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Oscar Joshua Arias Cansino

3/3/2016

13140382

Hydrometallurgy
Hydrometallurgy is concerned with the selective leaching of metallic
compounds to form a solution from which the metals can be precipitated
and recovered. Leaching processes are used when it is the simplest
method or when the ore is of too low a grade for more expensive
extractive procedures.

Conversion
Because not all ores and concentrates are found naturally in a form that
is satisfactory for leaching, they must often be subjected to preliminary
operations. For example, sulfide ores, which are relatively insoluble in
sulfuric acid, can be converted to quite soluble forms by oxidizing or
sulfatizing roasts. On the other hand, oxide ores and concentrates can
be given a controlled reducing roast in order to produce a calcine
containing a reduced metal that will dissolve easily in the leaching
solution. These treatments are described in more detail above (see
Pyrometallurgy: Roasting).
A second popular treatment for converting sulfides is pressure oxidation,
in which the sulfides are oxidized to a porous structure that provides
good access for the leaching solution. This treatment was developed for
the recovery of gold from sulfide ores, which are not suitable for cyanide
leaching without first being oxidized. A finely ground concentrate slurry
is preheated to 175 C (350 F) and pumped into a four- or fivecompartment autoclave, each compartment containing an agitator.
Gaseous oxygen is added to each compartment, and retention time in
the autoclave is two hours in order to achieve the desired oxidation.

Leaching
Oxides are leached with a sulfuric acid or sodium carbonate solvent,
while sulfates can be leached with water or sulfuric acid. Ammonium
hydroxide is used for native ores, carbonates, and sulfides, and sodium
hydroxide is used for oxides. Cyanide solutions are a solvent for the
precious metals, while a sodium chloride solution dissolves some
chlorides. In all cases the leach solvent should be cheap and available,
strong, and preferably selective for the values present.

Oscar Joshua Arias Cansino


3/3/2016

13140382

Leaching is carried out by two main methods: simple leaching at


ambient temperature and atmospheric pressure; and pressure leaching,
in which pressure and temperature are increased in order to accelerate
the operation. The method chosen depends on the grade of the feed
material, with richer feed accommodating a costlier, more extensive
treatment.
Leaching in-place, or in situ leaching, is practiced on ores that are too far
underground and of too low a grade for surface treatment. A leach
solution is circulated down through a fractured ore body to dissolve the
values and is then pumped to the surface, where the values are
precipitated.
Heap leaching is done on ores of semilow gradethat is, high enough to
be brought to the surface for treatment. This method is increasing in
popularity as larger tonnages of semilow-grade ore are mined. The ore is
piled in heaps on pads and sprayed with leach solution, which trickles
down through the heaps while dissolving the values. The pregnant
solution is drained away and taken to precipitation tanks.
Higher-grade ores are treated by tank leaching, which is carried out in
two ways. One method is of very large scale, with several thousand tons
of ore treated at a time in large concrete tanks with a circulating
solution. In the second method, small amounts of finely ground highgrade ore are agitated in tanks by air or by mechanical impellers. Both
solutions pass to precipitation after leaching is completed.
Pressure leaching shortens the treatment time by improving the
solubility of solids that dissolve only very slowly at atmospheric
pressure. For this process autoclaves are used, in both vertical and
horizontal styles. After leaching, the pregnant solution is separated from
the insoluble residue and sent to precipitation.

Recovery
Pregnant solution from leaching operations is treated in a variety of ways
to precipitate the dissolved metal values and recover them in solid form.
These include electrolytic deposition, transfer of metal ions, chemical
precipitation, solvent extraction in combination with electrolytic and
chemical methods, and carbon adsorption combined with electrolytic
treatment.

Oscar Joshua Arias Cansino


3/3/2016

13140382

Electrolytic deposition, also called electrowinning, gives a pure product


and is a preferred method. However, it is expensive, owing to the cost of
electricity, and must have a solution of high metal content. Insoluble
anodes, and cathodes made of either a strippable inert material or a thin
sheet of the deposited metal, are inserted into a tank containing leach
solution. As current is passed, the solution dissociates, and metal ions
deposit at the cathode. This common method is used for copper, zinc,
nickel, and cobalt.

Solvent extraction combined with electrolytic deposition takes dilute,


low-value metal solutions and concentrates them into small volumes and
high metal contents, rendering them satisfactory for electrolytic
treatment. Low-grade copper ores are processed in this manner. First, a
large volume of a low-value copper leach solution (2.5 grams per litre, or
0.33 ounces per gallon) is contacted with a small volume of waterimmiscible organic solvent in kerosene.
The metal values pass from the leach solution into the extraction
solution, the two phases are separated, and the extraction solution goes
on to the stripping circuit. Here another fluid is added that has a still
greater affinity for the metal values, picking them out of the extraction
solution. The two solutions are separated, with the small volume of
stripping solution having a metal content high enough (50 grams per
litre, or 6.6 ounces per gallon) to be suitable for electrolytic precipitation.
An adsorption circuit is used to strip pregnant solutions of gold cyanide
with activated carbon. The carbon is in turn stripped of the metal by a
solution, which then goes to an electrolytic cell where the gold content is
deposited at the cathode.
Chemical precipitation can be accomplished in a number of ways. In one
method, a displacement reaction takes place in which a more active
metal replaces a less active metal in solution. For example, in copper
cementation iron replaces copper ions in solution, solid particles of
copper precipitating while iron goes into solution. This is an inexpensive
method commonly applied to weak, dilute leach solutions. Another
displacement reaction uses gas, with hydrogen sulfide, for example,
added to a solution containing nickel sulfate and precipitating nickel

Oscar Joshua Arias Cansino


3/3/2016

13140382

sulfide. Finally, changing the acidity of a solution is a common method of


precipitation. Yellow cake, a common name for sodium diuranate, is
precipitated from a concentrated uranium leach solution by adding
sodium hydroxide to raise the pH to 7.

Bibliography
"Metallurgy". Encyclopdia Britannica. Encyclopdia Britannica Online.
Encyclopdia Britannica Inc., 2016. Web. 03 Mar. 2016.