Gold: Refractory Gold Processes

                                INTRODUCTION

                                TYPES OF ORE

                                MINING

                                CONCENTRATION

                                LEACHING

                                REFRACTORY GOLD PROCESSES (below)


A "refractory" gold ore is an ore that is naturally resistant to recovery by standard cyanidation and carbon adsorption processes. These refractory ores require pre-treatment in order for cyanidation to be effective in recovery of the gold. A refractory ore generally contains sulfide minerals, organic carbon, or both. Sulfide minerals often trap or occlude gold particles, making it difficult for the leach solution to complex with the gold. Organic carbon present in gold ore may adsorb dissolved gold-cyanide complexes in much the same way as activated carbon. This so-called "preg-robbing" carbon is washed away because it is significantly finer than the carbon recovery screens typically used to recover activated carbon.

Pre-treatment options for refractory ores include:

1. Roasting

2. Bio-oxidation

3. Pressure oxidation

4. Ultrafine grinding

The refractory ore treatment processes may be preceded by concentration (usually sulfide flotation). Roasting is used to oxidize both the sulfur and organic carbon at high temperatures using air and/or oxygen. Bio-oxidation involves the use of bacteria that promote oxidation reactions in an aqueous environment. Pressure oxidation is an aqueous process for sulfur removal carried out in a continuous autoclave, operating at high pressures and somewhat elevated temperatures. Ultra fine grinding may be used when liberation of gold particles from the surrounding mineral matrix is the primary refractory characteristic of the ore.

Refining

Gold extracted by amalgamation or cyanidation contains a variety of impurities, including zinc, copper, silver, and iron. Two methods are commonly employed for purification: the Miller process and the Wohlwill process. The Miller process is based on the fact that virtually all the impurities present in gold combine with gaseous chlorine more readily than gold does at temperatures equal to or greater than the melting point of gold. The impure gold is therefore melted and gaseous chlorine is blown into the resulting liquid. The impurities form chloride compounds that separate into a layer on the surface of the molten gold.

The Miller process is rapid and simple, but it produces gold of only about 99.5 percent purity. The Wohlwill process increases purity to about 99.99 percent by electrolysis. In this process, a casting of impure gold is lowered into an electrolyte solution of hydrochloric acid and gold chloride. Under the influence of an electric current, the casting functions as a positively charged electrode, or anode. The anode dissolves, and the impurities either pass into solution or report to the bottom of the electrorefining tank as an insoluble slime. The gold migrates under the influence of the electric field to a negatively charged electrode called the cathode, where it is restored to a highly pure metallic state.

Although the Wohlwill process produces gold of high purity, it requires the producer to keep on hand a substantial inventory of gold (mainly for the electrolyte), and this is very costly. Processes based on direct chemical purification and recovery from solution as elemental gold can greatly speed gold processing and virtually eliminate expensive in-process inventories.

Assaying

Fire assay is considered the most reliable method for accurately determining the content of gold, silver, and platinum-group metals (except osmium and ruthenium) in ores or concentrates. This process involves melting a gold-bearing sample in a clay crucible with a mixture of fluxes (such as silica and borax), lead oxide (called litharge), and a reducing agent (frequently flour). The fluxes lower the melting point of the oxidic materials, allowing them to fuse, and the molten litharge is reduced by the flour to extremely fine drops of lead dispersed throughout the charge. The drops of lead dissolve the gold, silver, and platinum-group metals, then coalesce and gradually descend through the sample to form a metallic layer at the bottom of the crucible. After cooling, the lead "button" is separated from the slag layer and heated under oxidizing conditions to oxidize and eliminate the lead. The shiny metallic bead that is left contains the precious metals. The bead is boiled in nitric acid to dissolve the silver (a process called parting), and the gold residue is weighed. If platinum metals are present, they will alter the appearance of the bead, and their concentration can sometimes be determined by use of an arc spectrograph.

In the jewelry industry, gold content is specified by karat. Pure gold is designated 24 karats; therefore, each karat is equal to 4.167 percent gold content, so that, for example, 18 karats equals 18 4.167, or 75 percent gold. "Fineness" refers to parts per thousand of gold in an alloy; e.g., three-nines fine would correspond to gold of 99.9 percent purity.