Post-thickener polymer addition to initiate rapid tailings dewatering has gained considerable interest for tailings storage facility (TSF) management. However, the highly viscous and non-Newtonian rheology of dense suspensions presents unique challenges for mixing with polymer solutions. Such mixing is highly inefficient, often resulting in polymer overdosing and wide variations in deposited tailings characteristics, with the potential to significantly compromise TSF performance. In this study, a new type of mixer based on the principles of chaotic advection was used for treating kaolin suspensions with high molecular weight (MW) anionic copolymer solutions. Chaotic advection imparts efficient mixing by gently stretching and folding flows in a controlled manner, as opposed to random, high-shear flows associated with turbulent mixing, and this lower shear stress allows for the controlled formation of larger aggregate structures with vastly improved dewatering characteristics. A pre-conditioning pipe reactor prior to this mixer can also be advantageous in terms of providing a short burst of high shear for initial polymer distribution. Seven acrylamide/acrylate copolymers of a fixed anionic charge density (30%) spanning a distinct MW range, as characterized by intrinsic viscosity, were applied at elevated dosages to high-solids (20–30 wt %) kaolin suspensions in continuous flow through the chaotic mixer described above. Medium-to-high MW polymers were generally preferred, with further increases in MW resulting in significantly diminished dewatering outcomes. Direct analysis of polymer solution properties through oscillatory rheology gave a better indication of a polymer’s potential performance compared with intrinsic viscosity, offering a more robust basis for polymer selection. This represented the first systematic study into the effects of polymer properties on deposition behavior after dosing at high solids, which was only possible through the ability to apply controlled shear across the entire suspension during sample preparation.
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