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HYDROMETALLURGY 2014 – VOLUME I 527

BIOPOLYMER ADDITION TO BOOST RECOVERY AND THROUGHPUT IN GOLD


LEACHING PROCESSES. A CASE STUDY FROM ANTAM PONGKOR, INDONESIA

Helminton Sitanggang1, Adam Pratomo1, *Rolf Andreas Lauten2 and Dani Ramdani3
1
Antam Pongkor,
Bogor,West Java
Indonesia
2
Pionera,
Borregaard AS
Hjalmar Wesselsvei 10
1720 Sarpsborg, Norway
(* Corresponding author: rolf.andreas.lauten@pionera.com)
3
Pionera, Borregaard SEA
111C Telok Ayer Street
Singapore

ABSTRACT

A universal challenge for the mineral processing industry is the diminishment of high grade ores.
Instead, low grade ores, sometimes also containing problematic gangue minerals is the reality. With lower
head grades the industry has to put more effort into processing to maintain the output and achieve suitable
recoveries. In an effort to reduce the impact of declining head grade, a biopolymer was evaluated as an
additive in the gold leaching operation at Antam Pongkor in Indonesia. Laboratory testing revealed that
biopolymer usage lead to an increased gold recovery without apparent negative impact on the other parts of
the process. Further plant trials revealed both a recovery increase around 1.3% and higher throughput (9%)
in the presence of the biopolymer. Some scenarios that can explain these findings will be discussed.

KEYWORDS

Gold recovery, leaching, kinetics, dispersant, biopolymer

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528 PROCEEDINGS OF THE 7TH INTERNATIONAL SYMPOSIUM

INTRODUCTION

Improved processing of ore is a desirable goal at most mine sites around the world. Not only
because of its obvious economic incentive, but also because the average grade at many mine sites are
declining. As an example, the average head grade at the Pongkor gold mine in the West Java Province in
Indonesia has dropped from around nine grams/ton to around six grams/ton in the last four years. Clearly, a
drop in the head grade of around 30% has a significant impact on the viability of the mine operation. In an
effort to increase the recovery in the gold processing plant at Antam Pongkor, trials were conducted in the
presence of a biopolymer. The biopolymer acts as a dispersant by reducing the viscosity of the leach slurry
and this may be beneficial for several reasons. First, a lower viscosity may facilitate higher slurry solids
content in the processing plant and an associated increase in plant throughput. However, higher solids
content in the process could affect tailings treatment. As an example, sedimentation of the tailings in the
thickener must proceed at a faster rate. Secondly, addition of a dispersant can prevent or reduce the extent
of aggregation in the leach slurry, i.e. disperse the particles during the leach. This may increase the surface
area accessible to the lixiviation suite during the leach. In this work the findings from trials conducted at
Antam Pongkor are described where use of a dispersant from Pionera, L-800, was found to increase the
recovery in the leach circuit. In addition, reduction in viscosity facilitated operation of the leach plants at a
higher slurry solids content, contributing to a higher throughput.

The use of cyanide combined with oxygen in alkaline solution has been used as a lixiviant for
gold for many decades. While the basic chemical reaction describing the dissolution of gold and formation
of the aurocyanide complex, Au(CN)2- appears simple, a number of other parameters come into play. For
instance, both the presence of different types of metal sulfides and carbonaceous matter can have
significant impact on the effectiveness of the gold cyanidation reaction (de Andrade Lima & Hodouin,
2005). As gold normally is a minor component in the ore slurry it is important to understand how the other
components present in the ore influence the gold dissolution process. One effect is the competition between
gold and metal sulfides for cyanide. Cyanide may also react with dissolved sulfides and form thiocyanates
or other sulfur compounds. The use of lead nitrate as an adjuvant in leaching is well-established. It is
believed that lead nitrate reduces the impact of heavy metal sulfides, which often are found to form films
on the surface of gold that reduce the dissolution rate. Hewitt, Breuer, Jeffrey and Naim (Hewitt, Breuer,
Jeffrey, & Naim, 2009) claim that lead(II) ions precipitate as PbS. The surface of the PbS particles aid in
the oxidation of sulfides to water-soluble ions and hence preventing the formation of passivating sulfide-
based layers on minerals. Carbonaceous matter can adsorb gold and prevent recovery in carbon-in-leach or
carbon-in-pulp processes. It may also influence the gold dissolution kinetics.

