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A Novel Mineral Flotation Process Using Thiobacillus ferrooxidans

American Society for Microbiology
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  • Physiology And Biotechnology
  • Biology


Oxidative leaching of metals by Thiobacillus ferrooxidans has proven useful in mineral processing. Here, we report on a new use for T. ferrooxidans, in which bacterial adhesion is used to remove pyrite from mixtures of sulfide minerals during flotation. Under control conditions, the floatabilities of five sulfide minerals tested (pyrite, chalcocite, molybdenite, millerite, and galena) ranged from 90 to 99%. Upon addition of T. ferrooxidans, the floatability of pyrite was significantly suppressed to less than 20%. In contrast, addition of the bacterium had little effect on the floatabilities of the other minerals, even when they were present in relatively large quantities: their floatabilities remained in the range of 81 to 98%. T. ferrooxidans thus appears to selectively suppress pyrite floatability. As a consequence, 77 to 95% of pyrite was removed from mineral mixtures while 72 to 100% of nonpyrite sulfide minerals was recovered. The suppression of pyrite floatability was caused by bacterial adhesion to pyrite surfaces. When normalized to the mineral surface area, the number of cells adhering to pyrite was significantly larger than the number adhering to other minerals. These results suggest that flotation with T. ferrooxidans may provide a novel approach to mineral processing in which the biological functions involved in cell adhesion play a key role in the separation of minerals.

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