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Evaluation of the Net Acid Generation (NAG) Test for Assessing the Acid Generating Capacity of Sulfide Minerals

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  • Environmental Geochemistry International (EGi) and the Ian Wark Research Institute (IWRI) collaborated in a three-year Australian Minerals Industry Research Association (AMIRA) research project (Project Number P387A) focussed on the prediction and kinetic control of acid mine drainage. As part of this project, single addition, and sequential net acid generation (NAG) testing was carried out on sulfide mineral samples. The test samples comprised a range of synthetic waste materials prepared using a quartz bulk and controlled quantities of the commonly occurring sulfide minerals; pyrite (FeS2), pyrrhotite (Fe7S8), arsenopyrite (AsFeS), chalcopyrite (CuFeS2), chalcocite (Cu2S), covellite (CuS), bornite (Cu5FeS4), galena (PbS) and sphalerite (ZnS). NAG test results clearly show that there are significant differences between the acid forming potential of sulfide minerals. The NAG test results for each mineral were compared with theoretical acidity values (NAPP). The NAPP calculation was based on stoichiometric oxidation reactions assumed for each of the sulfide minerals. Sequential NAG values for pyrite corresponds closely to predicted NAPP* values, confirming the assumption that pyrite oxidation occurs according to the stoichiometry assumed. For the pyrite sample with 5 wt per cent S, two NAG stages were sufficient for all of the sulfur to be released to solution. Since sulfides in waste materials will generally be dominated by pyrite, results also confirm the validity of including NAG testing for ARD evaluation of most waste rock. NAG testing confirms that of the sulfide minerals examined, only pyrite, pyrrhotite, arsenopyrite and chalcopyrite are acid producing, ie able to produce leachate with a pH less than 4.5. In the case of sphalerite, galena, bornite, chalcocite and covellite the pH of the final NAG solution was greater than 4.5. The significant differences between the acid forming potential of different sulfide minerals could lead to overestimation of acid producing potentials based on NAPP values calculated from total per cent S alone, ie assuming all S is present as pyrite. The oxidation of galena during the NAG test resulted in the consumption of acid. The examination of the galena surface by X-ray photoelectron spectroscopy (XPS) after oxidation in peroxide solution indicated the presence of polysulfide. The reaction of sulfide to polysulfide is acid consuming, thus explaining the net acid consuming behaviour of galena in the NAG test. This reaction pathway may provide a possible explanation for the lower than expected acid production observed for some of the other sulfide minerals examined.

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