Emerging from studies of the gold dissolution rate is an awareness of the importance of the
reactions occurring between cyanide and gold on the mineral surface. In addition, minerals adjacent to gold
in the grains may affect the gold dissolution rate via galvanic interactions or formation of passivating films.
The magnitude of these effects depend upon the composition of the ore, in particular whether or not the ore

Table 1 - Composition of the ore at Antam Pongkor

Mineral Feed, mass% Rietveld


Quartz, SiO2 53.20 %
Calcite, CaCO3 10.97 %
Chlorite, Mg2Al3(Si3Al)O10(O)8 4.72 %
Muscovite, H2KAl3Si3O12 2.13 %
Anorthite, CaAl2Si2O8 5.79 %
Pyrite, FeS2 0.76 %
Orthoclase, KAlSi3O8 15.86 %
Chlinochlore, (Mg5Al)(AlSi3)O10(OH)8 2.34 %
Hedenbergite, CaFeSi2O6 4.24 %

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HYDROMETALLURGY 2014 – VOLUME I 529

Table 2 - Analysis of the sieved fractions of the ore sample used in the initial bottle roll tests

Assay Metals distribution


Size fraction Weight Au, g/ton Ag, g/ton Au Ag
distribution
(%)
+149 µm 5.8 4.16 42.39 4.4 % 4.4 %
74 to149 µm 14.6 4.78 45.41 12.7 % 11.7 %
53 to 74 µm 17.2 5.07 50.76 15.9 % 15.4 %
44 to 53 µm 20.1 5.19 54.15 19.1 % 19.2 %
- 44 µm 42.3 6.18 66.30 47.8 % 49.4 %
total 100 5.47 56.74

contains carbonaceous materials. As an additional factor, use of surface active components that enrich at
different surfaces may have a substantial impact on cyanidation of gold.

Description of the Pongkor Gold Mine

The mine belongs to Antam and gold has been produced since 1994. As mentioned earlier, the
average gold grade has decreased from around nine grams/ton to less than six grams/ton. In addition to a
declining head grade, the gold recovery in the processing plant has decreased from 93% to 89% over the
last years. The ore body in the Pongkor mine is of a free-milling type which is readily leached after
comminution, and the ore composition is given in Table 1. Examination of the ore has revealed that the
gold grain size normally varies between 6 µm and 82 µm. Further, gold particles are either found as a
fraction in the quartz or as inclusions in pyrite and limonite. Comminution of the ore proceeds along
several steps; the primary crushing is done in a jaw crusher. A cone crusher further reduces the particle size
and a vibrating screen feed two leaching plants operated in parallel. In the leach plants, ball mills are used
to reduce the particle size down to P80 less than 74 µm. In the plant, leaching is conducted at pH 10.5. Lime
was used to adjust the pH earlier but currently it is no longer required. The hydrocyclone overflow fed into
the carbon-in-leach circuits typically has solids content between 35-42 mass% dry matter. Lead nitrate is
mixed into the hydrocyclone underflow which is fed back into the ball mills. Sodium cyanide is added
directly into leach tanks and the concentration adjusted to around 750 mg/L. Gold leached from the ore is
captured by carbon in the carbon-in-leach circuit. Gold and silver are recovered in the electrowinning
circuit and smelted. The tailings are thickened, the remaining cyanide destroyed by air and SO2 before
backfilled to the underground mine or stored in the tailings pond.

Initial Bottle Roll Tests

A sample was collected at the mill feed conveyor belt, dried in an oven and ground to a particle
size similar to the size distribution in the actual leach, i.e. P80 equal to 74 µm. One part of the sample was
used to evaluate how the ore responded to different amounts of cyanide, variations in biopolymer dosage
and leach kinetics. The other part of the sample was sieved and divided into fractions according to their
size as indicated in Table 2 and each fraction was assayed to determine the gold and silver content.
Concentrations of gold, silver, iron and copper were determined by atomic adsorption spectroscopy. The
results indicate that the fines contain most of the gold and silver. The ore samples fractionated according to
their sizes were used to study the recovery of gold in more detail.

