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A Novel Approach for Control and Prevention of Acid Rock Drainage

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  • Oxidation of pyrite and other metal sulfides is accelerated by the activity of acidophilic iron- and sulfur-oxidising microorganisms. The ideal biocide for controlling biocatalysed acid rock drainage (ARD) would be inexpensive, inhibitory toward sulfide-oxidising bacteria at low concentrations, relatively non-toxic toward non-target organisms, degradable in the environment outside the zone of application, stable and long-lived in the impacted environment, sufficiently mobile to penetrate into piles of waste rock or tailings, and effective regardless of the metal sulfides present. A potent agent for combating ARD that fits these criteria is the thiocyanate anion (SCN- ). The objective of this study was to determine the effectiveness of thiocyanate in controlling or preventing ARD within several types of sulfidic waste rock and tailings. Results were evaluated within a context encompassing process water and solids management strategies employed at different precious and base metal mines. Sulfidic rock was treated with solutions of potassium thiocyanate and subjected to accelerated weathering tests in lab-scale humidity cells, trays, and columns. Certain tests also utilised solid phase copper thiocyanate (CuSCN) to evaluate a ‘release on demand’ strategy. Leach solutions were analysed for parameters indicative of ARD including pH, redox potential, conductivity, acidity, sulfate, iron, and certain heavy metals. Two larger scale field tests were also initiated by personnel at separate mines using, in the first case, ore containing a pyritic component in large columns and, in the second case, waste rock containing base metal sulfides in lined pits. Humidity cell tests showed low concentrations of thiocyanate solution applied to pyritic waste rock could reduce ARD formation by 90 per cent or more compared to untreated controls, with the residual release of ARD components (eg sulfate, Fe, acidity) probably reflective of strictly chemical oxidation of the sulfides by molecular oxygen. Thiocyanate applied at a concentration of 22 mg/kg to waste rock from a base metal mining operation in large laboratory scale columns reduced acidity and sulfate release by 75 per cent to 80 per cent compared to untreated controls. This extent of reduction in ARD may not meet discharge water quality criteria, but has the potential to significantly reduce lime consumption and sludge production in a conventional neutralisation facility. The use of a solid-phase metal thiocyanate compound (CuSCN) at a dosage of 194 mg/kg pyritic ore resulted in the following per cent reductions in leach solution parameters in comparison to controls: sulfate (78 per cent), acidity (93 per cent), dissolved Fe (99.4 per cent), and dissolved arsenic (99.9 per cent). This compound has the further advantage of being relatively stable until needed, dissolving only in the presence of an acidic and oxidising ARD solution. If this line of investigation progresses favorably, it offers the possibility of an ARD prevention technique that may be applicable in some settings. Mine-site pilot scale tests with pyritic ore resulted in reductions in sulfate (56 per cent) and Fe, As (66 - 68 per cent). In sum, thiocyanate at relatively low concentrations dramatically reduced ARD from sulfidic rock in a simulated heap. The pilot test using waste rock containing base metal sulfides has begun only recently. A preliminary process design and cost estimate was made for full- scale application of thiocyanate to waste rock at a hypothetical gold mining operation producing 5000 tpd of ore and 10 000 tpd of sulfide containing waste rock. The combined capital and operating costs for the full-scale thiocyanate application facility were about $US 0.25/tonne of waste rock and $US 0.50/tonne of ore. Although thiocyanate is readily available commercially, it also occurs in process solutions associated with certain types of mining processes. Such solutions after selective treatment might be recycled to sulfidic waste rock or tailings, rather than being treated for thiocyanate degradation.

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