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Fowler, T.A., Holmes, P.R., CRUNDWELL, F.K. Mechanism of pyrite dissolution in the presence of Thiobacillus ferrooxidans. Applied and Environmental Microbiology 65 (1999) 2987-2993.

In spite of the environmental and commercial interests in the bacterial leaching of pyrite, two central questions have not been answered after more than 35 years of research: does Thiobacillus ferrooxidans enhance the rate of leaching above that achieved by ferric sulfate solutions under the same conditions, and if so, how do the bacteria affect such an enhancement? Experimental conditions of previous studies were such that the concentrations of ferric and ferrous ions changed substantially throughout the course of the experiments. This has made it difficult to interpret the data obtained from these previous works. The aim of this work was to answer these two questions by employing an experimental apparatus designed to maintain the concentrations in solution at a constant value. This was achieved by using the constant redox potential apparatus described previously (P. I. Harvey, and F. K. Crundwell, Appl. Environ. Microbiol. 63:2586–2592, 1997; T. A. Fowler, and F. K. Crundwell, Appl. Environ. Microbiol. 64:3570–3575, 1998). Experiments were conducted in both the presence and absence of T. ferrooxidans, maintaining the same conditions in solution. The rate of dissolution of pyrite with bacteria was higher than that without bacteria at the same concentrations of ferrous and ferric ions in solution. Analysis of the dependence of the rate of leaching on the concentration of ferric ions and on the pH, together with results obtained from electrochemical measurements, provided clear evidence that the higher rate of leaching with bacteria is due to the bacteria increasing the pH at the surface of the pyrite.