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Hydrometallurgy is part of the field of extractive metallurgy involving the use of aqueous chemistry for the recovery of metals from ores, concentrates, and recycled or residual materials. Hydrometallurgy is typically divided into three general areas:
  • Leaching
  • Solution concentration and purification
  • Metal recovery


Leaching involves the use of aqueous solutions containing a lixiviant which is brought into contact with a material containing a valuable metal. The lixiviant in solution may be acidic or basic in nature. The type and concentration of the lixiviant is normally controlled to allow some degree of selectivity for the metal or metals that are to be recovered. In the leaching process, oxidation potential, temperature, and pH of the solution are important parameters, and are often manipulated to optimize dissolution of the desired metal component into the aqueous phase.

The three basic leaching techniques are in-situ leaching, heap leaching, and vat leaching.

In-situ leaching

In-situ leaching is also called "solution mining." The process initially involves drilling of holes into the ore deposit. Explosives or hydraulic fracturing are used to create open pathways within the deposit for solution to penetrate into. Leaching solution is pumped into the deposit where it makes contact with the ore. The solution is then collected and processed.The Beverley uranium deposit is an example of in-situ leaching.

Heap leaching

In heap leaching processes,...
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