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Appl Microbiol Biotechnol. 2003 Dec;63(3):249-57. Epub 2003 Oct 18.

Bioleaching review part B: progress in bioleaching: applications of microbial processes by the minerals industries.

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  • 1Little Bear Laboratories, 5906 McIntyre Street, Golden, CO 80403, USA. greg@little-bear-labs.com


This review describes the historical development and current state of metals leaching and sulfide mineral biooxidation by the minerals industries. During the past 20 years commercial processes employing microorganisms for mineral recovery have progressed from rather uncontrolled copper dump leaching to mineral oxidation and leaching in designed bioheaps for oxidation of refractory gold ores and for copper recovery. Also during this period of time, stirred tank bioleaching has been commercialized for cobalt recovery and for biooxidation of refractory gold ores. Chalcopyrite bioleaching in stirred tanks is on the verge of commercialization. Commercial applications of biohydrometallurgy have advanced due to favorable process economics and, in some cases, reduced environmental problems compared to conventional metal recovery processes such as smelting. Process development has included recognition of the importance of aeration of bioheaps, and improvements in stirred tank reactor design and operation. Concurrently, knowledge of the key microorganisms involved in these processes has advanced, aided by advances in molecular biology to characterize microbial populations.

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