A series of bottle roll tests were conducted, either at 500 mL or 2000 mL to assess the effect of
biopolymer addition to the leach. In addition to experiments designed to determine the optimal levels of
biopolymer and sodium cyanide, kinetic tests to determine the gold dissolution rate were conducted. These
bottle rolls were designed to closely mimic the plant conditions.

The biopolymer, supplied by Pionera, is an anionic dispersant produced in a biorefinery process.


The raw material is wood and the biopolymer consists of a polyfunctional aromatic skeleton, containing

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530 PROCEEDINGS OF THE 7TH INTERNATIONAL SYMPOSIUM

100
silver
gold
95

90

recovery, %
85

80

75

70
0 200 400 600 800 1000 1200 1400 1600 1800
biopolymer dosage, mg/L

Figure 1 - Variation in gold and silver recovery at different dosages of L-800. Bottle rolls conducted at
35 mass% solids and 750 mg/L NaCN

carboxylic acid groups among its functional groups. As the biopolymer is a dispersant, the viscosity of
leach slurries at different biopolymer concentrations was determined using a Brookfield Viscometer. The
viscosity of the leach slurry at 35 mass% solids with pH 10.5 and 750 mg CN-/L is around 90 mPa⋅s. The
slurry viscosity decreases as the dosage of L-800 increases. At 600 mg L-800/L, the viscosity was
determined to be 62 mPa⋅s, and 52 mPa⋅s at 1200 mg L-800/L. Thus, use of 600 mg L-800/L leads to
viscosity reduction around 30%. Associated with the decrease in viscosity there is an increase in the
measured amount of dissolved oxygen from 4.2 mg O2/L to 4.6 mg O2/L in the bottle roll test. Limited in-
situ measurements in the plant during plant trial display a similar variation with an average 6.1 mg O2/L
without biopolymer and 7.2 mg O2/L with biopolymer.

RESULTS AND DISCUSSION

A series of bottle rolls were run at 35 mass% and 750 mg/L NaCN to assess the effect of addition
of biopolymer in the leach circuit. The average gold recovery after five bottle rolls without biopolymer
gave a gold recovery of 88.7 ± 1.0 %. Similar bottle rolls with 400 mg/L biopolymer, gave a gold recovery

100

90

80
gold recovery, %

70

60

450 mg/L NaCN


50 600 mg/L NaCN
750 mg/L NaCN
900 mg/L NaCN
40
0 500 1000 1500
biopolymer dosage, mg/L

Figure 2 - Gold recovery as a function of L-800 concentration at different levels of cyanide. Bottle rolls
conducted at 35 mass%

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HYDROMETALLURGY 2014 – VOLUME I 531

100

98

96

94

gold recovery, %
92

90

88

86

84 blank
400 mg L−800/L
82 800 mg L−800/L
1200 mg L−800/L
80
35 37 39 41 43 45
solids content, mass%

Figure 3 - Gold recovery as a function of leach slurry solids content at different levels of L-800
addition
of 91.7 ± 0.7 %. Thus, the recovery of gold is increased in the presence of biopolymer and a similar trend
is observed with silver where the recovery is 78.3 ± 0.1 % and 83.9 ± 0.1 % without and with biopolymer,
respectively. A higher cyanide consumption was observed in the bottle rolls conducted with biopolymer
which account for the higher recovery observed. Having established that biopolymer addition improves the
recovery, further experiments were conducted to determine how the gold recovery varies with both
biopolymer and cyanide dosage.

