Journal article

Predictive hydrogeochemical modelling of bauxite residue sand in field conditions

The suitability of residue sand (the coarse fraction remaining from Bayer´s process of bauxite refining) for constructing the surface cover of closed bauxite residue storage areas was investigated. Specifically, its properties as a medium for plant growth are of interest to ensure residue sand can support a sustainable ecosystem following site closure. The geochemical evolution of the residue sand under field conditions, its plant nutrient status and soil moisture retention were studied by integrated modelling of geochemical and hydrological processes. For the parameterization of mineral reactions, amounts and reaction kinetics of the mineral phases natron, calcite, tricalcium aluminate, sodalite, muscovite and analcime were derived from measured acid neutralization curves. The effective exchange capacity for ion adsorption was measured using three independent exchange methods. The geochemical model, which accounts for mineral reactions, cation exchange and activity corrected solution speciation, was formulated in the geochemical modelling framework PHREEQC, and partially validated in a saturated flow column experiment. For the integration of variably saturated flow with multi-component solute transport in heterogeneous 2D domains, a coupling of PHREEQC with the multi-purpose finite-element solver COMSOL was established. The integrated hydrogeochemical model was applied to predict water availability and quality in a vertical flow lysimeter and a cover design for a storage facility using measured time series of rainfall and evaporation from southwest Western Australia. In both scenarios the sand was fertigated and gypsum-amended. Results show poor long-term retention of fertilizer ions and buffering of the pH around 10 for more than 5 years of leaching. It was concluded that fertigation, gypsum amendment and rainfall leaching alone were insufficient to render the geochemical conditions of residue sand suitable for optimal plant growth within the given timeframe. The surface cover simulation demonstrates that the soil moisture status in the residue sand can be ameliorated by an appropriate design of the cover layer with respect to thickness, slope and distance between lateral drains.

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