Abstract: A population balance model is used to describe the flocculation of tailings particles in aqueous salt solutions. The synthetic tailings, composed of quartz and kaolin particles, are flocculated in a jar at a constant shear rate where in-situ FBRM determines the size of the aggregates. The model follows the dynamics of aggregation and breakage processes and provides a good approximation to the temporal evolution of aggregate size. The fractal and permeable nature of the aggregates are considered, while the depletion of the collision efficiency allows describing the initial growth of aggregates and subsequent size reduction. The numerical solution requires five parameters, which are obtained by minimizing the difference between experimental size data and model predictions. A specific aim is to study the effect of magnesium hydroxide that is formed at pH ca. 10, and its interaction with flocculant, on the flocculation kinetics parameters. At pH ≥ 10 the aggregates grow less due to the presence of the magnesium hydroxide gel that surrounds quartz, kaolin and flocculant. The fractal dimension is quite stable at pH < 10 with a representative value of 2.7, typical of a clustered network, although in the presence of magnesium at pH ≥ 10 the fractal dimension of the aggregates is only 2.2, typical of Gaussian chains. Tailings aggregates in the presence of hydroxide are smaller and weakly three-dimensional and therefore contribute little to the settling velocity. The aggregation and breakage parameters are largely constant for a particulate system which composition remains unchanged over a pH range, and if the composition changes, for example by precipitation of magnesium hydroxide, then the aggregation parameters are different but close to constant.

Keywords: Clay tailings, Bridging flocculation, Magnesium hydroxide, Population balance modelling, Seawater