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Process Mineralogy and Applications in Mineral Processing

J. Zhou, Y. Gu
JKTech Pty Ltd., Indooroopilly, Australia
Email: j.zhou@jktech.com.au

H. Y. Zhou
SGS Lakefield Research Limited, Lakefield, Canada

ABSTRACT
The ultimate goal of a mineral processing plant is to recover as much of the target mineral(s) as
possible from the ore being treated to achieve the best economics. Selection of the mineral
processing techniques is the most important step in achieving this goal. However, due to the com-
plexity of the ore, the recoveries of valuable minerals may be not satisfactory even when the mineral
processing technique(s) are well chosen. In other words, minerals of interest can be lost to the tail-
ings for mineralogical reasons. For example, gold is mainly extracted from the ore by gravity, flota-
tion, cyanidation, or a combination of these processes, and high recovery (>90%) can be achieved
when gold occurs as coarse grains. However, when a refractory ore is being processed, gold extrac-
tion will be challenged by mineralogical factors, which often cause gold losses to various tailings.
Mineralogical factors affecting gold recovery mainly include grain size, shape, surface coatings and
rimmings, presence of cyanicides, oxygen consumers and preg-robbers, presence of slow-dissolving
gold minerals and the refractory nature of submicroscopic gold. Among these factors, locking in
sulphide, silicate and other minerals as fine-grained gold inclusions and/or as invisible submicros-
copic gold is by far the most common factor leading to poor gold recovery encountered in gold ore
processing. Processing of PGE ores faces the same challenges as gold. Small grain size and locking
of PGM in sulphide and non-sulphide minerals often cause PGM losses. When silver ore contains
significant amounts of pyrargyrite, proustite and stephanite, silver recovery by cyanidation can be
very low because of the slow dissolving kinetics of these minerals. In the processing of base metal
ores, high content of pyrite, intergrowth of chalcopyrite with sphalerite and presence of clay miner-
als may cause problems in recovering Cu-, Pb- and Zn- bearing minerals.
Process mineralogy helps address all issues and problems related to mineral processing with pre-
dicting and trouble-shooting being two major objectives. It provides useful information on process
selection, flowsheet development, recovery improvement and reagent consumption optimization.
The information acquired from a process mineralogical study can be used as a guide for a metallur-
gical testwork program for process design or optimization.

Keywords: Process mineralogy; Mineral processing; Metal recovery; Gold deportment

INTRODUCTION e n t o r e s a n d
for different purposes. For example, gravity
The minerals industry employs various
concentration, flotation or cyanidation can be
processes to recover valuable metals and miner-
used separately in gold ore processing, but more
als from different ores. Commonly used
often they are employed collectively in a gold
processes include gravity concentration, flota-
ore processing project.
tion, cyanidation, magnetic and electrostatic
Process selection is the most important step
separation. Each process can be used for differ-

