Atmospheric leaching of a sphalerite concentrate in sulphate and chloride media was performed and the effect of several variables, such as solid/liquid ratio and oxidant (Fe(III)) concentration were investigated. The behaviour of minor elements, such as Cu, In, As, Sb, Bi, Sn and Pb, was also studied under different conditions. The results showed that using a solid/liquid ratio of 5% (w/v) it was possible to leach 95% of zinc after 2 h, with a solution of 0.5 M H2SO4 and Fe2(SO4)3 at 80 °C. The minor elements As, Sb and Bi were also completely leached whereas copper leaching was favoured by the use of chloride medium. The oxidation of Fe(II) during the leaching tests was studied and an improvement of 20% zinc extraction was observed in an oxygenated system. Cross-current leach tests using two/three stages and a solid/liquid ratio of 10% (w/v) were performed to achieve 90% of zinc extraction. The electron microprobe analysis of the leaching residues showed no change on the sphalerite composition after the leaching, which indicates that the leaching of sphalerite involves the break down of the sulphide structure. © 2010 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.
Year of publication: 2010