The variation in gold and silver recovery at increasing biopolymer concentrations for bottle rolls
conducted at 35 mass% and with 750 mg/L NaCN are displayed in Figure 1. It is clear that biopolymer
addition increases the recovery of both gold and silver. The incremental recovery is largest from no
addition to 400 mg/L biopolymer, and there is no significant increase in recovery at dosages larger than
800 mg/L. Gold and silver follow the same recovery trend with increasing concentration of biopolymer. In
Figure 2 the gold recovery is displayed as a function of biopolymer concentration at different levels of
NaCN. As the amount of NaCN increases the recovery also increases, but no further increases in recovery
is observed at cyanide concentrations in excess of 750 mg/L. Also apparent is that a larger dosage of
biopolymer also raises the recovery, albeit not as dramatic as with an increase in the cyanide concentration.
Apart from the highest concentration of NaCN tested, maximum gold recovery occurs at the same
biopolymer concentration around 750 mg/L. This indicates a lack of synergistic effects between NaCN and
biopolymer in terms of gold dissolution.

L-800, the biopolymer used to enhance the recovery of gold, is a dispersant and as such, addition
to the leach slurry lowers the viscosity. It is reasonable to conclude that the reduction in viscosity is a result
of adsorption of L-800 onto the surfaces of the minerals in the slurry. Adsorption of L-800 prevents
agglomeration of the dispersed particles which normally reduces the viscosity (Klein & Pawlik, 2004). The
slurry viscosity is an important operational parameter for the leach plant and usually determines the
maximum solids content where an acceptable recovery is still achieved. In Figure 3, the gold recovery is
displayed as a function of increasing solids content in the leach slurry. Without biopolymer present, the
recovery drops from around 89% to 86% as the solids content is increased from 35 mass% solids to 45
mass% solids. At a dosage of 400 mg L-800/L, the recovery at similar leach slurry solids contents are 92%
and 90% respectively. A further increase of the biopolymer dosage to 600 mg/L raises the recovery while
the incremental effect of using 1200 mg L-800/L is doubtful. These results from bottle rolls suggest that
addition of L-800 in the leach process not only give higher recoveries, but also facilitate operation of the
leach plants at higher solids content. Attempts made to operate the leach plant at higher solids content and
thus achieve higher throughput indicated that a 9% increase in throughout could be achieved. Operation at
higher solids content requires more attention being paid to the water balance.

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532 PROCEEDINGS OF THE 7TH INTERNATIONAL SYMPOSIUM

To further assess the effect of biopolymer addition the kinetics of gold dissolution was determined
with and without biopolymer. To the left in Figure 4, the gold recovery as a function of time is shown for
the leaches conducted with and without the presence of 400 mg/L L-800. Comparison of the recovery in
the two experiments, shown along the right ordinate in the left part of Figure 4 reveals that in the presence
of L-800, the recovery is consistently higher throughout the duration of the experiment. The enhanced
recovery in the presence of biopolymer reaches a maximum after approximately six hours, where the
recovery of gold is around seven percentage points larger in the presence of biopolymer. After this
maximum in recovery enhancement, the difference between the two treatments reduces gradually. The
kinetic experiment was terminated after 48 hours, similar to the duration of the leach process in the plant.
At this stage, the recovery without biopolymer is 93.9 % while in the presence of 400 mg L-800/L, 95.6%.
The leach kinetics can be modelled by adopting a model developed by de Andrade Lima & Hodouin (de
Andrade Lima & Hodouin, 2005). In this model, one assumes that gold dissolution can be modelled by
assuming pseudo-homogeneous conditions. The developed model takes several factors into consideration
and the reaction rate is suggested to be approximately second order with respect to the gold concentration.
Since the particle size distribution, the solids content and the cyanide concentration are similar; de Andrade
Lima & Hodouin’s (de Andrade Lima & Hodouin, 2005) rate equation can be approximated as a second
order chemical reaction. The linearised version, (1), can be plotted as shown to the right in Figure 4. In (1),
[Au]s,t, represents the concentration of solubilised gold as a function of time, [Au]∞ the gold concentration
at the end of the leach, k a lumped rate constant and t the time. Both with and without biopolymer, the data
is nicely represented by linear regressions in the first nine hours of the leach.