107
in a mineral processing project. Generally report to zinc concentrate rather than copper
speaking, the factors affecting process selection concentrate because of the surface coating
of a project include geological, mineralogical, (Zhou et al., 2005). All of these mineral
metallurgical, environmental, geographical, eco- processing related problems and issues, along
nomical and political situations. Among these with other problems, can be solved by process
factors, mineralogical and metallurgical factors mineralogy. This paper will first discuss the
have a direct impact on process selection as scope of process mineralogy and mineralogical
they determine the response of the ore to miner- factors that may affect process selection and
al processing techniques. The recoveries of recoveries of minerals of interest, and then fo-
metals and minerals of interest are often driven cuses on the application of process mineralogy
by mineralogical factors such as grain size, li- in mineral processing through a case study of
beration, association with other minerals, coat- gold in leach residues.
ing and rimming, presence of cyanicides, oxy-
gen consumers, preg-robbers and clay minerals,
PROCESS MINERALOGY AND
and locking in other minerals as trace substitu- MINERALOGICAL FACTORS
tion. Among these factors, locking in sulphide, AFFECTING MINERAL PROCESSING
silicate and other minerals as fine-grained gold Process mineralogy, as indicated by the term
inclusions and/or as invisible submicroscopic itself, is an inter-discipline in the fields of mi-
gold is by far the most common factor leading neralogy and metallurgy. It uses the theories,
to poor gold recovery encountered in gold ore principles, methods and tools of mineralogy to
processing. Processing of PGE ores faces the study all mineralogy issues and problems re-
same challenges as gold. Small grain size and
lated to mineral processing with predicting and
locking of PGM in sulphide and non-sulphide
trouble-shooting being two major objectives.
minerals often cause PGM losses. Presence of
Process mineralogy provides useful information
talc in some PGE ores (such as the Merensky
on process selection, flowsheet development,
reef and Stillwater Complex) can cause signifi-
cant processing difficulties (Cole, 2002). In the recovery improvement and reagent consumption
UG-2 ore located in the Bushveld Complex, the optimization. The information acquired from a
PGM are finely disseminated with the average process mineralogical study can be used as a
grain size being about 10 microns, so that grain guide for a metallurgical testwork program for
size, liberation and association tend to dictate process design or optimization.
mineral floatability (Nel et al., 2004). The pres- In general, common mineralogical factors
ence of PGE in pentlandite and other sulphide that may affect mineral processing include grain
minerals as solid solution is another issue that size, liberation, association, trace element con-
causes processing difficulties. Compared to tent, mineral surface chemistry, dissolution ki-
gold and PGE, silver mineralogy is more com- netics, coating and rimming, presence of delete-
plex. When silver ore contains significant rious minerals and refractoriness of minerals of
amounts of pyrargyrite, proustite and stephanite, interest.
silver recovery by cyanidation can be very low Grain Size
because these minerals dissolve slowly in cya-
nide solution. Silver can occur in other minerals Grain size is one of the most important mi-
as submicroscopic silver as well, making silver neralogical factors that affect processing of
extraction more difficult (Zhou and Zhou, 2008). various ores. For example, gold is mainly re-
Base metal ores are mainly processed by flota- covered from ores using gravity, flotation, cya-
tion. In processing base metal ores, high pyrite nidation or a combination of these processes.
content, presence of fine- grained galena, inter- Gold grain size can be a significant factor driv-
growth of chalcopyrite with sphalerite and ing the efficiency of gold recovery processes.
presence of clay minerals may cause problems Liberated gold can be recovered by gravity
in recovering Cu-, Pb- and Zn- bearing minerals. concentration, can also be lost from a gravity
Surface chemistry may affect recoveries of base circuit if the grain size is small. If the gold grain
metals as well. In some base metal ores con- is attached to a low density mineral, it can also
taining precious metals, precious metal-bearing be lost from a gravity circuit. The majority of
minerals (such as electrum and kstelite) may gravity equipment can only recover gold grains

