In areas where access to water for mineral processing is limited, the direct use of seawater in processing has been considered as an alternative to the expense of its desalination. However, efficient flotation of copper sulfides from non-valuable phases is best achieved at a pH > 10.5, and raising the pH of seawater leads to magnesium precipitates that adversely affect subsequent tailings dewatering. Seawater pre-treatment with lime can precipitate the majority of magnesium present, with these solids then being removed by filtration. To understand how such treatment may aid tailings dewatering, treated seawater (TSw) was mixed with raw seawater (Rsw) at different ratios, analyzing the impact on the flocculated settling rate, aggregate size as measured by focused beam reflectance measurement (FBRM), and vane yield stress for two synthetic clay-based tailings. A higher proportion of Tsw (10 mg/L Mg2+) led to larger aggregates and higher settling rates at a fixed dosage, with FBRM suggesting that higher calcium concentrations in Tsw may also favor fines coagulation. The yield stress of concentrated suspensions formed after flocculation decreased with higher proportions of Tsw, a consequence of lower flocculant demand and the reduced presence of precipitates; while the latter is a minor phase by mass, their high impact on rheology reflects a small particle size. Reducing magnesium concentrations in seawater in advance of use in processing offers advantages in the water return from thickening and subsequent underflow transport. However, this may not require complete removal, with blending Tsw and Rsw an option to obtain acceptable industrial performance.

Keywords: rheology; clay-based tailings; treated seawater; flocculation