Microbial Populations in a 110 Ton-Scale Column for the Recovery of Metals from Black Schist Ores
Black schist ores in Finland are often enriched with sulfide minerals, containing a variety of base metals such as nickel, copper, zinc and cobalt. As these ores are low grade with respect to the metals contained and the sulfide minerals cannot be effectively concentrated from the schists, they are currently being studied with regard to their suitability for bioleaching . As part of this investigation, a large-scale column measuring 3 x 3 x 9 m was built and filled with 110 tons of the crushed black schist ore. A solution was circulated in the column for 95 weeks; this solution was adjusted to 1.8 prior to entry in the column and averaged 2.7 when leaving the column. During this time, approximately 22% of Mn, 10% of Ni and 5% of Zn were leached from the ore. Iron was also leached, but precipitated in the column. Any soluble iron in the effluent was mainly Fe (II). During this same time period, total cell counts averaged 3.6 x 107 cells/ml of effluent. On three different occasions over nearly a one-year period, culturable cells were enumerated on a variety of solid media  and represented only about 1% of the total cell counts. Of the culturable cells, ironoxidizing acidophiles (namely Acidithiobacillus ferrooxidans) far outnumbered any other acidophile by at least a factor of ten. Changes in populations were also monitored by molecular means (T-RFLP and SSCP) on five different occasions during the same year; again, populations in early samples were dominated by Acidithiobacillus ferrooxidans (at least two strains/sub-species). As the temperature of the column was increased from ~20 to 35°C by heating both the recirculated liquor and the air used for column aeration, the relative abundance of At. ferrooxidans-like bacteria decreased while the abundance of unidentified bacteria increased. Some of these bacteria have also been detected in lab-scale column experiments using the same ore . Total cell counts varied little as the temperature increased, nor was there any change in the rate of metal leaching. It was apparent that even though the leaching of metals from black schist ores was not greatly influenced by increases of temperature in the column, active microbial populations were present and were influenced by temperature.
Axel Schippers, Wolfgang Sand, Franz Glombitza and Sabine Willscher
K. B. Hallberg et al., "Microbial Populations in a 110 Ton-Scale Column for the Recovery of Metals from Black Schist Ores", Advanced Materials Research, Vols. 20-21, pp. 170-170, 2007