108
greater than 50 m. Ultrafine gold is not well non-valuable minerals with those they are asso-
recovered by gravity or flotation techniques. ciated. Poor liberation will affect both recovery
When gold is very fine (< 10 m) and asso- and grade of many (if not all) valuable minerals.
ciated with sulphide minerals, cyanidation per- In the case of gold, silver and PGM, locking in
formance may also be poor (Marsden and sulphide and silicate minerals is a common and
House, 2006). Flotation is used in many gold major cause for valuable mineral losses. In the
ore processing plants and is very effective at UG-2 ore, 25% of PGM were locked in silicates
recovering both liberated gold (which tends to and finer grinding was required in a secondary
be naturally floatable), and gold-bearing sul- milling step to increase the PGM recoveries
phide minerals. Gold grains over 10 m can be (Nel et al., 2004). In the case study presented
effectively recovered by flotation. Gold grains later in this paper, gold was lost to the CIL tails
less than 10 m can also be recovered by flota- mainly due to locking in arsenopyrite as submi-
tion, but the efficiency is much lower. Gold croscopic gold.
losses to flotation tailings include very fine gold Locking of gold in sulphide minerals (and
grains as well as coarse gold grains whose sur- non-sulphide minerals to a minor extent) is con-
face is coated or rimmed by non-floatable ma- sidered to be the major factor causing gold
terial (e.g., iron oxides or hydroxides, silicates) losses to tailings in the gold industry, and is the
(Zhou, Jago and Martin, 2004; Marsden and greatest challenge in the future as more and
House, 2006; Zhou and Fleming, 2007). Coarse more new gold discoveries fall into this catego-
gold can be effectively recovered by gravity, but ry. In processing refractory gold ores, particu-
may be incompletely leached (or may become larly the Carlin-type gold ores, the sulphide host
trapped upstream of the cyanidation circuit) due mineral must first be oxidized, to create a por-
to insufficient leaching time, or not carried by ous structure through which the cyanide leach
bubbles in flotation. Studies have indicated that solution can penetrate to reach the minute gold
a spherical gold particle with a diameter of 44 particles. This oxidation is traditionally
m will take approximately 13 hours to dissolve achieved by roasting, autoclaving or bacterial
under normal cyanide leach conditions, while oxidation. Studies on the deportment of gold in
particles with a diameter of 150 m will take 48 roaster calcine CIL leach tails showed that the
hours or more (Fleming, 1992). major carriers of lost gold were fine-grained
In the processing of base metal ores, grain pyrite and iron oxides locked in silicates, along
size also places an important role. Galena, with liberated maghemite and rimmed hematite
sphalerite and chalcopyrite are often associated (Chryssoulis and McMullen, 2005; Zhou and
with each other. Galena is often fine-grained Fleming, 2007).
and sphalerite is relatively coarse. Chalcopyrite
often occurs as inclusions in sphalerite (so- Coating and rimming
called chalcopyrite disease) in addition to Cooting and rimming mainly affect gold and
being discrete particles. To recover these miner- silver extraction by flotation and cyanidation.
als of interest, the Cu-Pb-Zn ore often needs to These coatings and rimmings may be iron
be ground to such a degree that these minerals oxides or hydroxides (limonite or goethite),
are liberated from other minerals and also sepa- which are formed by oxidation, dissolution and
rated from each other. To maximize the recov- precipitation reactions. In addition, sulfide ions
ery and also to avoid over-grinding, the grain may react with gold to form insoluble aurous
size of each mineral has to be well determined. sulphide coatings and prevent the further disso-
Liberation and association lution of gold minerals during cyanide leaching
(Marsden and House, 2006).
High recovery and grade is the ultimate goal In addition, the presence of some gold alloy
for all mineral processing plants, and is strongly compounds (such as gold tellurides, aurostibite
determined by liberation and association of and maldonite) can also cause gold losses be-
minerals of interest in the ore to be treated and cause of the very slow leaching nature of these
in the mill products, in addition to grain size minerals, and this is believed to be due to the
distribution. Prior to the recovery process, val- formation of passive films on the surface of the
uable minerals need to be liberated from particles (such as the passive aurostibate

