Acid mine drainage treatment assisted by lignite-derived humic substances: Metal removal and speciation modelling

William E. Olds, Daniel C.W. Tsang, Paul Weber

Research output: Journal article publicationJournal articleAcademic researchpeer-review

12 Citations (Scopus)


Acid mine drainage (AMD) generated by some coal mines in New Zealand is currently treated by the addition of alkaline reagents which neutralize acidity, triggering the precipitation of dissolved metals as insoluble hydroxides. Some trace metals (Ni, Zn, Cu, Cd, and Pb) are discharged into receiving water bodies due to incomplete hydroxide precipitation at circum-neutral pH. This study investigated the incorporation of lignite-derived humic substances (HS) for metal complexation and removal during AMD treatment by Ca(OH)2and CaCO3neutralization. For Ca(OH)2neutralization, addition of HS (regardless of dosing sequence) enhanced the removal of Zn, Cu, and Cd, probably due to the incorporation of metal-humate complex into settling flocs (via aggregation, co-precipitation, and adsorption) that were subsequently removed by sedimentation. However, additional removal of Ni and Pb was statistically indeterminate, which was ascribed to the low complexation affinity of Ni and high removal of Pb by adsorption onto Fe/Al hydroxides. Conversely, for CaCO3neutralization, addition of HS only marginally enhanced Cd removal, with the removal of metals probably dominated by adsorption onto the abundant undissolved calcite. Equilibrium speciation modelling showed that about 25% and 38% of the remaining Cu and Pb in the treated AMD were complexed with HS, while only 5% of remaining Cd and less than 1 wt% of remaining Ni and Zn were organically complexed. In the AMD-receiving water bodies, about 20 mg l-1of HS would be required for complete complexation (>95%) of Cu and Pb and 50 mg l-1for Cd, whereas Zn and Ni complexation would not occur at natural stream HS concentrations.
Original languageEnglish
Article number1521
JournalWater, Air, and Soil Pollution
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - 18 Mar 2013


  • Equilibrium speciation
  • Humic substances
  • Metal complexation
  • Mine drainage

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Environmental Engineering
  • Environmental Chemistry
  • Ecological Modelling
  • Water Science and Technology
  • Pollution


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