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Reaction modeling of drainage quality in the Duluth Complex, northern Minnesota, USA

January 1, 2015

Reaction modeling can be a valuable tool in predicting the long-term behavior of waste material if representative rate constants can be derived from long-term leaching tests or other approaches. Reaction modeling using the REACT program of the Geochemist’s Workbench was conducted to evaluate long-term drainage quality affected by disseminated Cu-Ni-(Co-)-PGM sulfide mineralization in the basal zone of the Duluth Complex where significant resources have been identified. Disseminated sulfide minerals, mostly pyrrhotite and Cu-Fe sulfides, are hosted by clinopyroxene-bearing troctolites. Carbonate minerals are scarce to non-existent. Long-term simulations of up to 20 years of weathering of tailings used two different sets of rate constants: one based on published laboratory single-mineral dissolution experiments, and one based on leaching experiments using bulk material from the Duluth Complex conducted by the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (MNDNR). The simulations included only plagioclase, olivine, clinopyroxene, pyrrhotite, and water as starting phases. Dissolved oxygen concentrations were assumed to be in equilibrium with atmospheric oxygen. The simulations based on the published single-mineral rate constants predicted that pyrrhotite would be effectively exhausted in less than two years and pH would rise accordingly. In contrast, only 20 percent of the pyrrhotite was depleted after two years using the MNDNR rate constants. Predicted pyrrhotite depletion by the simulation based on the MNDNR rate constant matched well with published results of laboratory tests on tailings. Modeling long-term weathering of mine wastes also can provide important insights into secondary reactions that may influence the permeability of tailings and thereby affect weathering behavior. Both models predicted the precipitation of a variety of secondary phases including goethite, gibbsite, and clay (nontronite).