Treatment of Mine Water with Reverse Osmosis and Concentrate Processing to Recover Copper and Deposit Calcium Carbonate

Membranes (Basel). 2023 Jan 25;13(2):153. doi: 10.3390/membranes13020153.


Mine water usually contains heavy metals and other inorganic and organic pollutants that contaminate water bodies. Reverse osmosis (RO) techniques are capable of producing purified water that meets discharge regulations. However, the problem of RO concentrate disposal and utilization is still not solved. The well-known zero liquid discharge (ZLD) process provides total concentrate utilization at the power industries but seems unreasonably expensive for the treatment of large amounts of mine water due to required chemical softening and the evaporation of concentrate. In the present article, a new approach to increase the recovery of reverse osmosis and to avoid high operational costs is demonstrated and discussed. The new technique involves radical RO concentrate flow reduction and withdrawal, together with dewatered sludge. The idea to "hide" concentrate in dewatered sludge is proposed and demonstrated during experiments. The article demonstrates results of the conducted experimental program aimed at reduction of volumes of all liquid wastes produced during mine water treatment using a new approach to concentrate it with a cascade of nanofiltration membranes and to reach a TDS value of 110-120 g per liter. The obtained concentrate is mixed with the wet sludge, which is further dewatered and withdrawn together with the dewatered sludge. Experiments are conducted that demonstrate a reduction in calcium in the concentrate due to deposition of calcium carbonate on the "seed crystals" in the circulation mode. Another distinguishing feature of the new technique is the separation of concentrate into two streams containing high concentrations of monovalent ions (sodium and ammonium chlorides) and divalent ions (calcium, magnesium and copper sulphates). Flow diagrams of the processes are presented to demonstrate the water treatment technique used to produce deionized water and two types of sludges: sludge after clarification and sludge after calcium carbonate deposition.

Keywords: calcium carbonate deposition on seed crystals; nanofiltration; reverse osmosis; sludge dewatering; sludge moisture.