. Figure 4 shows that both the copper and the ferric in the pregnant leach solution leaving the column are well matched although there is some initial overestimation of copper recovery in the rst 20 days.

state. As expected, the area close to the wall on the left hand side reaches as high as 70% saturation in this simulation. The toes of both stacks remain relatively dry and little leaching will occur here over time.

3D simulation of whole heap


The results presented here are taken from a threedimensional full heap simulation used to model a gold silvercopper oxide ore under cyanide leach. Figure 8 shows part of the complex mesh required to represent a section of the full heap, where the lifts are clearly visible and the shading captures each of the areas under leach at the same time. Figure 9 shows solution application at the top surface, the ow pattern through a cross-section of the heap and the corresponding saturation at the base. As is clear, there are considerable variations in the level of saturation within the heap, which itself can have a signicant impact on the recovery of gold. Figure 10 shows the CN concentration in solution within a cross-section of the heap, as well as the gold in the solution and that retained within the ore. Knowledge of these distributions is important for a number of reasons including: (i) assessing the inventory remaining within the heap and how it is held (ii) considering changes to operating strategies to recover gold that has somehow become trapped within the heap either in the solution or still within the ore.

Flow patterns in leaching ore dumped against slope: 2D slice simulations


An example of using the 2D slice version of the model is for two similar materials stacked against a slope as shown in Fig. 5. The stack is 10 m high and 10 m across at the base. The ore is basically the same run of mine material as used in the previous example, with the material in area 1 with a solid fraction of 65% and in area 2 a solid fraction of 59%. In addition, the saturated conductivity of area 1 is 0.0073 m s21 whereas in area 2, it is 0.01 m s21. These values are illustrative of what can happen with compression of the inner stack owing to the weight of the outer stack and settling through a leach cycle. Solution is applied uniformly over the top face at an irrigation rate of 161026 m s21. The effect of having two slightly dissimilar materials next to each other is to produce a preferential ow path at the boundary. The solution ows faster along the wettest path. This is shown clearly in Fig. 6. Figure 7 shows the water saturation through the system at steady

Simulating water balance within plant


A considerable proportion of the water within the whole plant circuit is held within the heap. It is therefore vital to be able to accurately assess the solution distribution within the heap. Obviously, although this is possible to perform with the 3D model, it is totally impractical for water balance calculations that otherwise take a few seconds for each hour of operation. As such, an approach has been developed for gold oxide simulation (where air ow is not important) to simplify the 3D

6 Solution ow under steady state conditions

8 Computational mesh for full regions described by shade

heap

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separate

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9 Solution and precipitation at base, applied to top surface and through a cross-section of heap: light shades show more solution

model specically to capture all the important aspects of the process behaviour in an integrated yet sufciently discriminating fashion to enable a water and concentration balance (of gold, silver, copper and CN) to be tracked throughout the plant (see Gebhardt et al., 2005). An important feature here is the capture of the volume of solution retained within the heap over time and how this responds to precipitation and drain down events. In this context, the simplied heap leach model is merely a component model of the water balance circuit

simulation, which is solved using the BILCO material balance software. Using this software, the authors have been able to provide accurate comparisons with full plant operation over time, as is illustrated in Fig. 11.

Conclusions
Heap leaching is a process that represents a considerable challenge from the perspective of engineers who wish to gain a holistic understanding of all the factors that

10 Cross-section of heap showing CN in solution and Au in solution and in ore

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11 Comparison of daily predicted and measured Au recovery for early stages of heap operation

ultimately govern the effective operation of industrial scale heaps. In recent years, there has been a good deal of effort to develop process models that might support minerals engineers in optimising heap leaching operations. It is not just that computational modelling of heap leach operations is very challenging owing to the complexity of the processes involved; an accurate representation of a wide range of simultaneously interacting physical and chemical phenomena is also required. Even though core models of such processes can be assembled, the issues of usability are not inconsiderable. The present work has described in overview one attempt at the development of a core suite of computational models based on advanced CFD technology, to produce a simulation software technology to enable the analysis of a wide range of heap leaching processes from a number of perspectives: (i) 1D models of laboratory sized columns (ii) 2D slice models to evaluate a range of operational strategies in full heaps (iii) full 3D models to enable the tracking of every aspect of operation of a heap and to characterise the ongoing inventory within both the ore matrix and the solution retained within the heap (iv) simplified models within the context of a whole plant water balance model to provide a basis for assessing the strategies to ensure that extreme events (e.g. precipitation and drain down) do not cause problems with regard to capacity. The objectives of the present work have not only included developing successful models, but also making them accessible to the minerals processing engineer. It is believed that these technologies can offer considerable benets for real process optimisation through the structured exploration of a large number of potential scenarios in the order of, at most, days as opposed to the long time scales (i.e. many months) and huge expense involved in full scale tests.

References
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