Oxidative leaching of chalcopyrite with dissolved oxygen and/or with ferric ions is promoted by high concentrations of ferrous ions in sulfuric acid solutions containing cupric ions. This paper proposes a reaction model to interpret this phenomenon and the thermodynamics of the leaching is discussed. The model considers the leaching to take place in two steps: (1) reduction of chalcopyrite to Cu2S by ferrous ions in the presence of cupric ions and (2) oxidation of the Cu2S to cupric ions and elemental sulfur by dissolved oxygen and/or by ferric ions. The intermediate Cu2S is more amenable to oxidation than chalcopyrite, causing enhanced copper extraction. The model predicts that the formation of intermediate Cu2S and ferrous-promoted chalcopyrite leaching occur when the redox potential of the solution is below a critical potential that is a function of the ferrous and cupric ion concentrations. To confirm this, flask-shaking leaching experiments were carried out with 0.1 mol dm-3 sulfuric acid solutions containing known concentrations of ferrous, ferric, and cupric ions at 303 K in air. The results agreed well with the predictions, i.e. copper extraction was enhanced at solution potentials below the critical potential predicted with the model.
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