109
(AuSbO 3 ) rim on the surface of the AuSb 2 par- ppm), pyrite (2.1 ppm ~ 33.8 ppm), and chal-
ticles and the passivating bismuth hydroxide copyrite (11.5 ppm). Based on the mineral ab-
(Bi(OH) 3 ) rims on the surface of the Au 2 Bi undance, it is determined that sulphide minerals
particles) (Zhou and Fleming, 2007). are the major silver carriers, accounting for ap-
Mineralogical studies carried out by the first proximately 70% of the head assay. Bornite is
author on some silver ores and leach tailings the principal silver carrier (carrying 50% Ag in
have shown that pyrargyrite (Ag 3 SbS 3 ) is a the ore), followed by pyrite (carrying over 12%
very slow leaching silver mineral. It forms a Ag) and chalcopyrite (carrying 6% Ag). Galena,
secondary passivating rim of a few microns often contains higher Ag, is determined to be an
thickness during cyanidation and prevents fur- insignificant silver carrier in the ore studied.
ther leaching, which causes incomplete dissolu- Silver carried by non-sulphide minerals ac-
tion (unpublished internal reports). counted for about 30%. The study indicates that
Except for its occurrence in silver minerals, bornite, pyrite and chalcopyrite should be re-
silver in gold ores is often present in electrum, covered to recover silver, while galena should
and occasionally in kstelite, in a minor to sub- be rejected to avoid smelting penalty (Zhou and
stantial amount. Silver-rich electrum and ks- Zhou, 2008).
telite tarnish quickly in air, and form a silver sul- It is also well known that the PGE occur in
fide layer of 1~2 m thickness in the presence of ores either as discrete minerals or as solid solu-
sulfide ions, which can limit the access of cya- tion in major sulphides (McMahon and Cabri,
nide solution. Such coatings are somewhat hy- 1998; Cabri et al., 2002). The presence of PGE
drophilic, particularly if further oxidation to sil- in pentlandite and other sulphide minerals as
ver sulfate or silver oxide occurs. This may solid solution is another issue that causes
hamper recovery by flotation (Zhou et al., 2005). processing difficulties.
Submicroscopic substitution Presence of deleterious minerals
In addition to forming native metals and Some minerals, such as pyrrhotite, stibnite,
minerals, gold, silver and PGE often occur in secondary copper minerals and carbonaceous
the lattice of other minerals (mainly sulphides) matter in gold ores, and clays in gold and base
as substitution and this is considered to be a metal ores, can cause processing problems.
significant source of lost gold, silver and PGE Many gold ores contain minerals that react in
in many plant operations. It is well known that cyanide solution, consuming oxygen or cyanide
submicroscopic gold (particularly solid solution or both, and negatively influencing the rate or
gold) in gold ores tends to concentrate preferen- extent of gold leaching. The most common in-
tially in arsenopyrite and pyrite, and fine- terfering minerals are the sulfides of iron, ar-
grained varieties usually contain the highest senic, antimony, copper, zinc and tellurium
concentrations of submicroscopic gold. To ex- (Fleming, 1998). The ore can contain natural
tract submicroscopic gold from a refractory ore, carbonaceous and/or graphitic or shale material
the sulfide host mineral must first be oxidized to that is able to re-adsorb the gold cyanide com-
create a porous structure through which the plex after the gold has been leached. This phe-
cyanide leach solution can penetrate to reach the nomenon is quite common in the gold mining
minute gold particles. Submicroscopic gold is industry, and is known as preg-robbing (Zhou
also found to be the major form of gold lost in and Fleming, 2007).
autoclave or roaster calcine cyanidation tails of In addition to the abovementioned factors,
some refractory gold ores (Chryssoulis and gangue minerals, such as quartz, chlorite, car-
McMullen, 2005; Paktunc et al., 2006; Zhou bonates, and some silicates (such as pyrophyl-
and Fleming, 2007). lite) may also have a negative impact on gold
The mineralogical study conducted on a extraction (Corrans and Dunne, 1985; Zhou et
porphyry copper-gold ore showed that silver in al., 2004; Marsden and House, 2006).
the ore occurs mainly as submicroscopic silver
in copper sulphides and pyrite. Among the min- APPLICATION OF PROCESS
erals analyzed by SIMS, bornite contained the MINERLOGY IN GOLD METALLURGY
highest level of Ag (173 ppm on average), fol-
Classification of gold and gold ores
lowed by covellite (39.2 ppm), galena (37.6

