Wenying Liu

Associate Professor

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Graduate Student Supervision

Doctoral Student Supervision (Jan 2008 - May 2021)
Copper leaching in chloride media with a view to using seawater for heap leaching of secondary sulfides (2020)

Copper mines increasingly face the challenge of processing large amounts of low-grade sulfides of elevated concentrations of impurities. In most cases, the challenge is compounded by water scarcity. A potential strategy to address such challenge is to use seawater with elevated concentrations of chloride for heap leaching of secondary sulfides. To ensure success of such heap leach processes, we comprehensively investigated aqueous chloride solution properties at high ionic strength, kinetics of copper extraction from chalcocite in chloride media, and mechanisms by which various factors influence leaching rate, in both acidified ferric and cupric chloride media. The aqueous chloride solution properties were determined by thermodynamic calculations supported by laboratory ORP (oxidation-reduction potential) measurements. The leaching kinetics was quantified by conducting a series of reactor and column leaching tests under fully-controlled conditions. The mechanisms were uncovered using various surface characterization techniques, including SEM-EDX and XPS. The thermodynamic calculation determined the speciation of iron and copper at increasing chloride concentration up to 3 M, based on which the actual cathodic and anodic reactions responsible for copper extraction were proposed. The kinetics study showed that the leaching reaction slowed down after 70 – 80% of copper was extracted in both ferric and cupric chloride media at ambient temperature. Kinetic models were first developed to satisfactorily describe copper extraction as a function of ORP, chloride concentration, and temperature in reactors, and then scaled up to describe copper leaching performance in columns. The surface characterization results showed that sulfur sequentially transformed from monosulfide to disulfide, and then to polysulfide and elemental sulfur. The slow decomposition of polysulfide was responsible for the slow leaching at high ORPs, whereas a combination of polysulfide decomposition and diffusion barrier by elemental sulfur layer was the reason for the slow dissolution at low ORPs. The effect of chloride concentration on the reaction rate may only manifest itself at low ORPs where the level of the elemental sulfur crystallinity was lower. This body of knowledge would ultimately pinpoint possible options to optimize the leaching performance.

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Kinetics and mechanisms of arsenic release from amorphous and crystalline arsenic trisulfide (2020)

Preventing arsenic release from mine waste materials, i.e., source control, is a preferable option for controlling arsenic discharge to the environment. Designing effective source control strategies requires comprehensive knowledge on the leaching behavior of arsenic from its bearing minerals. To determine the kinetics and mechanisms of arsenic release, we carried out reactor leaching experiments using arsenic trisulfide (As₂S₃) as a model arsenic sulfide mineral. The experimental results show that the arsenic release increased with pH, the dissolved oxygen concentration, and temperature. The speciation analysis indicates that arsenic was present in solution in the form of arsenite (III) and arsenate (V) and that thiosulfate and sulfate were the main soluble sulfur species. A two-step process that involves a series of primary and secondary reactions was proposed to explain the release of different arsenic and sulfur species. The release rates of arsenic and sulfur from crystalline orpiment were always slower than those from amorphous As₂S₃. Kinetic equations were derived from the leaching data to describe the release rate as a function of the leaching parameters for both amorphous As₂S₃and crystalline orpiment. The magnitudes of the reaction orders and the activation energy indicate that the surface chemical reaction is limiting the rate of arsenic release from amorphous As₂S₃. In contrast, both kinetic modelling and the solid surface characterization support that a mixed-control mechanism determines the arsenic release from crystalline orpiment. Namely, the process is controlled by the surface chemical reaction and the diffusion of dissolved oxygen through a product layer on the solid surfaces. The solid surface characterization shows that this product layer is most likely to be an arsenic-deficient phase enriched in elemental sulfur.

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Master's Student Supervision (2010 - 2020)
An investigation into determining the source of elevated metal concentrations in seepage at Mount Polley Mine (2020)

Unusual water chemistry coinciding with the appearance of a precipitate were observed in two seepages from a rock storage facility at Mount Polley Mine. This rock storage facility was originally characterized as non-acid generating, meaning that the rock under surface weathering/oxidizing conditions will not produce acid. However, these two seepages were not behaving according to drainage predictions and resembled a product of neutralized acid rock drainage. Due to the localized nature of the affected seepages, the cause of this unusual water chemistry was hypothesized to be the leakage of an external source of acid into the RSF. The possible acid sources were proposed to be an experimental lined heap leach pad and excess stockpiled elemental sulfur that had been sourced to provide the acid required for the heap leach pad. An inspection revealed that the heap leach pad liner appeared to be intact. However, drainage from the sulfur stockpile was insufficiently contained. By using bacteria culture experiments, bacterial DNA extraction, and bulk characterizations of the elemental sulfur, it was concluded that the sulfur had been oxidized, leading to the generation of sulfuric acid that infiltrated the underlying rock. To determine the extent to which the rocks had reacted with the acid generated from the sulfur stockpile, the rocks underneath the sulfur stockpile were sampled. Visual inspection and further laboratory analyses revealed extensive alteration of these rocks under acidic conditions, rendering them similar to leached oxide ore sampled from the experimental heap leach pad. pH-controlled weathering fronts were evident in these rocks, progressing from leached near the contact with the sulfur pile (pH 7). These altered rocks have been re-classified as PAG due to the depletion of carbonates from exposure to sulfuric acid. The findings of this research will help the mine assess the long-term stability of the altered rocks and guide future development of remediation strategies.

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Relationship between particle size distribution and porosity in dump leaching (2017)

Fluid flow is a critical process involved in the valuable metals extraction from low grade ore in heap and dump leaching as well as the release of harmful substances from waste rock piles. The mechanisms by which fluids move through the porous media depend on the fluid properties and the intrinsic properties of the porous media, with permeability being one critical factor. Particle size distribution is a key factor that affects permeability by forming pores of different structure and size. The objective of this research was to assess the particle size distribution in heterogeneous packed ore/rock beds and quantify the effect of particle size distribution on porosity. In the studied mine site, the particle size distribution in the dump leach pad was determined by analyzing aerial images of multiple dump faces taken by a drone. Particles spanned a wide range in size from less than 2 cm in diameter to larger than 2 m in diameter, with a P80 to be 2 m. The spatial segregation of fine particles and coarse particles along the dump faces was observed, which may contribute to the formation of preferential flow.The effect of particle size distribution on porosity was quantified by two methods: the bulk density and CT-imaging techniques. Porosities under three particle sorting conditions were studied: narrow-sized particles, poorly sorted particles and well sorted particles. For narrow-sized particles, the porosity measured by the bulk density method decreased as the particle size was increased up to 0.151 mm after which the porosity remained constant in the range tested. The influence of the particle size on the porosity for the well sorted particles was similar to that of the narrow-sized particles from both of the methods. For poorly sorted particles, in both methods, porosity decreased as the fraction of the fine particles added was increased to a certain value, after which the porosity started to increase as the fraction of fine particles was further increased. The results have important implications for metal extraction from run of mine ores using dump leaching and release of contaminants from waste rock piles by influencing fluid flow properties.

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