Lessons Learned from Long-Term and Large-Batch Humidity Cells

Morin, Kevin A. ; Hutt, Nora M.
Organization: Society for Mining, Metallurgy & Exploration
Pages: 11
Publication Date: Jan 1, 2000
The Sobek humidity cell has been in use with minor modification for more than 30 years to determine bulk primary-mineral reaction rates. As a result, it has become a key tool for predicting the bulk rate of sulphide oxidation, the Carbonate Mole Ratio (CMR) of neutralization-potential (NP) consumption to sulphide oxidation, and the rates of metal leaching. Most humidity cells are operated for less than a year, with the resulting rates extrapolated into the future for years or decades. The validity of these extrapolations was tested by examining longer trends from cells that have operated for three to seven years, as found in the International Kinetic Database (IKD). Additionally, large batches of cells for two minesites in the IKD (45 and 46 cells each) were examined to determine if regular, predictable trends were obtained across ranges of geochemistry at a minesite. The long-term cells show that the rates of sulphide oxidation and acid generation, based on sulphate production, have a 50% chance of stabilizing within one year, with the remainder fluctuating significantly throughout their test periods. Despite the fluctuations, the CMR, which is critical for defining site-specific or rock-unit-specific ABA criteria, remains relatively steady in many cases between 1.0 and 2.0 as expected from principles of aqueous geochemistry. However, if the sulphate-production rate falls below 10-30 mg/kg/wk, the CMR value can increase significantly. At and below these low rates, physical factors like flow rates of surface waters and groundwaters will determine the rate of NP consumption, rather than geochemical factors. Also, if weekly rinse pH falls to acidic values, the CMR will decrease below 1 .O, reflecting the exhaustion of fast- neutralizing minerals. The two batches of multiple cells also confirm these trends across arange of geochemistry. The long-term cells show that copper leaching often stabilizes within a narrow range as long as rinse pH remains relatively constant. Also, there is no strong dependence of leaching on the sulphate rate. However, the rate of copper production often increases sharply if rinse pH falls to acidic values. This suggests the measured copper-production rate in some cases is not a true primary rate, but a lower secondary rate after secondary- mineral precipitation within Sobek cells. As with the long-term cells, the batches of multiple cells show that copper production often increases gradually with decreasing rinse pH, with no clear dependence on sulphate production. However, high rates can also occur at near-neutral pH, so secondary-mineral precipitation of copper is not necessarily common.
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