Heap Leaching

Heap leaching of gold and silver ores is conducted at approximately 120 mines worldwide. Heap leaching is one of several alternative process methods for treating precious metal ores, and is selected primarily to take advantage of its low capital cost relative to other methods. Thirty-seven different heap leach operations with a total production of 198 tonnes of gold per year (6,150,000 ounces/yr.) were surveyed to determine operating practice. These operations together produce 7.4% of the world’s gold. When mines not surveyed are taken into account, it is likely that heap leaching produces 12% of the world’s gold. Heap leaching for silver is conducted using the same principles and operating practices as for gold, but heap leach operations produce only a small fraction of world silver production.

Heap leaching had become a fairly sophisticated practice at least 500 years ago. Georgius Agricola, in his book De Re Metallica (publ. 1557) illustrates a heap leach with a 40-day leach cycle, which could pass in many ways for a modem heap leach. The Agricola heap leach recovered aluminum (actually alum) for use in the cloth dying industry. Copper heap and dump leaches in southern Spain were common by about ….Read more