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Metals 2019, 9(10), 1112;

Extraction of Mn from Black Copper Using Iron Oxides from Tailings and Fe2+ as Reducing Agents in Acid Medium
Departamento de Ingeniería en Metalurgia y Minas, Universidad Católica del Norte, Antofagasta 1270709, Chile
Department of Mining, Geological and Cartographic Department, Universidad Politécnica de Cartagena, Murcia 30203, Spain
Departamento de Ciencias Geológicas, Universidad Católica del Norte, Antofagasta 1270709, Chile
Departamento de Ingeniería Química y Procesos de Minerales, Universidad de Antofagasta, Antofagasta 1270300, Chile
Departamento de Construcción, Universidad de Atacama, Copiapó 1531772, Chile
Laboratorio de Metalurgia Extractiva y Síntesis de Materiales (MESiMat-ICB-UNCUYO-CONICET-FCEN, Padre Contreras 1300, Parque Gral. San Martín), CP 5500 Mendoza, Argentina
Author to whom correspondence should be addressed.
Received: 13 September 2019 / Accepted: 16 October 2019 / Published: 18 October 2019


Exotic type deposits include several species of minerals, such as atacamite, chrysocolla, copper pitch, and copper wad. Among these, copper pitch and copper wad have considerable concentrations of manganese. However, their non-crystalline and amorphous structure makes it challenging to recover the elements of interest (like Cu or Mn) by conventional hydrometallurgical methods. For this reason, black copper ores are generally not incorporated into the extraction circuits or left unprocessed, whether in stock, leach pads, or waste. Therefore, to dilute MnO2, the use of reducing agents is essential. In the present research, agitated leaching was performed to dissolve Mn of black copper in an acidic medium, comparing the use of ferrous ions and tailings as reducing agents. Two samples of black copper were studied, of high and low grade of Mn, respectively, the latter with a high content of clays. The effect on the reducing agent/black copper ratio and the concentration of sulfuric acid in the system were evaluated. Better results in removing Mn were achieved using the highest-grade black copper sample when working with ferrous ions at a ratio of Fe2+/black copper of 2/1 and 1 mol/L of sulfuric acid. Besides, the low-grade sample induced a significant consumption of H2SO4 due to the high presence of gangue and clays.
waste treatment; reducing agent; manganese

