A Standard Column Weathering Test To Estimate Coal Overburden Leachate Quality - Introduction - Preprint 09-086

Perry, E. F.
Organization: Society for Mining, Metallurgy & Exploration
Pages: 10
Publication Date: Jan 1, 2009
Simulated weathering tests are used to estimate leachate quality of rocks containing varying concentrations of pyrite and carbonates at mines. This study reports the inter-laboratory results from the third phase of a three part effort to develop a standardized, reproducible simulated weathering test for coal mine overburden. Initial development in phases I and II included evaluation of different test apparatus, effects of particle size, gas composition, leaching frequency and other variables. Phases I and II results are reported by Brady et al (2004) and Hornberger et al (2004). In Phase III, a standard column leaching protocol was used by eight commercial, government and university labs to test five rocks of different lithology, pyrite and carbonate content. Ideally, a simulated weathering test should have three characteristics to be useful in mine drainage studies. These include the capability to produce repeatable results, accuracy in simulating field conditions, and a concise test protocol of weeks to a few months. Simulated weathering, or kinetic testing, produces an effluent that simulates mine drainage composition. This can be beneficial for predicting mine drainage quality in comparison to whole rock analyses. The effluent may be tested for the same water quality parameters as the drainage produced during mining, such as pH, acidity, alkalinity, sulfate, iron, manganese, aluminum or other parameters. If the physical, chemical, and biological conditions of the kinetic tests are representative of those found in the mine environment, leachate composition may be used to estimate the water quality parameter concentrations produced during mining. Hornberger and Brady (1998), and Geidel et al (2000), compiled comprehensive chapters on kinetic tests for mine drainage prediction. These sources included: (1) a chronology and synopsis of scientific literature on these kinetic tests as they have developed over approximately 50 years, (2) discussion of the influence of physical, chemical, and biological processes, and (3) general guidelines for test procedures, data interpretation, and recommendations for further research to develop standard methods. Most of the kinetic test methods in use today were substantially developed and applied more than 40 or 50 years ago, including leaching columns (Braley, 1949), humidity cells (Hanna and Brant, 1962), Soxhlet reactors (Pedro, 1961), and field scale tests (Glover and Kenyon, 1962). . The most commonly used kinetic tests for mine drainage prediction are leaching columns and humidity cells. While these kinetic test methods and others have been used in hundreds of mine drainage studies as shown in Hornberger and Brady (1998) and other references (e.g. Sorini, 1997), they have rarely been used in coal mine permitting by either regulatory agencies or the mining industry. The major impediment to routine use of kinetic test methods is the variation in the design and operation of these kinetic tests, and lack of a standardized, accepted (e.g. by EPA or ASTM) test method. Interpretation and data comparison from different studies can be difficult. METHODS Five rocks of varying lithology, mineralogy, carbonate and pyrite content were collected in bulk from Pennsylvanian age coal measures in Pennsylvania, West Virginia and Indiana. Mineralogical composition of the samples was characterized in detail by Hammerstrom et al (in press) using optical, X-ray diffraction, scanning electron microscopy and electron microprobe methods. Acid Base Accounting (Sobek et al 1978; Skousen et al, 1997, Kania, 1998) was performed on bulk samples for % total sulfur (%S) as a measure of pyrite and potential acid generation, and Neutralization Potential (NP) as an index of carbonate content. A modified NP test, following the procedure suggested by Skousen et al, 1997 was also conducted for four of the five samples. The modified NP test accounts for initial acid consumption, Fe oxidation, and subsequent Fe hydrolysis by the iron carbonate mineral siderite. Siderite, even though it is a carbonate gives zero net alkalinity. Lithologic, Acid Base Accounting and general mineral composition data for the five rocks are shown in table 1 (see Appendix). Whole rock elemental analysis for major and trace elements was conducted on a sub-sample of each rock type. One laboratory was contracted to mix, homogenize, and size the bulk samples and prepare sub-samples for all the participating labs. Splits were sent to eight labs, and each organization was provided a detailed set of instructions for column assembly and leaching procedure. The protocol was developed based on results from phases 1and 2 of this study. The principal features of the column assembly are: a specific composition of particle size by weight (table 2), weekly leaching cycles, and incubation under humidified air containing 10% CO2. Figure 1 shows the column construction. [ ] The particle size distribution of the crushed rock sample is largely an artifact of the crushing process, rather than a natural systems process like the particle size distribution of a soil or an unconsolidated sedimentary deposit. The standardized particle size distribution, shown in Table 2, promotes operational consistency of the weathering test procedure, and provides better control over reaction kinetics. Large amounts of fine particles within specific zones of the leaching columns have been found to impede uniform fluid flow and/or gas flow (Hornberger and Brady, 1998). Regarding reaction kinetics, the importance of surface area to volume ratios has been described in a previous phase of this study (Brady et al., 2004), and significant differences in crushed particle size distributions and effective surface areas were found among the lithologic units. Standardizing the particle
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