Dense-sludge process for reduced AMD sludge disposal

Zick, R. L. ; Finn, D. C.
Organization: Society for Mining, Metallurgy & Exploration
Pages: 5
Publication Date: Jan 1, 2000
Introduction The high-density sludge process was originally developed by Bethlehem Steel Corp. for use on acid mine drainage (AMD) and diluted waste pickle liquor discharges requiring continuous chemical-treatment. This work began in the early 1970s and was first put into practical use around 1973. To date, there are approximately 15 operating systems that have been installed to treat mine drainage in the United States. In addition, there are another 10 systems installed outside of the United States. The dense-sludge process is an innovative and improved method for treating acidic metal-bearing streams in a manner that minimizes the volumetric generation of sludge for disposal. The technology utilizes a sludge-recycle process that forms particles with a low affinity for water. These particles are unlike conventional metal hydroxide solids that contain tightly bound interstitial waters. Typical acid mine drainage streams contain high sulfate concentrations that combine with calcium ions in lime-based treatment systems to form gypsum crystals. Compared to the form generated in conventional lime treatment systems, the physical form of the gypsum is radically altered when the dense-sludge process is utilized. The characteristics of the metals particles are also changed in this process, as the metal hydroxides are converted to metal oxides. The dense-sludge particles settle faster, dewater more readily, are more easily pumped and hold much less water than conventional precipitates. In some cases, because the metal content of the sludge is more concentrated, it can be economically recovered. In general, the conventional and dense-sludge treatment processes are very similar. The changes required to implement the dense-sludge process are minor, and, typically, much of the existing equipment can be utilized. The net results of the process are: reduced operational costs associated with sludge generation, improved process control (particularly pH control), reduced gypsum deposition (i.e., less scaling) on system components and reduced sludge generation resulting in less return water for treatment. Despite the relative simplicity of the process, the application of the technology requires careful discrimination, and the "experience factor" for implementation is an important consideration that should not be over looked.
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