1/{[Au]s,t – [Au]∞} ~ kt (1)

Figure 4 it is apparent that the rate constant is higher in the presence of biopolymer as would be
expected since biopolymer addition increases the gold recovery. It was found that addition of L-800 to the
leach slurry gave a small increase in the concentration of dissolved oxygen in addition to reduction in the
viscosity. In the rate equation proposed by de Andrade de Lima and Hodouin (de Andrade Lima &
Hodouin, 2005) the oxygen concentration enters the rate equation as a fractional dependence (0.22). It is
doubtful if the small change in oxygen concentration can account for the change in the rate constant at the
two different conditions. The reduction in leach slurry viscosity may play a part in the higher rate constant
in the presence of L-800, but the slurry viscosity is not a factor included in the rate equation. Therefore, it
is difficult to speculate on its effect. However, the reduction in viscosity may increase the surface area in
contact with the lixiviant suite and this may account for the enhanced recovery.

5
110 11 no biopolymer
Δ gold recovery 4.5 400 mg L−800/L
100 10
4
90 9
1/([Au]s,t−[Au]∞), (g Au/ton)−1

80 8 3.5

70 7 3
Δ [L−800 − blank]
gold recovery, %

60 6 2.5
50 5 2
40 4
1.5
30 3
1
20 2
0.5
10 no biopolymer 1
400 mg/L L−800 0 0
0
0 10 20 30 40 50 0 2 4 6 8 10 12
time, h time, h

Figure 4 - Gold dissolution kinetics at 35 mass% solids and 750 mg CN-/L. To the left, the gold recovery in
% as a function of time. The second y-axis shows the increased recovery, in percentage points, obtained in
the presence of biopolymer. To the right, linearised versions of the rate equations and the corresponding
linear regressions of the gold dissolution rate. R2=0.99 for both linear regressions. See text for details

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HYDROMETALLURGY 2014 – VOLUME I 533

100
normal operation slope=1.71
98 400 g/ton L−800 slope=1.23

96

94

92

recovery %
90

88

86

84

82

80
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8
grade, g Au/ton ore

Figure 5 - Grade-recovery data collected during plant trial. The slope of the linear regression lines is
indicated in the legend for each line

With the basis in these results, a plant trial was conducted where biopolymer was added to one of
the leach plants, while the other leach plant was used as a reference. The biopolymer dosage was kept at
400 g L-800/ton dry ore and data sets were collected for a period of approximately three months.
Representative data consisting of 60 data sets collected when the plant was running normally was used to
evaluate the effect of biopolymer addition. In Figure 5, grade-recovery data with and without biopolymer
treatment are displayed. The data are scattered, in particular from the dataset representing biopolymer
addition. The procedure outlined by Napier-Munn (Napier-Munn, 1998) for comparing regression lines
between the plant recovery and ore grade was used to analyse the outcome of the plant trial. It was found
that there is a strong correlation between the ore grade and the leach recovery, both for data without and
with L-800 (confidence level larger than 99.5%). Further computation of the residual mean square for each
treatment reveals that the data from both treatments are not statistically different and belong to the same
normal distribution. There is no intersection between the two regression lines for the two treatments and
the statistical analysis does not indicate that the slopes are different. However, the average distance
between the grade-recovery regression lines is statistically different, indicating that use of L-800 in the
leach plant leads to a 1.3 % increase in recovery, with a 99.5% confidence. Another interesting observation
is that addition of biopolymer appears to give higher gold recoveries for low grade ores. This feature is
useful for the Pongkor mine as their expectation is that the average grade decreases further in the future.

