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:iC 8945

Bureau of Mines Inrormat;on Circular/1983

Agglomeration-Heap Leaching
Operations in the Precious
Metals Industry

By G. E. McClelland, D. L. Pool, and J. A. Eisele


Information Circular 8945

Agglomeration-Heap Leaching
Operations in the Precious
Metals Industry

By G. E. McClelland. D. L. Pool. and J. A. Eisele


James G. Watt. Secretary
Robert C. Horton. Director
Library of Congress Cataloging in Publication Data:

McClelland, G. E
Aggiomcratioii~heap leaching operarions in the precious metals

(Information circular I United States Department of the Interior)

Bureau of Mines; 8945)
Bibliography: p. 16.
Supt. of Docs. no.: r 28.27:8945.

1. Precious metals-Mctal1iigy. 2. Agglomeration. 3. Spoil

banks-Leaching. I. Pool, D. L. (Danny L.). n. Eisele, J. A. (Judith
A.). III. Title. iv. Series: Information circular (United States. fiu-
reau of Mines) ; 8945.

TN295.U4 (TN759) 6228 (669' .22'0281 83-600179


Aba tract. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 1
Introduction. . . . . . . .. . .. . . . . . . . . .. . . . .. . . .. . .. . . . . .. . . . . . . . . . . . .. . . . .. . .. . .. . .. 2
Agglomeration concept.......................................................... 2
Commercial agglomeration-heap leaching operations.............................. 3
Arizona gold heap leaching, 20 tpd........................................ 3
Colorado gold vat leaching, i, 500 tpd..................................... 4
Arizona silver heap leaching, 2,000 tpd................................... 6
Northern Nevada gold heap leaching, 2,500 tpd............................. 7
Eastern Nevada gold heap leaching, 3,000 tpd.............................. 10
Sumry and conclusions........................................................ 14
References..................................................................... 16


1. Small Arizona gold agglomeration-heap leaching operation.................. 3

2. Discharge end of the drum agglomerator used at the Colorado gold
agglomeration-vat leaching operation.................................... 5
3. Leaching vat at the Colorado gold agglomeration-vat leaching operation.... 6
4. Agglomeration at the Arizona silver heap leaching operation showing the
reverse belt agglom.rator............................................... 8
5. Agglomerated ore stockpile at the Arizona silver heap leaching operation.. 8
6. Agglomerated heaps during leaching at the Arizona silver operation........ 9
7. Gold agglomeration-heap leaching operation in northern Nevada............. 10
8. Heap leaching gold ore in northern Nevada before agglomeration pretreat-
ment was adopted........................................................ 11
9. Agglomerated gold ore being heap leached in northern Nevada............... 11
10. Overall view of the eastern Nevada agglomeration-heap leaching operation.. 12
11. Drum agglomerator used in the eastern Nevada operation.................... 12
12. Agglomerated heaps being leached in the eastern Nevada gold heap leaching
operation. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .. . . .. . . . .. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .. . . .. . . . . . .. . . .. . . . 13


1. Summry of agglomerating conditions of the five commrcial operations

described............................................................... 15

°c degree Celsius pct percent

ft foot psig pound per square inch,
gauge pressure
gal gallon
rpm revolution per minute
gpm gallon per minute
sec second
gpm/ft2 gallon per minute
per square foot tpd ton avoirdupois per day
hr hour tph ton avoirdupois per hour
in inch tr oz troy ounce

lb pound

lb/ton pound per ton


By G. E. McClelland, 1 D. L. Paal,2 and J. A. Eisele3


During the 1970' s, the Bureau of Mines investigated a particle ag-

glomeration technique for improving the flow of leaching solution
through heaps of clayey or crushed, low-grade gold-silver ores, wastes,
and tailings. This technology has been adopted on a broad scale by the
precious-metals-processing industry. This report presents information
on five commrcial operations that have benefited from agglomeration
technology and that represent a cross section of current heap leaching
practice. The technology is cost effective because of decreased leach
times and improved precious metal recoveries.