1. Introduction

Copper mining is Chile’s most important economic activity, accounting for 10% of the gross national product (GNP) [1]. According to the latest figures from the Chilean Copper Commission, 5.83 million metric tons of copper were produced in 2018, making Chile the leading copper producer, accounting for 27.7% of global copper production. Experts from the Chilean Association of Geologists have stated that Chile has the largest copper deposits in the world [2], with a total copper reserve of 170 million metric tons [3].
Porphyry minerals in deposits like pyrite oxidize when submitted to geological agents. When pyrite reacts with water, it generates sulfuric acid, promoting the mobility of metals like copper that can be transported under certain potential and pH conditions, precipitating downstream and forming what are termed exotic deposits [4,5,6,7,8].
These deposits are composed of different copper containing phases such as chrysocolla, atacamite, copper pitch, and copper wad [6,9]. The latter two are defined as mineraloids because they crystalize amorphously [2]. They are also termed silicates rich in Si-Fe-Cu-Mn [10].
Some examples of exotic deposits in Chile are Mina Sur in Chuquicamata [11], Damiana in El Salvador [7], Huanquintipa in Collahuasi [12], and La Cascada, Lomas Bayas Spence, El Tesoro [2], and Angélica in Tocopilla [13]. The copper and manganese of this type of deposit are often associated with oxidized minerals, mainly chrysocolla, which, in turn, are associated with gangue that can negatively affect leaching [11]. Silicates and aluminosilicates, like mica and clay minerals, have the capacity to consume some of the acid generated by oxidization [14]. Clay minerals, like montmorillonite, kaolinite, and smectite, easily absorb acid [15]. Other minerals, like chlorites and biotite, also consume large amounts of acid over the long term [15]. Helle et al. [11] studied the effect of gangue and clay minerals on the leaching of copper oxides such as atacamite, chrysocolla, and malachite. The copper oxides were treated with a strong solution of sulfuric acid (265 g/L) in small columns at ambient temperature (18 to 21 °C), with the addition of synthetic rocks composed of 57% quartz, 1% phase mineral, and 42% reactive gangue. The authors concluded that copper retention and acid consumption were the result of the presence of smectite, mordenite gangue, kaolinite, illite, and quartz.
Researchers have indicated that it is not possible to recover copper associated with these silicates using conventional hydrometallurgical methods for oxidized copper because of their non-crystalline or amorphous structure [16]. However, recent studies on techniques for extracting manganese have found that silicates can be recovered by treating them in a similar manner to treatment for manganese, owing to the similarity in their metallurgical behavior [17].
It has been demonstrated that a reducing agent is required to extract Mn from MnO2 in acid media [18,19]. Other studies have obtained good results dissolving MnO2 with different reducing agents like H2SO3 [20], SO2 [21], wastewater from producing molasses-based alcohol [22], and various iron-based reducing agents [20,23,24]. Iron, which is abundant and inexpensive, has proven to be a good alternative when working with MnO2 in acid media.
Zakeri et al. [25] obtained an Mn extraction rate of 90% in 20 min at ambient temperature with the addition of ferrous ions to the system, with an Fe2+/MnO2 molar ratio of 3.0 and H2SO4/MnO2 ratio of 2.0. They proposed the following series of reactions for MnO2 dissolution:
MnO2 + 4H+ + 2e = Mn2+ + 2H2O
2Fe2+ = 2Fe3+ + 2e
MnO2 + 2Fe2+ + 4H+ = Mn2+ + 2Fe3+ + 2H2O
Toro et al. [26] leached Mn nodules using tailings with high Fe3O4 contents (58.52%) from slag flotation for the recovery of Cu from the Alto Norte Foundry Plant and optimized the working parameters (Fe2O3/MnO2 ratio and H2SO4 concentration). They found that for short periods of time (5 to 20 min), the optimal MnO2/Fe2O3 ratio is 1/3, with H2SO4 concentration of 0.1 mol/L, giving Mn extraction rates of approximately 70%. The authors proposed the following reactions to dissolve MnO2 with the addition of iron oxides:
Fe2O3(s) + 3 H2SO4(aq) = Fe2(SO4)3(s) + 3 H2O(l)
Fe3O4(s) + 4H2SO4(l) = FeSO4(aq) + Fe2(SO4)3(s) + 4 H2O(l)
2 FeSO4(aq) + 2 H2SO4(aq) + MnO2(s) = Fe2(SO4)3(s) + 2 H2O(l) + MnSO4(aq)
The following reactions are proposed to dissolve manganese from black copper:
(CuO × MnO2 × 7H2O)(s) + 3 H2SO4(aq) + 2 FeSO4(aq) = Fe2(SO4)3(aq) + MnSO4(aq) + CuSO4(aq) + 10 H2O(l)
(CuO × MnO2 × 7H2O)(s) + 11 H2SO4(aq) + 3 Fe3O4(s) = 3 Fe2(SO4)3(aq) + MnSO4(aq) + CuSO4(aq) + 18 H2O(l)
Equation (5) gives the reaction of magnetite with sulfuric acid forming ferrous sulfate, which is a good reducing agent for the leaching of MnO2. This is shown in Equation (6), where Mn4+ is reduced to Mn2+. In Equation (7), the solution of manganese from black copper (copper wad) is proposed, using ferrous sulfate expressed in Equation (5). In general, Equation (8) represents the dissolution of manganese with iron oxide as a reducing agent, which demands high concentrations of sulfuric acid to first form FeSO4 from Fe3O4 and then continues to dissolve manganese until a manganese sulfate solution is obtained.
In Chile, big copper mining poses new challenges and needs. It seeks to diversify the extractions of other elements (besides the Cu) in order to boost the export of commodities and raise employment. Black copper ores are resources that are generally not incorporated into the extraction circuits or left untreated, whether in stock, leach pads, or waste [27]. These exotic minerals have considerable amounts of Mn (approximately 29%), which represent a commercial appeal. Besides, according to the study conducted by Benavente et al. [27], by dissolving black copper ores in a reducing condition, the decrease in redox potential favors the dissolution of manganese. This would allow the subsequent extraction of the Cu present in black copper, given the potential commercial value of these “wastes”.
This work aimed to study the dissolution of MnO2 from black copper in acid media comparing the use of iron and iron oxide tailings as reducing agents.

