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 third-party funded projects:

Former projects:


  • Hedrich, S., A. Schippers. 2017. Metallgewinnung mittels Geobiotechnologie. Chem. Ing. Tech. 89: 29–39.
  • Hedrich, S., K. Rübberdt, F. Glombitza, W. Sand, A. Schippers, M. V. Véliz, S. Willscher (Hrsg.). 2017. 22nd Biohydrometallurgy Symposium. Solid State Phenomena 262, Trans Tech Publications, Switzerland.
  • Kermer, R., S. Hedrich, S. Bellenberg, B, Brett, D, Schrader, P, Schönherr, M. Köpcke, K. Siewert, N. Günther, T. Gehrke, W. Sand, K. Räuchle, M. Bertau, G. Heide, W. Palitzsch, L. Weitkämper, H. Wotruba, H.-M. Ludwig, R. Partusch, A. Schippers, S. Reichel, F. Glombitza , E. Janneck. 2017. Lignite ash: waste material or potential resource - investigation of metal recovery and exploitation options. Hydrometallurgy 168: 141–152.
  • Marrero, J., O. Coto, A. Schippers. 2017. Aerobic versus anaerobic reductive dissolution of iron-rich nickel laterite overburden by Acidithiobacillus. Hydrometallurgy 168: 49–55.
  • Hedrich, S., and A. Schippers. 2016. Distribution of acidophilic microorganisms in natural and man-made acidic environments. In: Acidophiles: life in extremely acidic environments. R. Quatrini, D. B. Johnson (eds.). Caister Academic Press, UK.
  • Marrero, J., O. Coto, S. Goldmann, T. Graupner, and A. Schippers. 2015. Recovery of nickel and cobalt from laterite tailings by reductive dissolution under aerobic conditions using Acidithiobacillus species. Environ. Sci. Technol. 49: 6674-6682.
  • Schippers, A., S. Hedrich, J. Vasters, M. Drobe, W. Sand and S. Willscher. 2014. Biomining: metal recovery from ores with microorganisms. In: Geobiotechnology I - Metal-related Issues, A. Schippers, F. Glombitza, and W. Sand (eds.).  Adv. Biochem. Eng. Biotechnol. 141.
  • Vera, M., A. Schippers and W. Sand. 2013. Progress in bioleaching: fundamentals and mechanisms of bacterial metal sulfide oxidation—part A. Appl. Microbiol. Biotechnol. 97: 7529-7541.
  • Schippers, A., J. Vasters, and M. Drobe. 2011. Biomining - Entwicklung der Metallgewinnung mittels Mikroorganismen im Bergbau. Commodity top news 39. Deutsche Rohstoffagentur (DERA) in der Bundesanstalt für Geowissenschaften und Rohstoffe (BGR). Link
  • Schippers, A., A. Breuker, A. Blazejak, K. Bosecker, D. Kock, and T.L. Wright. 2010. The biogeochemistry and microbiology of sulfidic mine waste and bioleaching dumps and heaps, and novel Fe(II)-oxidizing bacteria. Hydrometallurgy 104: 342–350.
  • Further publications

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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