2Research chemist.
3supervisory chemical engineer.
All authors are with the Reno Research Center, Bureau of Mines, Reno, Nev.


Exploration during the mid to late leaching solution through the heaps.
1970' s identified numerous low-grade pre- Previous Bureau publications (!-1)4 de-
cious metal deposits, mine waste mate- scribe bench- and pilot-scale experiments
rials, and tailings piles throughout the showing the advantages of particle ag-
Western United States. The increase in glomeration as a pretreatment for mate-
precious metal prices during this period rials that are difficult to treat by
generated interest in processing these standard heap leaching techniques.
low-grade feed materials by low-cost heap
leaching technology. Heap leaching with This report shows how the Bureau's re-
cyanide was applied to many of the mate- search on agglomeration-heap leaching has
rials; however, many conventional oper- been adopted and applied by the precious-
ations were unsuccessful because exces- metals-processing industry. It describes
sive amounts of clay in the feed or fines five commercial operations) ranging in
generated during crushing prevented a size from 20 to 3,000 tpd and represent-
uniform flow of cyanide solution through ing a cross section of current heap
the heaps. leaching practice, that have benefited
from agglomeration technology. The prob-
As part of its research program to im- lems they experienced in trying to apply
prove the recovery of gold and silver conventional heap leaching to ores con-
from low-grade domestic resources, the taining clay ranged from complete plug-
Bureau of Mines investigated agglomera- ging of the heap, with no solution flow,
tion pretreatment to overcome the perco- to slow solution flow, with long leach-
lation problems associated with heap ing times for precious metal recovery.
leaching. Agglomeration of the clays and Agglomeration pretreatment effectively
fines before heap building permtted resolved the heap permeability problems
a uniform and rapid flow of cyanide encountered by these operators.


Most precious metal ores require crush- coating of fines around the coarse parti-
ing to minus 1 in or finer before agglom- cles. The agglomerates produced are of
eration. Crushing to these sizes liber- sufficient green strength after curing to
ates precious metal values and improves withstand wetting with minimal degrada-
overall recovery. Crushed ores can be tion. Agglomeration overcomes the major
agglomerated by mixing 5 to 10 lb port- problems associated with particle segre-
land cement per ton of dry feed, wetting gation during heap building (l), fines
with 8 to 16 pct moisture as either water migration, and solution channeling during
or strong cyanide solution, mechanically leaching by producing a porous, permeable
tumbling the wetted mixture, and curing feed (i).
the agglomerated feed for a minimum of 8
hr before heap leaching. The quantity of A permeable feed material stacked in a
cement added during agglomeration usually heap permts the uniform flow of leaching
provides the protective alkalinity re- solution and contact of the cyanide
quired for cyanide leaching. After ag- leaching solution with the exposed pre-
glomeration and heap building, leaching cious metal particles and decreases the
is conducted with conventional heap leaching time required to obtain targeted
leaching techniques. precious metal recovery.

During agglomeration, the clay and fine 4Underlined numers in parentheses re-
particles contained in the ore adhere fer to items in the list of references at
to the coarser particles and create a the end of this report.