Mentioned earlier, a fraction of the ore sample collected at the conveyor belt to the leach plants
was fractionated according to size. The distribution of gold and silver in the different size fractions are
listed in Table 2. Bottle roll tests were conducted with each of these parts to characterise the leaching
behaviour of each fraction with and without biopolymer. From Table 2 it is apparent that most of the gold
is found in the fraction with diameter less than 44 µm, yet substantial amounts are found in the fractions
with diameters between 44-149 µm. In Figure 6, the variation in gold recovery for the different size
fractions with and without biopolymer is shown. For the particles with diameter less than 44 µm, diameter
between 53-74 µm and diameter between 74-105 µm, the amount of recovered gold is larger in the
presence of L-800. The increase in recovery in the presence of L-800 for the different size fractions is
displayed along the left ordinate in the figure. Similar trends were observed for the recovery of silver (not
shown). To the right in Figure 6, the residual cyanide concentration after completing the bottle rolls for the
different size fractions are displayed. Some interesting trends emerge. For the fractions with diameter
between 53-74 µm and 74-105 µm, the residual cyanide concentration is approximately five times larger
when no biopolymer is present. The gold (and silver) recovery from leaching of these fractions was larger
in presence of the biopolymer. In the presence of L-800, the gold recovery was also larger for the size

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534 PROCEEDINGS OF THE 7TH INTERNATIONAL SYMPOSIUM

600
100 20 no treatment
∆ gold recovery no treatment
800 mg/L L−800
98 800 mg/L L−800 18
500
96 16

94 14 400

residual CN−, mg/L


∆ [L−800 − blank]
gold recovery, %

92 12

90 10 300

88 8
200
86 6

84 4
100
82 2

80 0 0
<44 µm 44−53 µm 53−74 µm 74−105 µm 105−149 µm <44 µm 44−53 µm 53−74 µm 74−105 µm 105−149 µm

Figure 6 - The left figure shows the variation in the amount of recovered gold for the different size
fractions. Leaching is carried out at 35 mass%. The left ordinate shows the recovery and the right ordinate
display the difference in recovered gold in percentage points. The right figure shows the residual cyanide
concentration after bottle rolls

fraction with diameter less than 44 µm. However, the residual cyanide concentration after leaching was
higher in the presence of biopolymer, in contrast to the other size fractions where a substantial increase in
gold recovery was observed. These, seemingly opposite effects may arise from two different mechanisms.

Slimes or particles with diameter around 20 µm and smaller can have deleterious effects in
mineral processing applications. They are small enough to adsorb on the surface of the larger particles
present in the slurry. Adsorption of slimes modifies the surface characteristics of the valuable minerals and
isolation of the valuable minerals may reduce the yield in the leach reaction. Tentatively, gold may become
less amenable to leaching since slime coverage prevents dissolution by cyanide. L-800 is a dispersant
capable of adsorbing onto particle surfaces and preventing or reducing the extent of slime coverage. It is
feasible that usage of L-800 as a dispersant in the size fraction with the smallest particles prevents slime
coverage and this is why one witnesses higher gold recovery and smaller cyanide consumption in this size
fraction. A similar effect has been observed earlier in flotation (Seaman, Lauten, Kluck, & Stoitis, 2012)
and in leaching applications where use of surfactants modified the gold recovery during leaching (Leaver
& Woolf, 1930; Abotsi & Osseo-Asare, 1987; Zhou, Barret, Jiang, & Choi, 2013; Adams & Burger, 1998).
While this feature is likely to be important for real leach slurries, it is harder to observe the effects of it for
the larger particle size fractions.

A substantial increase in the amount of recovered gold was also observed for the size fractions
with diameters between 53-74 µm and 74-105 µm, coupled with a significant increase in the cyanide
consumption. As dissolution of gold requires cyanide, the relation between an increase in the amount of

Table 3 - Distribution of minerals found in four samples after bottle rolls as seen by
optical microscopy, two without L-800 addition and two treated with 600 mg/L L-800. The
samples were purified by heavy media separation before assaying to remove a fraction of the
gangue materials

Mineral blank 600 mg L-800/L


Pyrite 73.5 74.2 59.7 57.6
Sphalerite 0.4 not detected 0.5 1.1
Chalcopyrite 0.4 not detected 1.5 0.6
Galena 0.4 not detected 0.2 not detected
Limonite 0.1 17.5 19.7 25.4
Magnetite 15.8 3.5 4.3 5.8
Native Iron 3.6 0.2 1.8 1.7
Arsenopyrite 1.3 0.5 1.2 1.4

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HYDROMETALLURGY 2014 – VOLUME I 535

