Sulphide ore minerals
: surface chemical properties

  • Stephen Richardson

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisDoctor of Philosophy


The surfaces of iron-containing sulphide minerals were oxidised by a range of inorganic oxidants, and the resultant surface alteration products studied using various spectroscopic techniques. The characterisation of surface oxidation is relevant to the alteration of ores in nature and their behaviour during flotation and leaching, of importance to the metallurgical industry. The sulphides investigated included pyrite (FeS2), hexagonal pyrrhotine (Fe9S10), monoclinic pyrrhotine (Fe7Se), violarite (FeNi2S4), pentlandite ((FeiNi)9Se), chalcopyrite (CuFeS2) and arsenopyrite (FeAsS). The surfaces were oxidised by various methods including acid (sulphuric), alkali (ammonium hydroxide), hydrogen peroxide, steam, electrochemical and air/oxygen (in a low-temperature (150ºC) furnace), The surfaces were examined using surface sensitive chemical spectroscopic methods including x-ray photoelectron spectroscopy (ms), Auger electron spectroscopy (LES) and conversion electron Mössbauer spectroscopy (CEKS). Physical characterisation of the surfaces was undertaken using scanning electron microscopy (SM), spectral reflectance measurements and optical microscopy. Bulk characterisation of the sulphide minerals was undertaken using x-ray diffraction and electron microprobe techniques. Observed phases suggested to form in most of the sulphide surfaces include Fe204, Fe1-x0, Fe202, Fe00H, Fe(OH)3, with iron II & III oxy-sulphates. The iron sulphides show variable extents of oxidation, indicating pyrite to be the most stable. Violarite shows stability to oxidation, suggested to result from both its stable spinel crystal structure, and from the rapid formation of sulphur at the surface protecting the sub-surface from further oxidation. The phenomenon of sub-surface enrichment (in metals), forming secondary sulphides, is exhibited by pentlandite and chalcopyrite, forming violarite and copper sulphides respectively. The consequences of this enrichment with regard to processing and leaching are discussed. Arsenopyrite, often a hindrance in ore processing, exhibits the formation of arsenic compounds at the surface, the dissolution of which is discussed in view of the possible environmental hazard caused by the local pollution of water systems. The results obtained allow a characterisation of the sulphides in terms of their relative stability to oxidation, and an order of stability of the sulphide surfaces is proposed. Models were constructed to explain the chemical compositions of the surfaces, and the inter-relationships between the phases determined at the surface and in the sub-surface. These were compared to the thermo-chemically predicted phases shown in Eh/pH and partial pressure diagrams! The results are discussed, both in terms of the mineralogy and geochemistry of natural ores, and the implications for extraction and processing of these ore minerals.

Date of Award1988
Original languageEnglish


  • Sulphide ore minerals
  • surface chemical properties
  • sulphides
  • surface oxidation
  • x-ray photoelectron spectroscopy
  • electron spectroscopy
  • conversion electron

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