2. Methodology

2.1. Black Oxide Samples

Two samples of black copper, obtained from different mines in northern Chile, were used in this investigation. One sample, black copper sample-1 (BCS-1), was from a high-grade vein and was almost 100% pure, while the other, black copper sample-2 (BCS-2), was low-grade and taken from the mine dumpsite. The black oxides ores were ground in a porcelain mortar to sizes ranging from −173 to +147 µm. Chemical composition was determined by inductively coupled plasma atomic emission spectrometry (ICP-AES). Table 1 shows the chemical composition of the samples. A QEMSCAN analysis was applied, which is an electronic scanning microscope that was modified both in hardware and software. This performed the identification and automated quantification of ranges of elementary definitions that can be associated with inorganic solid phases (minerals, alloys, slags, etc.). To determine the mineralogical composition, the samples were mounted on briquettes and polished. The identification, mapping of 2-D distribution, and quantification of inorganic phases, was done by combining the emissions of retro-dispersed electrons (BSE) with a Zeiss EVO series, a Bruker AXS XFlash 4010 detector (Bruker, Billerica, MA, USA) and the iDiscover software (FEI Company, Brisbane, Australia). The QEMSCAN analyses are based on the automated obtaining of EDS spectra (dispersed energy from X-rays) in hundreds of thousands or millions of collected analysis points, each in a time of milliseconds. The classification of mineralogical phases is done by classifying each EDS spectrum in a hierarchical and descending compositional list known as the “SIP List”. The BSE image is used to discriminate between resin and graphite in the sample, to specify entries in the SIP list, and to establish thresholds for acceptance or rejection of particles. As a result, pixelated, 2-D and false color images of a specimen or a representative subsample of particles are obtained. Each pixel retains its elementary and BSE brightness information, which allows subsequent offline data processing. Through software, customized filters are generated that allow the quantification of ore and gangue species, mineral release, associations between inorganic phases, and the classification of particles according to criteria of shape, size, texture, etc. Figure 1 shows the chemical species to black oxides using QEMSCAN.
Table 2 shows the mineralogical composition of the black copper samples. Copper wad refers to a subgroup of copper composed of manganese and copper hydroxides, as well as also traces of other elements such as Co, Ca, Fe, Al, Si, and Mg.

2.2. Ferrous Ions

The ferrous ions used for this investigation (FeSO4 × 7H2O) were WINKLER brand, with a molecular weight of 278.01 g/mol.

2.3. Iron Oxide Tailings

The iron oxide tailings used were from the Altonorte Smelting Plant. The particle sizes were in a range between −75 to +53 μm. The methods used to determine its chemical and mineralogical composition were the same as those used in black copper ores. Table 3 shows the minerals (and chemical formulas) from QEMSCAN analysis, noting that several iron-containing phases were present from which the Fe content was estimated at 41.9%. As the Fe was mainly in the form of magnetite, the most appropriate method of extraction was the same as that used by Toro et al. [26].

2.4. Reagent and Leaching Test

The sulfuric acid used for the leaching tests was grade P.A., with 95–97% purity, a density of 1.84 kg/L, and a molecular weight of 98.80 g/mol. The leaching tests were carried out in a 50 mL glass reactor with a 0.01 solid/liquid ratio. A total of 200 mg of black oxide ore was maintained in suspension with the use of a five-position magnetic stirrer (IKA ROS, CEP 13087-534, Campinas, Brazil) at a speed of 600 rpm. The tests were conducted at a room temperature of 25 °C, while variations were iron additives, particle size, and leaching time. The tests were performed in duplicate and measurements (or analyses) were carried out on 5 mL undiluted samples using atomic absorption spectrometry with a coefficient of variation ≤ 5% and a relative error between 5 to 10%. The measurements of pH and oxidation-reduction potential (ORP) of the leach solutions were made using a pH-ORP meter (HANNA HI-4222 (HANNA instruments, Woonsocket, Rhode Island, USA)). The solution ORP was measured in a combination ORP electrode cell composed of a platinum working electrode and a saturated Ag/AgCl reference electrode.

2.5. The Effect of the Fe/MnO2 Ratio

Other investigations have shown that variables of particle size and stirring speed do not have significant effects when working with a high Fe/MnO2 ratio [26,28]. Given this result, we decided to work with the following parameters: Fe/MnO2 ratios of 1/1, 2/1 and 3/1, a particle size range of −75–+53 μm, a stirring speed of 600 rpm, 1 mol/L sulfuric acid, and room temperature (25 °C).

2.6. The Effect of the Acid Concentration on the System

The present research studied the effect of the sulfuric acid concentration on the system, working with H2SO4 concentrations of 0.5, 1, 2, and 3 mol/L under the following operating conditions: Reducing agent/black copper ratio of 1/2, particle size range of −75 + 53 μm, stirring speed of 600 rpm, and a temperature of 25 °C.

