A two-dimensional non-homogeneous biofilm model is proposed for the first time to study chemical and biochemical reactions at the microorganism scale applied to biological metal leaching from mineral ores. The spatial and temporal relation between these reactions, microorganism growth and the morphological changes of the biofilm caused by solid inorganic precipitate formation were studied using this model. The model considers diffusion limitations due to accumulation of inorganic particles over the mineral substratum, and allows the study of the effect of discrete phases on chemical and microbiological mineral solubilization. The particle-based modeling strategy allowed representation of contact reactions between the microorganisms and the insoluble precipitates, such as those required for sulfur attack and solubilization. Time-dependent simulations of chemical chalcopyrite leaching showed that chalcopyrite passivation occurs only when an impervious solid layer is formed on the mineral surface. This mineral layer hinders the diffusion of one kinetically determinant mineral-attacking chemical species through a nearly irreversible chemical mechanism. Simulations with iron and sulfur oxidizing microorganisms revealed that chemolithoautotrophic biofilms are able to delay passivation onset by formation of corrosion pits and increase of the solid layer porosity through sulfur dissolution. The model results also show that the observed flat morphology of bioleaching biofilms is favored preferentially at low iron concentrations due to preferential growth at the biofilm edge on the surface of sulfur-forming minerals. Flat biofilms can also be advantageous for chalcopyrite bioleaching because they tend to favor sulfur dissolution over iron oxidation. The adopted modeling strategy is of great interest for the numerical representation of heterogeneous biofilm systems including abiotic solid particles. © 2010 Wiley Periodicals, Inc.
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Applied Microbiology and Biotechnology