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Holmes, P.R., Fowler, T.A., CRUNDWELL, F.K. The mechanism of the bacterial leaching of pyrite: an electrochemical study. Journal of the Electrochemical Society 146 (1999) 2906-2912.

In many of the experiments reported in the literature on the leaching of pyrite by Thiobacillus ferrooxidans, the concentrations of ferric and ferrous ions in the presence of bacteria differ significantly from experiments conducted in their absence. In addition, these concentrations change throughout the course of the experiment. This makes it difficult to determine whether the presence of bacteria increases the rate of leaching above that for chemical leaching at the same solution conditions. We have designed an exper- imental apparatus to overcome this problem. This apparatus controls the redox potential in one compartment of an electrolytic cell by manipulating the current to the cell. In this manner, the concentrations of ferrous and ferric ions are maintained at their initial values for the duration of the experiment. Two types of experiments are reported in this paper. In the first, pyrite electrodes were exposed to solutions of the same bulk conditions in the presence and absence of bacteria, and their mixed potentials were deter- mined. In the second, particulate pyrite was leached with and without bacteria to determine the effect that bacteria have on the rate of leaching. The mixed potential of bacterially dissolved pyrite decreases as microcolonies and biofilms form on the surface of pyrite electrode over a 14 day period. On the other hand, the mixed potential of chemically dissolved pyrite is constant over the same period. The results of the leaching experiments show that Thiobacillus ferrooxidans enhances the rate of leaching above that found in the absence of bacteria at the same conditions in solution. An electrochemical model of pyrite dissolution is derived that describes the mixed potential and the kinetics of pyrite leaching. This analysis indicates that the decrease in mixed potential and the increase in the leaching rate in the presence of bacteria are due to an increase in the pH at the surface.

© 1999 The Electrochemical Society. S0013-4651(98)12-007-4. All rights reserved.