Mineralogy and geochemistry of the platinum group elements (PGE), rare earth elements (REE) and scandium in nickel laterites


Aiglsperger, Thomas Hans


Proenza Fernández, Joaquín Antonio

Date of defense



143 p.


Universitat de Barcelona. Departament de Cristal·lografia, Mineralogia i Dipòsits Minerals


Ni laterites are considered worthy targets for critical metals (CM) exploration as rare earth elements (REE), Sc and platinum group elements (PGE) can be concentrated during weathering as a result of residual and secondary enrichment. In this investigation geochemical and mineralogical data of CM from two different nickel laterite types (i) from the Moa Bay mining area in Cuba (oxide type) and (ii) from the Falcondo mining area in the Dominican Republic (hydrous Mg silicate type) are presented. Emphasis is given on examining their potential to accumulate CM and on processes involved. Results show that CM are concentrated towards the surface in specific zones: (i) REE in clay minerals rich horizons and within zones composed of secondary Mn oxide(s) (ii) Sc within zones rich in secondary Fe and Mn bearing oxide(s) and (iii) PGE in zones with high concentrations of residual chromian spinel and secondary Fe and Mn bearing oxide(s) at upper levels of the Ni laterite profiles. Concentration factors involve (i) residual enrichment by intense weathering (ii) mobilization of CM during changing Eh and pH conditions with subsequent reprecipitation at favourable geochemical barriers (iii) interactions between biosphere and limonitic soils at highest levels of the profile (critical zone) with involved neoformation processes. Total contents of CM in both Ni laterite types are low when compared with conventional CM ore deposits but are of economic significance as CM have to be seen as cost inexpensive by-products during the Ni (+Co) production. Innovative extraction methods currently under development are believed to boost the significance of Ni laterites as future unconventional CM ore deposits. Two Ni laterite profiles from the Falcondo mining area have been compared for their platinum group element (PGE) geochemistry and mineralogy. One profile (Loma Peguera) is characterized by PGE-enriched (up to 3.5 ppm total PGE) chromitite bodies incorporated within the saprolite, whereas the second profile is chromitite-free (Loma Caribe). Total PGE contents of both profiles slightly increase from parent rocks (36 and 30 ppb, respectively) to saprolite (-50 ppb) and reach highest levels within the limonite zone (640 and 264 ppb, respectively). Chondrite-normalized PGE patterns of saprolite and limonite reveal rather flat shapes with positive peaks of Ru and Pd. Three types of platinum group minerals (PGM) were found by using an innovative hydroseparation technique: (i) primary PGM inclusions in fresh Cr-spinel (laurite and bowieite), (ii) secondary PGM (e.g., Ru-Fe-Os-Ir compounds) from weathering of preexisting PGM (e.g., serpentinization and/or laterization), and (iii) PGM precipitated after PGE mobilization within the laterite (neoformation). Results provide evidence that (i) PGM occurrence and PGE enrichment in the laterite profiles is independent of chromitite incorporation; (ii) PGE enrichment is residual on the profile scale; and (iii) PGE are mobile on a local scale leading to in situ growth of PGM within limonite, probably by bioreduction and/or electrochemical metal accretion. Free grains of PGM with delicate morphologies were discovered in limonite hosted chromitite samples (“floating chromitites”) from highest levels in the Falcondo Ni laterite deposit (Dominican Republic). Textural and chemical evidence obtained via SEM and EMP analysis points to a multistage formation: (i) primary PGM formation at magmatic stage; (ii) transformation to highly porous secondary Os-Ru PGM during serpentinization; (iii) neoformation of Ir-Fe-Ni-(Pt) mineral phases during early stages of lateritization; (iv) neoformation of Pt-(Ir) mineral phases within the critical zone of the profile resulting in nugget shaped accumulation of rounded particulates during late stages of lateritization. The observation of accumulations of most likely biogenic mediated in situ growth of Pt rich nanoparticles in supergene environments could help to explain (i) why Pt bearing nuggets are the most abundant PGM found in surface environments, (ii) why Pt nuggets from placer deposits generally surpass the grain sizes of Pt grains found in parent rocks by several orders of magnitude (few micrometers vs. several millimeters) and (iii) how anthropogenic PGE contamination may affect our biosphere. Osmium chromitite, saprolite and limonite (Falcondo mining area), suggest that serpentinization of the Loma Caribe peridotite has not significantly affected the Re-Os system in Os-rich PGM. This is noted by the fact, that primary PGM formed at magmatic stage and secondary Ru-Os-Mg- isotope characteristics from primary and secondary PGM, separated from Si PGM formed due desulphurization of primary PGM with significant incorporation of Mg silicates, have almost identical Os isotope characteristics, typical of the mantle. However, the Re-Os system can be significantly disturbed during stages of lateritization when porous secondary PGM react with Fe-rich fluids, thus forming hexaferrum and magnetite in the 187 188 interstices of secondary PGM. Here presented data indicate that more radiogenic ratios in higher levels of the weathering profile are linked to steady mobilization of PGE within secondary PGM resulting in subsequent loss of Os counterbalanced by the incorporation of Fe. Os/ Os In this investigation presented data clearly states that PGE are neither noble nor inert in surface environments, at least in those related to tropical Ni laterites from the Northern Caribbean.


Mineralogia; Mineralogía; Mineralogy; Platí; Platino; Platinum; Metalls de terres rares; Metales de las tierras raras; Rare earth metals


549 - Mineralogy. Special study of minerals

Knowledge Area

Ciències Experimentals i Matemàtiques






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