110
Mineralogically, gold is classified into three Colloidal gold is also believed to be formed
categories according to the mode of occurrence: during processing, by coagulation of solid solu-
microscopic gold, submicroscopic gold and tion gold during roasting for example, when
surface-bound gold. pyrite is oxidized to magnetite, maghemite and
Gold ores are commonly classified into two hematite (Grimsey and Aylmore, 1990).
major categories: free-milling and refractory. Surface gold is the gold that has been mobi-
Typically, free-milling ores are defined as those lized through geological processes, and then
where over 90% of gold can be recovered by re-adsorbed onto the surface of others minerals,
conventional cyanide leaching. Refractory ores either as a natural process or during processing
are defined as those that give low gold recove- (particularly cyanidation, when the ore contains
ries or give acceptable gold recoveries only with carbonaceous matter). Surface gold is also
the use of significantly more reagents or more usually invisible under optical and electron mi-
complex pre-treatment processes. Based on the croscope, and can constitute a major form of
mineralogical characteristics and mineral gold losses in some tailings (Chryssoulis and
processing techniques required, gold ores can be McMullen, 2005; Zhou and Fleming, 2007).
further classified into 11 types, including gold
Impact of mineralogy on gold metallurgy
placers, quartz vein-lode ores, oxidized ores,
silver-rich ores, copper sulfide ores, iron sulfide As discussed above, gold metallurgy is dic-
ores, arsenic sulfide ores, antimony sulfide ores, tated by several mineralogical factors. General-
bismuth sulfide ores, telluride ores and carbo- ly speaking, liberated coarse-grained gold
naceous sulfide ores. Metallurgical implications grains can be easily recovered by gravity, flota-
to these gold ore types are summarized else- tion, cyanidation, or a combination of these
where (Zhou et al., 2004). Deportment of gold techniques, and high gold recovery (>90%) can
in each ore type is discussed briefly below: be expected. However, gold leaching by cyani-
In epithermal gold ores, VMS sulphide ores dation is a slow, diffusion-controlled reaction,
and porphyry Cu-Au ores, gold often occurs as and large gold particles can take many days to
coarse- and fine-grained particles, which can be fully dissolve. In this instance, gold can be lost
observed under an optical microscope, and are to tailings owing to insufficient residence time
therefore called microscopic gold or visible during cyanide leaching.
gold. When gold grains are locked in other miner-
In other ores, gold occurs mainly as submi- als, they will not be recoverable by direct cya-
croscopic particles within the structure of sul- nidation. They can only be recovered by ul-
phide minerals such as pyrite, arsenopyrite and tra-fine grinding followed by cyanidation, with
marcasite and, to a lesser extent, bornite, chal- or without flotation, or by oxidation of the host
copyrite and enargite. These sulphide minerals minerals (such as pyrite and arsenopyrite) fol-
are usually insoluble and impervious in cyanide lowed by cyanidation. If gold grains are ex-
solution, making the gold refractory (Hausen, tremely fine and locked in sulfide minerals, they
1985; Arehart et al., 1993; Wang and Zhou, may be recovered by ultra-fine grinding fol-
1993; Zhou, Jago and Martin, 2004; Chryssoulis lowed by cyanidation of the sulphide concen-
and McMullen, 2005; Marsden and House, trate, although this is in fact seldom beneficial,
2006). Mineralogically, submicroscopic gold is as the gold grains are usually finer than the fin-
commonly divided into solid solution gold and est practical grind size that can be achieved in
colloidal gold. Solid solution gold is generally commercial mills. Therefore, the only alterna-
considered to have been incorporated in the tive is to oxidize the arsenopyrite to liberate the
crystal structure of the host mineral during mi- gold, and then leach with cyanide. Increasingly,
neralization with the grain size being less than gold occurs as sub-microscopic gold in disse-
0.01 m, (10 nm or 100 ) (Zhou and Fleming, minated arsenopyrite and pyrite, making the
2007). The genesis of colloidal gold can be by gold extremely refractory. Pre-concentration of
incorporation in the original crystal structure, or the gold in these types of ores by gravity or flo-
it can be the product of ex-solution of solid so- tation is usually inefficient, and therefore, to
lution gold, or it can be formed by nucleation of recover gold in this type of ore, pre-oxidation
adsorbed surface gold (Simon et al., 1999). processing (autoclaving, roasting and biological

111
oxidation) of the whole ore may be required to ative sub-samples were riffled out for (a) Au
liberate the gold and achieve high recovery effi- assays in triplicate, and (b) preconcentration by
ciency (Zhou and Fleming, 2007). heavy liquid separation, followed by superpan-
ning.
Deportment study of gold in leach residues
Approximately 800 g of each residue materi-
Three leach residue samples were studied for al was preconcentrated by heavy liquid separa-
gold deportment. The objective of this investi- tion (HLS) to obtain a sink fraction (consisting
gation was to determine the occurrence of gold mainly of sulphides, oxides and heavy silicate
in these residue samples, and to identify and minerals) and a float fraction (consisting mainly
evaluate any mineralogical factors that may of silicates, or silicates with disseminated sul-
affect gold recoveries. phides). The sink fraction was further concen-
trated by superpanning (SP) to separate libe-
Samples and methods rated gold (if any) and Aubearing sulphides
Three leach residue samples generated from from the other minerals. By employing such a
gravity tails, identified as CIL-1 48h Residue, method (Fig. 1), all of the liberated gold and
CIL-2 48h Residue, and CIL-3 48h Residue, Au-bearing minerals would be separated and
were received for the current study. Each sam- identified.
ple weighed approximately 1,000 g. Represent-

