Water Balance of a Boreal Black Schist Heap Leach Operation

Antti Arpalahti*, Mari Lundström

*Corresponding author for this work

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The current study presents the effect of process chemistry as well as climate conditions on the water balance of a heap leach operation for black-schist ore. The research is based on the actual water balance at the Terrafame (former Talvivaara) mine site in Finland during the years 2017 and 2018 (base case). In addition, scenarios with a deviation in climatic conditions (Antofagasta case), chemistry (non-heat generation case) and effects of climate change (RCP4.5 (representative concentration pathway) case and RCP8.5 case) were investigated. In the first case, the annual precipitation and evaporation were simulated for a highly arid climate such as in the Antofagasta Mountains, whereas in the second case, an assumption was made of no excess heat generation (exothermic reactions) in the heap reactions. The base case predicted a requirement of 9,000,000 m3 annual discharge of water from the site with the heaviest annual rainfall. The discharge requirement and therefore the water footprint of the plant was shown to be highly dependent on the climatic conditions, as the Antofagasta case predicted a discharge of water from the site as low as zero. Heat generation, typical of the reactions dominating in a boreal black-schist heap leach operation, was shown to be vital for water management operations and therefore discharge management in Nordic climatic conditions (the non-heat generation case), where the discharge requirement was shown to be nearly threefold compared to the base case (2018). If the black-schist ore body resided in Antofagasta, the freshwater consumption would be over eight times the current consumption in the base case in Finland. Climate change scenarios show that the changing climate would increase the range of variation but only increase the need for water discharge from the site by 5% in the wettest years, while raw water utilization would increase by 46 to 83% during the driest years. In general, the results highlight the issues related to the mass and energy balance of a heap leach nickel process, and therefore feasibility—showing that although the heat generation is ore- and process-specific, the water consumption as well as discharge to the surrounding environment is highly dependent on the climatic conditions (precipitation, temperature) in the geographical location.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)758-768
Number of pages11
Issue number4
Early online date29 May 2020
Publication statusPublished - Dec 2020
MoE publication typeA1 Journal article-refereed


  • Climate conditions
  • Global warming
  • Nickel process
  • Sulfide ore


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  • BATCircle (Coord)

    Lundström, M. & Hannula, P.


    Project: Business Finland: Other research funding

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