Liquid spread mechanisms in packed beds and heaps. The separation of length and time scales due to particle porosity

Ilankoon, I.M.S.K.; Neethling, S.J., Minerals Engineering 86, 130-139, 2016

The distribution of liquid within a heap is a key factor in the system performance as it has a strong effect on the transport of both reagents and leached species and thus the leaching rate. How liquid spreads from drippers and the subsequent development of flow paths and any associated channelling is thus important. In this paper a pseudo 2-D column was used to investigate the horizontal spread of liquid in the vicinity of dripper in columns packed with both narrowly sized particles and more realistic particle size distributions. Both systems had distinct separation of the time scales at which different saturation features developed. There was an initial rapid formation of flow paths in the inter-particle spaces with only local wetting of the intra-particle spaces, though this was associated with little spread. Over a much longer time period there was extensive horizontal spread of the liquid within the ore particles, though this was associated with virtually no vertical flow. The externally held liquid (liquid content between the particles) showed strong channelling behaviour, especially in the realistically sized particles, despite the care that was taken to ensure uniform packing. This effect can be reduced by changing initial bed conditions and employing dense drip emitter locations, but it cannot be completely eliminated as particle level heterogeneities in heap leaching systems affect external flow paths creation. Hysteresis in the amount of liquid spread was also demonstrated, with the total spread depending not only on the current flow rate, but also on the flow history.

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