cured in the heap for 48 hr before The mined ore is transported by front-
leaching. end loader to the in-pit crushing plant
where it is crushed to a 1/2-in size by
The heap is leached in 5 days by spray- two-stage crushing. The minus 1/2-in
ing solution containing 1 lb NaCN per ton feed is conveyed uphill one-fourth mile
over the heap at a rate of 0.033 gpm/ft2. to the processing plant. The ore trans-
The cement added during agglomeration is port conveyor system is cheaper to oper-
sufficient for protective alkalinity. ate than truck transport, which keeps the
The dissolved gold is recovered from the mining costs extremely low.
pregnant solution by passing the solution
upward through four 14-in by 5-ft carbon The transport conveyor discharges the
columns at a rate of 20 gpm/ft2. The crushed ore onto a surge pile outside the
barren solution is recycled to the heap. agglomeration-vat leaching building. The
enclosed building permits year-round
The loaded carbon is stripped with an operation. From the surge pile the ore
alkaline-alcohol solution. The precious is fed to an 8-1/2- by 32-ft rotating
metal values are electrowon from solution drum (fig. 2). The drum slopes 8°, with
on steel wool cathodes in a cylindrical the feed end elevated, and rotates at 10
electrowinning cell. The gold-laden rpm. The walls of the drum are not
cathodes are treated with nitric acid to scraped because the agglomerated feed
dissolve excess iron, and the resultant does not build up excess i vely.
sludge is fire refined to produce a dort
bullion. The ore is mixed with 10 lb of binder
(3 lb portland cement (type II), 7 lb
Gold recoveries obtained by agglomera- fly ash) per ton of feed in the first
tion and heap leaching average 90 pct. few feet of the drum. The material is
Agglomeration pretreatment improved heap sprayed with a pH 12 solution containing
permeability, percolation rate, gold re- 10 lb NaCN per ton. A 20-ft spray bar
covery, and decreased the leaching period inside the drum is used to increase the
required to obtain the targeted recovery. moisture content of the feed to 13 pct.
Mechanical tumbling occurs along the
COLORAO GOLD VAT LEACHING, 1,500 TPD length of the drum. The agglomerated
feed is conveyed to a stockpile from
In this operation, the agglomerated which the leaching vats are loaded by a
feed is leached in large vats rather than front-end loader. Curing occurs while
in heaps. The operation is located in the vats are being loaded.
the Colorado Rocky Mountains southwest of
Denver at an elevation of 10,000 ft (~). The feed is placed into one of four
inclined vats measuring 80 by 50 ft. The
The gold ore occurs in an oxidized dis- deepest portion of the vat is 9 ft. Each
seminated deposit and averages 0.06 tr oz vat contains 1,000 tons of agglomerated
of gold per ton with trace amounts of feed and requires 4 hr to load.
silver. The host rock is porous and the
gold is liberated by crushing. The ore The ore is leached by spraying solution
is mined from an open pit and is friable. at the rate of 0.05 gpm/ft2 until the vat
Seventy-five percent of the deposit can is full. The solution in the vat is cir-
be mined with dozers and front-end load- culated and sprayed by pumps throughout
ers. The remaining 25 pct must be the leaching cycle to insure an adequate
drilled and blasted. The operation mines dissolved oxygen content (fig. 3).
and processes 1,500 tons of ore per day.
All the material mined is ore; there is Gold recovery is 90 pct in a 3-day
no was te rock. leaching and washing cycle. The vats
;ii j due'