3. Results

3.1. The Effect of the Fe2+/MnO2 Ratio

Figure 2a,b show the results for the dissolution of two black copper samples using Fe2+ in acid media. As can be seen, better results were achieved with the sample BCS-1, which was due to the high presence of clay in sample BSC-2. It was observed that high Mn extraction rates can be achieved in short periods of time using MnO2/Fe2+ ratios of 1/2 or less, achieving dissolution rates of over 78% in 5 min with sample BCS-1, and 65% in 5 min with sample BCS-2. The results shown in Figure 2a are similar to the 90% recovery obtained by Zakeri et al. [25] in 20 min leaching MnO2 from manganese nodules with an Fe2+/MnO2 ratio of 3, and an H2SO4/MnO2 molar ratio of 2/1. A 1/1 Fe2+/MnO2 ratio resulted in a lower MnO2 dissolution kinetics, with an extraction of 40% in 5 min with sample A and 31% in 5 min with sample B. In general, Mn dissolution rates were similar with a longer period (30 min). However, the dissolution kinetics were slower for the sample BCS-2.

3.2. The Effect of the Fe2O3/MnO2 Ratio

Figure 3a,b show Mn dissolution with two black copper samples using Fe2O3 in acid media. As in earlier investigations by Toro et al. [26,28], working with an Fe2O3/MnO2 ratio of 2/1 or higher significantly increased MnO2 dissolution kinetics. There was little difference in the Mn extraction rates working with Fe2O3/MnO2 ratios of either 2/1 or 3/1, while the Mn extraction fell significantly when the quantity of Fe2O3 was reduced. Potential and pH levels were respectively in the ranges of −0.5 to 1.3 V and −1.5 to 0.4 in all the tests in this study.

3.3. The Effect of the H2SO4 Concentration

Figure 4 shows the effect of the acid concentration on dissolving Mn dissolution from the two black copper samples with the addition of high concentrations of iron oxides from tailings or ferrous ions. It can be seen from Figure 4a,c that for sample BCS-1, the sulfuric acid concentration was not significant in either case when working with high concentrations of the reducing agent. Differences in the effect of the acid concentration could only be noted with very low concentrations of iron oxide tailings (0.5 mol/L). The above concurs with findings of previous studies by Toro et al. [24,26] on extraction of MnO2 from manganese nodules. The Mn extraction rate from the BCS-2 sample increased with higher concentrations of H2SO4, possibly owing to the high consumption of acid generated by the presence of mineral impurities in this sample, mainly montmorillonite, kaolinite, and chlorite. This is consistent with what was previously found by Helle and Kelm [29], where the leaching of exotic Cu minerals (atacamite, chrysocolla, and malachite) required higher acid consumption by incorporating reactive bargains into the system. This was driven by smectites, mordenite bargain, and the presence of kaolinite, illite, and quartz.

4. Conclusions

This study presents the results obtained for dissolving Mn from black copper using iron oxides (and specifically magnetite) from tailings and Fe2+ as reducing agents in acid media. Both reducing agents yielded good results with the two samples studied. Similar behavior was observed with the two samples in relation to Mn extraction, with the best results obtained in all the experiments with the BCS-1 sample. These encouraging results give new options to extract the Cu present in these exotic minerals, which are considered as industrial waste today. The main findings are the following:
The ferrous ions were a better reducing agent than iron oxides to dissolve MnO2 in black copper.
The optimal reducing agent/black copper ratio was 2:1 for the studied reducing agents studied.
High concentrations of H2SO4 had a positive effect on the dissolution of Mn with the BCS-2 sample owing to the high content of clay (montmorillonite and kaolinite) and gangue (chlorite), which consume significant amounts of acid. The acid concentration was not significant with the BCS-1 sample.
The best results in this study were obtained working with the sample with fewer impurities (BCS-1), with an Fe2+/black copper ratio of 2:1, and 1 mol/L of sulfuric acid.
Despite the good results obtained with BCS-1, BCS-2 was more like the mineralogy found at the industrial scale. It should be noted that although lower Mn extraction rates are obtained using tailings instead of ferrous ions, tailings can be a more attractive additive for leaching black copper because they are an industrial waste with no economic value. Given the above results, future investigations should aim to optimize operational parameters for leaching black copper minerals with high gangue content using industrial waste or wastewater as reducing agents, with the aim of taking this process to the industrial scale.

Author Contributions

K.P. contributed in research and wrote paper, N.T. and R.I.J. contributed in project administration, E.C. and A.N. contributed resources, J.G. contributed in review and editing and M.H.R. contributed in data curing.


This research received no external funding.


