Chemical and Biological Treatment of Acid Mine Drainage for the Removal of Heavy Metals and Acidity

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Virginia Tech

This dissertation reports the design of a process (patent pending) to remove iron from acid mine drainage (AMD) without the formation of metal hydroxide sludge. The system includes the oxidation of ferrous iron in a packed bed bioreactor, the precipitation of iron within a fluidized bed, the removal of manganese and heavy metals (Cu, Ni, Zn) in a trickling filter at high (>9) pH, with final neutralization in a carbonate bed. The technique avoided the generation of iron oxyhydroxide sludge.

In the packed bed bioreactor, maximum substrate oxidation rate (R,max) was 1500 mg L⁻¹ h⁻¹ at dilution rates of 2 h⁻¹, with oxidation efficiency at 98%. The half-saturation constant (similar to a Ks) was 6 mg L⁻¹. The oxidation rate was affected by dissolved oxygen below 2 mg L⁻¹, with a Monod-type Ko for DO of 0.33 mg L⁻¹. Temperature had a significant effect on oxidation rate, but pH (2.0 to 3.25) and supplemental CO₂ did not affect oxidation rates.

Iron hydroxide precipitation was not instantaneous when base was added at a OH/Fe ratio of less than 3. Induction time was found to be a function of pH, sulfate concentration and iron concentration, with a multiple R² of 0.84. Aqueous [Al (III)] and [Mn (II)] did not significantly (α = 0.05) affect induction time over the range of concentrations investigated.

When specific loading to the fluidized bed reactor exceeded 0.20 mg Fe m⁻² h⁻¹, dispersed iron particulates formed leading to a turbid effluent. Reactor pH determined the minimum iron concentration in the effluent, with an optimal at pH 3.5. Total iron removals of 98% were achieved in the fluidized bed with effluent [Fe] below 10 mg L⁻¹. Further iron removal occurred within the calcium carbonate bed.

Heavy metals were removed both in the fluidized bed reactor as well as in the trickling filter. Oxidation at pH >9 caused manganese to precipitate (96% removal); removals of copper, nickel, and zinc were due primarily to sorption onto oxide surfaces. Removals averaged 97% for copper, 70% for nickel and 94% for zinc.

The treatment strategy produced an effluent relatively free of iron (< 3 mg/L), without the formation of iron sludge and may be suitable for AMD seeps, drainage from acidic tailings ponds, active mine effluent, and acidic iron-rich industrial wastewater.

iron biooxidation, iron precipitation, iron removal technology, acid mine drainage