Overcoming the slow-leaching kinetics of refractory primary copper sulfides is crucial to secure future copper sources. Here, the effect of carbon was investigated as a catalyst for a bioleaching reaction. First, the mechanism of carbon-assisted bioleaching was elucidated using the model chalcopyrite mineral, under specified low-redox potentials, by considering the concept of Enormal. The carbon catalyst effectively controlled the Eh level in bioleaching liquors, which would otherwise exceed its optimal range (0 ≤ Enormal ≤ 1) due to active regeneration of Fe3+ by microbes. Additionally, Enormal of ~0.3 was shown to maximize the carbon-assisted bioleaching of the model chalcopyrite mineral. Secondly, carbon-assisted bioleaching was tested for three types of chalcopyrite/enargite-bearing complex concentrates. A trend was found that the optimal Eh level for a maximum Cu solubilization increases in response to the decreasing chalcopyrite/enargite ratio in the concentrate: When chalcopyrite dominates over enargite, the optimal Eh was found to satisfy 0 ≤ Enormal ≤ 1. As enargite becomes more abundant than chalcopyrite, the optimal Eh for the greatest Cu dissolution was shifted to higher values. Overall, modifying the Eh level by adjusting AC doses to maximize Cu solubilization from the concentrate of complex mineralogy was shown to be useful.
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