30
no treatment
800 mg/L L−800
25

20

dissolved Fe, mg/L


15

10

0
<44 µm 44−53 µm 53−74 µm 74−105 µm 105−149 µm

Figure 7 - The variation in the concentration of iron in the leach solution after bottle rolls, with and
without biopolymer for the different size fractions
recovered gold and higher cyanide consumption is logical. However, there is no straightforward reason
why the presence of L-800 should facilitate this enhanced gold recovery. Analysis of the leach solution
after the bottle rolls also indicated that the concentration of iron varied, both depending on the particle
diameter and if the leach solution contained biopolymer or not. The concentration of iron found in the
leach solutions is displayed in Figure 7. Inspection of Figure 7 reveals that a higher concentration of iron is
found with L-800 in the leach solutions containing the size fractions where the gold recovery was enhanced
in the presence of L-800. Examination of the ore composition as given in Table 1 reveals that pyrite is the
most important iron-bearing mineral present in the ore. Examination of micrographs recorded with electron
microscopy reveals that gold present is interlocked in pyrite and limonite, in addition to quartz. Thus, the
results appear to suggest that the dissolution of pyrite is enhanced in the presence of L-800. An enhanced
dissolution of pyrite can, in principle, increase the amount of gold recovered since it could increase the
gold surface area exposed to cyanide. Limited amounts were available of the ore fractionated by size, but
determination of the mineral composition of the tails used in the bottle rolls discussed earlier, treated or not
treated with L-800 does reveal that presence of biopolymer reduce the amount of pyrite in the tails, see
Table 3. Examination of the analysis presented in Table 3 reveals substantial variation between the two
samples collected from the tails treated with L-800 and for tails without biopolymer treatment. While this
probably indicate the general difficulty of collecting representative samples, the reduction in pyrite content
associated with the presence of L-800 is remarkable.

While the improvement in gold recovery associated with a better dispersion of slime gangue
material is straightforward to rationalise, it is less simple to explain how use of biopolymer should enhance
the dissolution of pyrite, leading to an associated increase in gold recovery. To do so requires
recapitulation of how both the presence of carbonaceous materials and sulfide minerals may affect
cyanidation and dissolution of gold.

The significant increase of iron in the leach solution for some of the size fractions coupled with
the increased consumption of cyanide during leaching of these samples in the presence of biopolymer,
strongly indicates that the biopolymer somehow enhances the dissolution rate of pyrite. For any gold
interlocked in pyrite, an enhanced dissolution rate may facilitate the release of additional gold. Even if the
Pongkor ore itself contains a small amount of pyrite, the problem at hand is how the dissolution and/or
oxidation of pyrite is modified in the presence of biopolymer and if this change has implications on the
dissolution of gold. A more idealised description of the problem can be found by considering how pyrite
affects the dissolution of gold, alone and coated with different types of impurities. Typical impurities may
be various types of sulfides or carbonaceous matter which perhaps is more relevant for this study. Liu &
Yen studied the effect of sulfide minerals on the gold dissolution rate at normal and elevated levels of

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536 PROCEEDINGS OF THE 7TH INTERNATIONAL SYMPOSIUM

dissolved oxygen (Liu & Yen, 1995). While pyrite appeared to accelerate the gold dissolution rate at
elevated levels of dissolved oxygen, it inhibited gold dissolution at normal levels of dissolved oxygen.
Gold dissolution was inhibited by an increased consumption of cyanide due to the presence of pyrite. In
independent tests with different sets of synthetic ore blends, other investigators have found that pyrite does
not affect the gold dissolution rate (Deschênes, Pratt, Riveros, & Fulton, 2002; Guo, Deschênes, Pratt,
Fulton, & Lastra, 2004). This illustrates that the chemistry in a leach is complex and that many different
factors like composition of the ore and concentration of cyanide may have significant impacts on the gold
cyanidation reaction. In one study (Tan, Feng, Lukey, & van Deventer, 2005), it was found that
carbonaceous material was smeared onto gold and sulfide surfaces during grinding. The thickness of the
layer of carbonaceous material was thicker on pyrite than the clay present, demonstrating how the
carbonaceous materials have a preference for the hydrophobic sulfide surface. The dissolution of pyrite in
the presence of different contaminants has been studied in some detail (Tan, Feng, van Deventer, & Lukey,
2006). While an increase in the cyanide concentration enhanced the pyrite dissolution rate, the pyrite
dissolution rate was found to decrease above a certain cyanide concentration. The decrease in pyrite
oxidation rate was associated with formation of a passivation layer of iron cyanide at the pyrite surface.
Tentatively, the passivating layer may also consist of iron hydroxides as suggested by Janetski, Woodburn
and Woods (Janetski, Woodburn, & Woods, 1977). Thus, pyrite covered with carbonaceous material
dissolves faster. However, unless passivation of the pyrite surface is prevented the accelerated dissolution
will stop after a while.

