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Comparative Cost Analyses of Technologies for Treating Sulfateand Metal-Contaminated Groundwater

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  • Mining of sulfide-based ore deposits typically creates a potential for release sulfate and acid to groundwater, and many operating mines are thus predicted to require long-term post-closure treatment of groundwater. Toward the goal of selecting an optimal treatment, this paper compares costs of four demonstrated technologies for long-term treatment of sulfate-contaminated groundwater: in situ biological reduction (ISR), in situ permeable reactive barrier (PRB) composed of compost and zero-valent iron (ZVI), and two ex situ ‘pump-and-treat’ technologies — ex situ biological reduction, and ex situ nanofiltration with lime precipitation. Costs for each technology are estimated for treatment of a model aquifer system containing sulfate-contaminated groundwater, with the goal of treating 1 m3 /min of groundwater from 1500 mg/L sulfate to a target level of 500 mg/L. (Metal removal is typically achieved by these technologies, and thus excluded from this analysis.) Costs are estimated for each technology as a function of treatment duration (ten to 60 years) and, for PRB and ISR, required replacement frequency (ten to 60 years). Estimated costs include capital and operation and maintenance, using a seven per cent net discount rate. Results indicate that ex situ technologies (biological reduction and nanofiltration with lime precipitation) are the most expensive. In situ technologies may be much less expensive, with PRBs having by far the lowest potential cost, followed by ISR as the next least expensive. However, actual costs for the in situ technologies are very sensitive to poorly constrained parameters, particularly the ZVI content of the PRB, and the effective life of PRB and ISR systems. This large cost uncertainty supports delaying remedial actions where viable, and suggests that feasibility analyses are generally warranted for specific applications to focus on these sources of uncertainty.

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