The authors are grateful for the contribution of the Scientific Equipment Unit- MAINI of the Universidad Católica del Norte for aiding in generating data by automated electronic microscopy QEMSCAN® and for facilitating the chemical analysis of the solutions. We are also grateful to the Altonorte Mining Company for supporting this research and providing slag for this study, and we thank to Marina Vargas Aleuy and María Barraza Bustos of the Universidad Católica del Norte for supporting the experimental tests. Also, we Conicyt Fondecyt 11,171,036 and Centro CRHIAM Project Conicyt/Fondap/15130015.

Conflicts of Interest

The authors declare they have no conflict of interest.


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Figure 1. Detailed modal mineralogy.
Figure 1. Detailed modal mineralogy.
Metals 09 01112 g001
Figure 2. The effect of the Fe2+ concentration on MnO2 dissolution (a) Black copper sample-1 (BSC-1); (b) Black copper sample-2 (BCS-2), 25 °C, particle size range of −75–+53 µm, 1 mol/L H2SO4.
Figure 2. The effect of the Fe2+ concentration on MnO2 dissolution (a) Black copper sample-1 (BSC-1); (b) Black copper sample-2 (BCS-2), 25 °C, particle size range of −75–+53 µm, 1 mol/L H2SO4.
Metals 09 01112 g002
Figure 3. The effect of the iron oxide tailings concentration on MnO2 dissolution (a) BSC-1; (b) BSC-2, 25 °C, particle size range of −75–+53 µm, 1 mol/L H2SO4.
Figure 3. The effect of the iron oxide tailings concentration on MnO2 dissolution (a) BSC-1; (b) BSC-2, 25 °C, particle size range of −75–+53 µm, 1 mol/L H2SO4.
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Figure 4. The effect of the sulfuric acid concentration on the system (a) BSCe-1; (b) BSC-2, MnO2/Fe2O3 ratio of 1/2; (c) BSC-1; (d) BSC-2, MnO2/Fe2+ ratio of 1/2.
Figure 4. The effect of the sulfuric acid concentration on the system (a) BSCe-1; (b) BSC-2, MnO2/Fe2O3 ratio of 1/2; (c) BSC-1; (d) BSC-2, MnO2/Fe2+ ratio of 1/2.
Metals 09 01112 g004aMetals 09 01112 g004b
Table 1. Chemical composition of black oxide samples.
Table 1. Chemical composition of black oxide samples.
SampleMn (%)Fe (%)
Black Copper Sample-122.017.92
Black Copper Sample-20.513.88
Table 2. The mineralogical composition of the black copper samples as determined by QEMSCAN.
Table 2. The mineralogical composition of the black copper samples as determined by QEMSCAN.
Mineral (% Mass)Black Copper Sample-1Black Copper Sample-2
Native Cu/Cuprite/Tenorite0.120.00
Cu-Mn Wad78.904.64
Other Cu Minerals2.690.03
Other Fe Oxides/Sulphates0.003.15
Feldspars 0.0235.11
Kaolinite Group0.017.08
Table 3. Mineralogical composition of tailings, as determined by QEMSCAN.
Table 3. Mineralogical composition of tailings, as determined by QEMSCAN.
MineralAmount % (w/w)
Chalcopyrite/Bornite ( CuFeS 2 / Cu 5 FeS 4 ) 0.47
Tennantite/Tetrahedrite ( Cu 12 As 4 S 13 / Cu 12 Sb 4 S 13 ) 0.03
Other Cu Minerals0.63
Cu–Fe Hydroxides0.94
Pyrite ( FeS 2 ) 0.12
Magnetite ( Fe 3 O 4 ) 58.52
Specular Hematite ( Fe 2 O 3 ) 0.89
Hematite ( Fe 2 O 3 ) 4.47
Ilmenite/Titanite/Rutile ( FeTiO 3 / CaTiSiO 5 / TiO 2 ) 0.04
Siderite ( FeCO 3 ) 0.22
Chlorite/Biotite ( Mg ) 3 ( Si ) 4 O 10 ( OH ) 2 ( Mg ) 3 ( OH ) 6 / K ( Mg ) 3 AlSi 3 O 10 ( OH ) 2 3.13
Other Phyllosilicates11.61
Fayalite ( Fe 2 SiO 4 ) 4.59
Dicalcium Silicate ( Ca 2 Si O 4 )8.30
Kirschsteinite (CaFeSi O 4 )3.40
Forsterite ( Mg 2 Si O 4 )2.30
Barite (BaSO4)0.08
Zinc Oxide (ZnO)0.02
Lead Oxide (PbO)0.01
Sulfate (S O 4 )0.20

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