In situ acid leaching of copper tailings deposits: A case history
The results of a field-scale study involving in situ leaching of copper ore tailings using sulphuric acid as the leaching agent, injection wells to introduce the leaching solution and extraction wells to recover the copper-enriched pregnant leaching solution are presented. The study was performed at an abandoned tailings disposal site using a battery of injection and extraction wells. The medium was characterized through the determinations of physical, chemical, mineralogical, and hydrodispersive properties based on laboratory and field tests, including a tritium tracer test, a pumping test, particle size analyses, and hydraulic conductivity tests. Numerous horizontal strata with different hydraulic conductivities were identified. A previously developed model was used to simulate the leaching of copper ore tailings. Although the study confirms the feasibility of using in situ leaching for recovery of residual copper from tailings deposits, the efficiency of the technology depends significantly on the medium stratigraphy and hydraulic conductivity.