SP Tip SP Sulfide SP Middling SP Tail

Fig. 1 Schematic preconcentration procedure

A comprehensive mineralogical and analyti-


cal approach including fire assay, heavy liquid Bulk mineralogy and assays
separation, superpanning, ore microscopy, mi- The general mineralogy of the residue sam-
croprobe analysis, and Secondary Ion Mass ples were mainly composed of silicates with
Spectrometry (SIMS) was used to carry out the minor amounts of sulphide minerals (predomi-
current study. Representative digital photomi- nantly arsenopyrite and pyrite). Trace amounts
crographs were taken to show the general mi- of pyrrhotite, galena and chalcopyrite were also
neralogy, gold occurrence and gold-bearing observed.
sulphide minerals. The results are presented and Three CIL leach residue samples assayed
discussed below. from 0.68 g/t to 2.10 g/t Au (Table 1). Also

Table 1 Assays and calculated sulphide content


Gravity Residue assay Calc sulfide content/%
Sample Residue size CIL Au
tails
ID (K80) recovery /% Au/(g/t) Fe/% As/% S/% Arsenopyrite Pyrite
Au/(g/t)
CIL-1 38 4.68 56.5 2.10 5.67 0.28 0.36 0.60 0.45
CIL-2 33 4.93 65.7 1.81 5.79 0.21 0.27 0.45 0.34
CIL-3 30 2.88 79.7 0.68 6.74 0.14 0.17 0.30 0.21

listed in Table 1 are gravity tails Au assays, CIL pyrite content in each residue sample.
gold recoveries and calculated arsenopyrite and

112
Gold deportment liberated gold grains in feed samples were ef-
Gold deportment study was conducted on fectively recovered by gravity and cyanidation
each of the three residue samples through gold processes, and the liberated gold that remained
search for microscopic gold and quantification in the residue is negligible. The majority of
of submicroscopic gold by SIMS. Gold distri- gold grains observed in residue samples were
bution is determined based on goldscan, assays locked in other minerals (mainly in arsenopy-
and SIMS data. rite), accounting for a substantial amount of
the leach residue head assay (15%~21%). To
Microscopic gold recover the gold grains locked in other miner-
Polished sections prepared from gravity se- als, finer grinding is required. However, a bet-
paration products of each residue sample were ter alternative is to oxidize the gold bearing
scanned systematically under microscope, and sulfides followed by cyanide leach.
the results are listed in Table 2. It shows that
Table 2 Gold grains observed in the leach residues
Liberated gold Gold inclusions
Sample Total number of
Locked in arsenopyrite Locked in pyrite
ID gold grains No. Grain size /m
No. Grain size/m No. Grain size/m
CIL-1 16 1 20 13 1~14 2 1~2
CIL-2 31 1 14 30 0.5~10 0
CIL-3 16 1 2 14 1~9 1 4

Selected gold grains observed in the residue samples are shown in Fig. 2.

113
Fig. 2 Gold grains (golden yellow, indicated by red arrows or circles) observed in the residue samples. 1: liberated gold grain
with iron oxide rim which could have caused incomplete dissolution; 2~6: gold grains locked in arsenopyrite (Apy).
Submicroscopic gold 180V offset to suppress molecular interfe-
Quantification of submicroscopic gold was rences in depth profile mode
carried out on SIMS instrument under the fol- High mass resolution mode and 30V offset
lowing conditions: for imaging mode
Technique: Secondary Ions Mass Spectrome- Based on the morphology, three types of ar-
try (SIMS) senopyrite (coarse, blastic and fine-grained) and
Instrument: Cameca IMS-3f two types of pyrite (coarse and blastic) were
Operating conditions: selected for the quantification of submicroscop-
Primary ions: Cs+ ic gold. A total of 278 arsenpyrite and pyrite
Secondary ions: Au, S, Fe, As grains were analyzed by SIMS, and the results
Primary ion energy: 10kV are summarized in Table 3.
Primary current: 15nA SIMS data shows that arsenopyrite is the
Primary beam spot size: 25m major gold carrier in all three leach residue

