The Soudan Mine was Minnesota’s first iron mine, operating from 1882 to 1962. The mine was donated to the State of Minnesota in 1963 and became a state park in 1965. The mine discharge contains elevated copper and cobalt concentrations and has been treated with an ion-exchange-resin-based system since 2009. The system includes flow equalization tanks, bag and cartridge filters, a carbon tank and two commercial ion exchange tanks. Although effective, the system’s high cost, inefficient removal of suspended material and substantial maintenance have been ongoing and troublesome issues.
In November 2012, we initiated a pilot test using a peat-based sorption media. This media is produced from raw reed-sedge peat through a patented, low-temperature carbonization process that produces a hardened granular sorption material. The granules are uniform, have high hydraulic conductivity and maintain the high metal affinity of natural peat.
Mine water was pumped through the peat-based sorption media without any pretreatment. Copper input concentrations typically ranged from 30 to 60 µg/L but increased to a high of 364 µg/L in the summer of 2013. Since startup, more than 60 million L (16 million gal or 32,000 bed volumes) have been treated, with average removal rates of 75 percent for particulate copper and 60 percent for dissolved copper. Backwash is required at about 4,000 bed volumes, but with a combination of air sparging and high-flow backwash, the suspended material is removed from the media.
One tank of the peat-based sorption media was found to remove copper similarly to the first four components of the existing system. By reducing size and complexity, reductions in operation and maintenance costs are possible. A comparison of the estimated costs indicate that replacing the four initial components with the single media tank has the potential to reduce annual operating costs by more than half from around $163,000 to $70,000.