for mine backfill and virgin ore adjacent The heaps are sprayed with pH 10.5 so-
to the waste material. The waste mate- lution containing 2 lb NaCN per ton at a
rial is mined with front-end loaders to rate of 0.0075 gpm/ft2. The leaching so-
expose the virgin ore. The virgin ore is lution percolates through the heap, is
drilled and blasted and moved by front- collected on the impervious leaching pad,
end loader. The silver content of the and drains into plastic-lined solution
two feed materials varies. The cutoff trenches. The leaching and washing cycle
grade of feed to the heaps is 1.0 tr oz is 7 days. The leached residue is trans-
of silver per ton. Approximately 2,000 ferred to an auxiliary leaching pad
tpd of ore is mined and agglomerated. and sprayed with cyanide solution 1 day
per month for additional precious metal
The mined ore and waste are moved from extraction.
a stockpile to the crushing plant where
they are crushed to a nominal 1/2 in. Precious metal values in the pregnant
Lime (7 lblton of ore) is used as the solution are recovered by Merrill-Crowe
binder for agglomeration and is mixed zinc precipitation technology. The
with the ore during secondary crushing. precious-metal-bearing zinc precipitates
The crushed ore-lime mixture is conveyed are refined on site and yield dorE! bul-
to an underground ore stockpile. Some lion. The doré is shipped to another
moisture is sprayed onto the ore on the facility for refining. The barren solu-
crusher discharge conveyor to decrease tions are recycled to the heaps.
Heap leaching was unsuccessful before
The ore f rom the underground stockpile agglomeration pretreatment was applied to
is agglomerated on a reverse belt con- the ore. Conventional heap leaching re-
veyor designed by the operators (fig. 4). covered only 37 pct of the leachable sil-
The 4- by 25-ft belt agglomerates ore at ver from 3-in feed material treated in
a rate of 200 tph. The agglomerating 90-day leaching cycles. Severe percola-
conveyor can be set at an angle between tion problems were encountered. Agglom-
35° and 45°, and the belt travels upward eration permitted finer crushing, which
while the ore moves down the belt. The liberated additional silver values for
angle and speed of the belt can be varied dissolution by cyanide. Agglomeration
to provide the desired retention time of heap leaching increased silver recovery
ore on the belt. Water is sprayed at to 90 pct of the leachable silver and de-
several locations along the length of the creased the leaching time to 7 days.
belt and gives the agglomerated feed a
moisture content of between 10 and 12 NORTHERN NEVADA GOLD HEAP
pet. A small amount of moistened fines LEACHING, 2,500 TPD
adheres to the belt and rides up the con-
veyor. A scraper was placed on the bot- An operation in northern Nevada (fig.
tom side of the drive roller to eliminate 7), which has produced gold by agitation
excessive fines buildup on the belt. cyanidation and countercurrent decanta-
tion for several years, discovered a new
The agglomerated ore is transported to ore deposit several miles from the work-
a stockpile by a radial arm stacker (fig. ing mine. Higher grade ore from the new
5). The material from the stockpile is deposit is transported to the original
trucked 500 f t to a 3/4-acre impervious mill for gold recovery. Ore containing
leaching pad and is allowed to cure dur- less than 0.07 tr oz gold per ton is heap
ing heap building. Five heaps, each con- leached at the site. Average ore grade
taining 6,000 tons of agglomerated ore for the heap material is 0.034 tr oz gold
stacked 10 to 11 ft high, are leached on per ton. The ore is mined by open pit
the pad (fig. 6). Three heaps are at methods and is trucked to the heap leach-
different stages of leaching, while the ing site approximately one-half mile from
other two are either being prepared for the new pit. About 2,500 tpd of ore is
leaching or being removed from the pad. mined and heap leached.
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0.005 gpm/ft2. The total leaching and rectangular electrowinning cells where
washing cycle is from 20 to 80 days and the gold is deposited on steel wool cath-
depends on the ore being processed. The odes. The cathodes are refined on-site
pregnant solution collects on the imper- to produce dore/ bullion containing /92 pct
vious pads and drains to plastic-lined gold and 6 pct silver. The dore bars
ditches. The solution flows by gravity are shipped to a custom refinery for
to a 7-mllion-gal pregnant solution processing.
Recoveries by agglomeration-heap leach-
Pregnant solution from the pond is ing range from 70 to 90 pct, and depend
pumped through a series of five activated on the ore being processed. Conventional
carbon tanks at a rate of 1,000 gpm. The heap leaching was used before the agglom-
barren solution exiting the fifth carbon erating equipment was on-line. Gold re-
tank is pumped to the barren solution coveries were less than 50 pct because of
pond for reagent makeup and recycle to fines migration and the high clay con-
the heap. The loaded carbon from the tent, which caused blinding and channel-
lead tank is stripped with a caustic cya- ing of leaching solution. Agglomeration
nide solution at 1200 C and 35 psig pres- technology has helped maintain targeted
sure. The gold-bearing solution is recoveries in shorter leaching periods
cooled to 850 C before electrowinning. for heaps with high clay content.
The solution is pumped through two


