Co-disposal of waste rock and lignite fly ash to mitigate the environmental impact of coal mining
Abstract: Waste rocks (WRs) from coal mining and fly ash (FA) from coal combustion were studied to determine the potential of the WRs to generate AMD, FAs to neutralise it and estimate their impacts on environment. The ultimate goal was to develop a methodology based on co-disposal to mitigate the environmental problems associated to both wastes. Two methods for co-disposal were tested: i) Mixing WRs and FAs and ii) covering WRs with FAs.WRs were sampled from the Lakhra coal mines in Pakistan (PK), which has an estimated coal reserves of 1.3 Btonne, varying from lignite to sub-bituminous quality. The FA was sampled from a power plant utilising coal from Lakhra coal mines and is situated in close vicinity (15km) of the mine site. For comparative purposes a bituminous FA from Finland (FI) and biomass FA from Sweden (SE) were also characterised.The WRs and FA samples were characterised by mineralogical and geochemical methods. Besides organic material (coal traces), quartz, pyrite, kaolinite, hematite, gypsum and traces of calcite, lime, malladerite, spangolite, franklinite and birnessite were identified in WRs by XRD. The major elements Si, Al, Ca and Fe were in the range (wt. %) of 8 – 12, 6 – 9, 0.3 – 3 and 1 – 10, respectively, with high S concentrations (1.94 – 11.33 wt. %) in WRs. The AMD potential of WRs ranged from -70 to -492 kg CaCO3 tonne-1.All FAs contained quartz, with iron oxide, anhydrite and magnesioferrite in PK, mullite and lime in FI and calcite and anorthite in SE. The Ca content in SE was 6 and 8 times higher compared to PK and FI, respectively. FAs were enriched in As, Cd, Co, Cr, Cu, Hg, Ni, Pb and Zn compared to continental crust. The acid neutralising potential of PK was equivalent to 20 kg CaCO3 tonne-1 compared to 275 kg CaCO3 tonne-1 (SE) and 25 kg CaCO3 tonne-1 (FI).During the period of 192 days in weathering cell experiments (WCE), the pH of leachates from most acidic WRs was maintained from 1 to 2.5, whereas, the less acidic WRs produced leachates of mildly acidic (2.7) to neutral (7.3) pH. The leachates from very acidic WRs ranged in the concentrations of Fe, SO24− and Al from mg L-1 to g L-1.The samples were subjected to column leaching experiments (CLE) in which mixture (FA:WR; 1:3) and cover (FA:WR; 1:5) cases were mimicked (with 10mm particle size) and effects of particle size (2, 5 and 10mm) on element leaching were studied.Despite having the lowest acid-neutralisation potential compared to FI and SE, co-disposal of PKFA as mixture readily provides acid buffering minerals, resulting in better start-up pH conditions and leachate quality. However, acidity produced by secondary mineralisation contributes towards the acidification of the system, causing stabilisation of pH at around 4.5−5. Secondary mineralisation (especially Fe- and Al-mineral precipitation) also removes toxic elements such as As, Pb, Cu, Zn, Cd, Co, Ni and Mn, and these secondary minerals can also buffer acidity when the pH tends to be acidic.In contrast, the pH of the leachates from the PKFA cover scenario gradually increased from strongly acidic to mildly acidic and circumneutral along with decrease in EC and elemental leaching in different WRs. Gradually increasing pH can be attributed to the cover effect, which reduces oxygen ingress, thus sulphide oxidation, causing pH to elevate. Due to the fact that pH~4–5 is sufficient for secondary Fe- and Al-mineral precipitation which also removes toxic elements (such as Cd, Co, Cu, Zn and Ni) by adsorption and/or co-precipitation, the FA cover performs well enough to achieve that pH until the conclusion of the CLE. However, due to the slower reactivity of the buffering system (additional to the initial flush-out), leaching in the beginning could not be restricted.The co-disposal of FA as cover and/or mixture possesses potential for neutralisation of AMD and improving leachate quality significantly. Particle size of the WRs affected the leaching of the sulphide related elements (such as Fe, S, Zn, Co, Cr, Cu, Mn and Ni) in CLE and WCE. Experiments with ≤1mm particle size constantly produced acidic and metal laden leachates. Co-disposal of FA and WRs as cover and mixture need to be investigated on pilot-scales before full-scale application.
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