The role of carbonate ions in pyrite oxidation in aqueous systems

Claudia L. Caldeira, Virginia S.T. Ciminelli, Kwadwo Osseo-Asare

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80 Scopus citations


The mechanism of pyrite oxidation in carbonate-containing alkaline solutions at 80 °C was investigated with the help of rate experiments, thermodynamic modeling and diffuse reflectance infrared spectroscopy (DRIFTS). Pyrite oxidation rate increased with pH and was enhanced by addition of bicarbonate/carbonate ions. The carbonate effect was found to be limited to moderately alkaline conditions (pH 8-11). Metastable Eh-pH diagrams, at 25 °C, indicate that soluble iron-carbonate complexes (FeHCO3-, FeCO30, Fe(CO3)(OH)- and FeCO32-) may coexist with pyrite in the pH range of 6-12.5. Above pH 11 and 13, the Fe(II) and Fe(III) hydroxocomplexes, respectively, become stable, even in the presence of carbonate/bicarbonate ions. Surface-bound carbonate complexes on iron were also identified with DRIFTS as products of pyrite oxidation in addition to iron oxyhydroxides and soluble sulfate species. The conditions under which thermodynamic and DRIFTS analyses indicate the presence of carbonate compounds also correspond to those in which the fastest rate of pyrite oxidation in carbonate solutions was observed. Following the Singer-Stumm model for pyrite oxidation in acidic solutions, it is assumed that Fe(III) is the preferred pyrite oxidant under alkaline conditions. We propose that carbonate ions facilitate the electron transfer from soluble iron(II)-carbonate to O2, increase the iron solubility, and provide buffered, favorable alkaline conditions at the reaction front, which in turn favors the overall kinetics of pyrite oxidation. Therefore, the electron transfer from sulfur atoms to O2 is facilitated by the formation of the cycle of Fe(II)-pyrite/Fe(III)-carbonate redox couple at the pyrite surface.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1777-1789
Number of pages13
JournalGeochimica et Cosmochimica Acta
Issue number6
StatePublished - Mar 15 2010

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Geochemistry and Petrology


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