The precious metals industry has rapid- are more permeable and drain rapidly,
ly adopted agglomeration-heap leaching soluble losses are minimized and inter-
technology. The five operations de- mittent sprinkling is permtted. This is
scribed in this report demonstrate the important in arid climates because solu-
versatility and applicability of the tion loss by evaporation is minimized by
technology to heap leachable ore types spraying the heaps during night hours
for different size operations. A summry when winds and ambient temperature are
of agglomerating conditions for the oper- low. During the period that the heap is
ations is shown in table 1. In the West- not being sprayed, the residual cyanide
ern United States, there are 36 commr- in the heap continues to dissolve pre-
cial operations using agglomeration-heap cious metal and enriches the pregnant
leaching technology. solution when spraying is resumed. The
greater permeability of the heaps permits
For the operations described, agglomer- better washing of dissolved values from
ation pretreatment technology effectively the heap and decreases the residual cya-
improved heap permeability and permitted nide content of the washed, spent heap.
better contact of the cyanide leaching
solution with the precious metal. As a Even though more reagents and equipment
result, percolation rates increased, are required for agglomeration-heap
leaching periods decreased, and precious leaching than for conventional heap
metal recoveries were improved over those leaching, it is cost effective because of
of conventional heap leaching technology. the decrease in leaching time and im-
Agglomeration pretreatment provides cer- proved precious metal recoveries.
tain other advantages. Since the heaps

TABLE 1. - Summry of agglomerating conditions of the five commrcial

operations described

Process- Feed Binder added Agglomeration Curing Leach- Recov

Operation ing rate, size, to ore Equip- Mois- time, ing ery,
tpd in Type lb/ton ment ture, hr cycle, pct
used pct days
Arizona 20 3/8 Cement. 10 Drum... 10 48 5 90
gold heap
Colorado 1,500 1/2 . 3 . .do... 13 8 3 90
gold vat
leaching. Fly ash 7

Arizona 2,000 1/2 Lime... 7 Reverse 10-12 72 7 '90

silver heap belt.
Northern 2,500 5/8 Cement. 7-10 None2 . . 9-13 48-72 20 (3 )
gold heap
Eastern 3,000 3/4 . 4-10 Drum.. . 8 (4 ) 20-80 70-90
gold heap
leachinl! .
190 pct of the leachable silver is recovered.
2Agglomeration occurs as the wetted feed cascades down the conical stockpile. A
drum agglomerator is planned for this operation.
3percent recovery is proprietary company information. Agglomeration increased the
recovery by 60 pct.
4While heap is built.


1. Heinen, H. J., G. E. McClelland, J., v. 183, No. 10, Oct. 1982, pp. 102-
and R. E. Lindstrom. Enhancing Percola- 105.
tion Rates in Heap Leaching of Gold-
Silver Ores. BuMnes RI 8388, 1979, 20 6. Engineering and Mining Journal.
pp. Pelletizing Aids Tombstone Leaching Oper-
ation. V. 182, No.1, Jan. 1981, pp. 94-
2. McClelland, G. E., andJ. A. 95.
Eisele. Improvements in Heap Leaching To
Recover Silver and Gold From Low-Grade 7. This Month in Mining. Al-
Resources. BuMines RI 8612, 1982, 26 ligator Ridge Uses Heap Leaching To Pro-
pp. duce Gold Bullion Bars. V. 182, No.8,
Aug. 1981, pp. 35-37.
3. Johanson, J. R. Particle Segrega-
t ion ... and What To Do About It. Chem. 8. Mcquiston, F. W., Jr., and R. S.
Eng., (N.Y.), v.8S, No. 11, May 1978, Shoemaker. Heap Leaching Gold and Silver
pp. 183-189. Ores. Ch. in Gold and Silver Cyanidation
Plant Practice. American Institute of
4. Chamberlin, P. D. Heap Leaching Mining, Metallurgical, and Petroleum En-
and Pilot Tes ting of Gold and Silver gineers, Inc., New York, v. 2, 1981, pp.
Ores. Min. Congo J., v. 67, No.4, Apr. 13-18.
1981, pp. 47-52.

5. Lewis, A. Producing Gold for $160/

Tr Oz in Victor, Colorado. Eng. and Min.