BGR Bundesanstalt für Geowissenschaften und Rohstoffe

Metal Bioleaching (Biomining)

In place bioleaching of copper in ChileIn place bioleaching of copper in Chile Source: BGR

For biomining specialized microorganisms are used in order to recover valuable metals from ores via bioleaching. Important leaching bacteria are aerobic, acidophilic iron(II)- and/or sulfur compound-oxidizing species such as for example Acidithiobacillus ferrooxidans (formerly Thiobacillus ferrooxidans). The ore minerals of the metals copper, nickel, cobalt, and zinc occur in nature mainly as metal sulfides. Bioleaching is the biological conversion of an insoluble metal compound to a water soluble form. The oxidizing agent iron(III) for the metal sulfides originates from the microbial iron(II)oxidation. During metal sulfide oxidation sulfur compounds and elemental sulfur occur. These are microbially oxidized to sulfuric acid, whereby the acid milieu is generated.

In industrial bioleaching (biomining) three technical processes are differentiated: Heap or dump bioleaching, tank bioleaching, in situ or in place bioleaching. Today the recovery of copper from sulfide ores is the most important industrial application, and a significant proportion of the world copper production originates from heap or dump bioleaching. Furthermore biomining is applied for the recovery of gold, cobalt, nickel, zinc and uranium.

Via targeted research and further development of bioleaching valuable substances such as economically critical metals could be recovered from mine waste dumps (mine tailings), complex ores, non-sulfidic ores such as laterites and manganese nodules, as well as industrial residues such as ashes, sludges, slags and even electronic waste. For this, processes already exist in laboratory scale and further work is carried out in the geomicrobiology laboratory of BGR, mainly within the frame of third-party funded projects. Since 1973 several projects in bioleaching have been carried out and the results have regularly been published in recognized international journals (> 100 publications).

Current Projects:

Former Projects:

  • BioMOre – New Mining Concept for Extracting Metals from Deep Ore Deposits using Biotechnology, EU Horizon 2020, 2015-2018
  • Resource efficiency Germany-France: Composition EcoMetals - Innovative eco-efficient biohydrometallurgy process for the recovery of strategic and rare metals: primary and secondary resources, BMBF, 2014-2017
  • Chemical – biotechnological recovery of valuable elements from lignite combustion ash, BMBF, r3, 2013-2015
  • Molecular mechanism of anoxic bioleaching by bacteria for the recovery of nickel and cobalt from Cuban laterites, Grant of Alexander von Humboldt-Foundation to Dr. Jeannette Marrero Coto, 2013-2015


Contact 1:

Prof. Dr. rer. nat. habil. Axel Schippers
Phone: +49-(0)511-643-3103
Fax: +49-(0)511-643-2304

Contact 2:

Dr. rer. nat. Sabrina Hedrich
Phone: +49-(0)511-643-3187
Fax: +49-(0)511-643-2304

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