While enhanced dissolution of pyrite increases the consumption of cyanide and oxygen, which
normally is considered to have detrimental effects on the dissolution of gold, the opposite is claimed here.
The enhanced dissolution of pyrite increases the concentration of iron and sulfide in the leach solution and
these can precipitate as insoluble minerals that inhibit gold dissolution in a similar fashion as mentioned
above for pyrite. During leaching of gold from the Pongkor ore, with a low content of pyrite an enhanced
consumption of cyanide arising from additional dissolution of pyrite is outweighed by the higher gold
recovery. The exact role of the biopolymer in this process is uncertain and will require additional studies to
elucidate, but some different scenarios are possible. Biopolymer in solution may stabilise precipitates
formed from dissolved iron sulfide or iron hydroxide and thus prevent passivation of the pyrite surface.
Alternatively, biopolymer may adsorb onto the pyrite surface, with or without a carbonaceous coating, and
prevent precipitation of metal hydroxides or sulfides that otherwise passivates the surface. In the discussion
above, a coating of active carbon or graphite was found to enhance the dissolution rate of pyrite. The role
of the carbonaceous coating is conjectured to enhance the transport of electrons required to oxidise pyrite.
L-800, the dispersant used contains aromatic rings as a part of its structure. Tentatively, it may facilitate
transport of electrons in a similar fashion as a coating of carbonaceous material. A similar concept where
activator molecules adsorbed on the surface of gold also enhance the gold dissolution rate has been
suggested (Wadsworth, Zhu, Thompson, & Pereira, 2000; Kristjansdottir & Thompson, 1996), but applied
to this case, would not explain the increase in iron in the leach solution.

CONCLUSIONS

Results from laboratory trials and a plant trial conclude that use of a biopolymer, L-800, enhances
the gold recovery in a cyanidation process. Use of L-800 also allows for higher solids content in the leach
process. Investigation of the kinetics of gold dissolution reveals a higher rate constant in the presence of L-
800. Analysis of the leach solutions from bottle rolls suggests that presence of L-800 enhances dissolution
of pyrite. Investigation of the cyanide consumption kinetics may be illuminating and facilitate a better
understanding of how gold dissolution in modified in the presence of biopolymer.

The enhanced gold recovery was attributed to two effects. For the particles with diameter less than
44 µm, dispersion of slime particles was suggested to be the dominant effect. Dispersion of slime particles
increases the surface area of gold available to the lixiviation suite. Higher gold recoveries were also found
for some larger particles. This increase in gold recovery was attributed to an enhanced dissolution of pyrite.
An enhanced pyrite dissolution rate was verified via higher concentrations of iron in the leach solution and
reduction in the pyrite content of the leach tails. A mechanism where L-800 either disperses insoluble

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HYDROMETALLURGY 2014 – VOLUME I 537

pyrite oxidation products (sulfides or hydroxides) or prevents passivation of the pyrite surface by adsorbing
onto pyrite itself is conjectured to explain this finding. Further investigations are required to verify this
claim.

ACKNOWLEDGEMENT

We are grateful for the assistance provided by Chandra, Process Plant Manager at Antam Pongkor
with the execution of the bottle rolls described in this work.

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