Table 3 Average concentration of submicroscopic gold in arsenopyrite and pyrite


Submicroscopic gold concentration/ppm
Sample ID
Coarse Apy Blastic Apy Fine Apy Coarse Py Blastic Py
CIL-1 302.19 294.64 301.88 2.83 1.75
CIL-2 247.27 405.70 533.74 5.07 4.04
CIL-3 133.40 220.90 553.20 1.75 2.06
Apyarsenopyrite; Pypyrite.

samples, carrying gold from <1 ppm to 1 760 mapping (Fig. 5) show that most of the submi-
ppm (average values are 133 ppm ~ 553 ppm) croscopic gold in arsenopyrite occurred in solid
(Table 3; Fig. 3). Gold in pyrite is extremely solution state and was distributed heteroge-
low, making it a trace gold carrier. SIMS con- neously; Gold in pyrite was more evenly distri-
centration profiles (Fig. 4) and gold distribution buted.

Fig. 3 Photomicrographs showing gold-bearing arsenopyrite (Apy) morphological types and Au content. 1-Coarse arsenopy-

114
rite (large dense particle); 2-Blastic arsenopyrite (coarse-grained porous particle); 3-Fine arsenopyrite (fine-grained arsenopy-
rite crystals).

INTENSITY/cps

INTENSITY/cps

DEPTH/m DEPTH/m

Fig. 4 SIMS concentration depth profiles of submicroscopic gold in fine grained arsenopyrite. a: submicroscopic gold in a
gold-poor arsenopyrite (Au=84 ppm); b: submicroscopic gold in a gold-rich arsenopyrite (Au=920 ppm). Flat Au concentration
depth profiles indicate that submicroscopic gold in these two arsenopyrite grains occurred as solid solution gold.

Fig. 5 SIMS elemental maps showing the distribution of Au, As and S in a coarse-grained Au-bearing arsenopyrite (Au con-
centration 1196.9 ppm). It shows that gold was distributed heterogeneously and concentrated near the edge in this arsenopyrite
grain. From the viewpoint of gold extraction, this type of gold distribution is preferred and the gold can be readily leached out
after preoxidation of the host mineral. The lower right optical picture shows the grain size of arsenopyrite particle.

mainly carried in arsenopyrite. Gold locked in


Gold distribution and metallurgical implica- arsenopyrite as submicroscopic gold accounted
tions for 78%~86% of the residue head assays, and
Based on all available results, it is deter- gold locked in arsenopyrite as micron-size in-
mined that gold lost in the leach residues is clusions accounted for 13%~21% (Table 4).

115
Gold inclusions in pyrite only accounted for a croscopic gold in pyrite are negligible.
very small portion. Liberated gold and submi- As discussed earlier, submicroscopic gold is
Table 4 Distribution of gold in leach residues
Submicroscopic gold Gold inclusions in Apy & Liberated
Sample ID
Gold in Lib Apy/% Gold in locked Apy/% Gold in Py /% Py /% gold

CIL-1 70 16 <1 13 <1


CIL-2 60 21 <1 18 <1
CIL-3 55 23 <1 21 <1
Apyarsenopyrite; Pypyrite; Libliberated.

not recoverable by direct cyanidation. To extract and cost reduction. As more and more complex
submicroscopic gold in sulphides from a re- and refractory ores are being discovered and
fractory ore, such as in this case, the sulphide processed, it is believed that process mineralogy
host minerals must first be oxidized to create a will gain more attention and play a more im-
porous structure through which the cyanide portant role.
leach solution can penetrate to reach the minute
gold particles. This oxidation is traditionally Acknowledgements The authors wish to acknowledge
achieved by roasting, autoclaving or bacterial the management of JKTech Pty Ltd. and SGS Lakefield
Research Limited for permission to publish this paper.
oxidation. Roasting and pressure leaching can
be applied to either flotation concentrates or to REFERENCES
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