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:: University Researchers Aiming to Tackle Tailings Problems
Researchers at the University of Western Australia are aiming to tackle a persistent problem when it comes to tailing storage in the mining industry.
Operations generally store their tailings waste in large pools, supported by earthen structures which can occasionally fail, causing an unexpected discharge of toxic slurries which can result in public health or environmental damage.
UWA Professor Andy Fourie is co-author of a guide for mining operations to mitigate the risks of tailing spillages, primarily through the thickening of the tailings slurry stored.
The book Paste and Thickened Tailings suggests a new solution to thicken tailings or make them into a semi-paste so that water losses are mitigated, reduce operating costs and improve safety.
It contains a collection of industry and academic articles detailing case studies and research into the new technology.
Professor Fourie claims that UWA’s School of Civil, Environmental and Mining Engineering is “certainly leading the way in terms of the technology transfer and conducting associated research.”
“We have a couple of PhD students at the School making advances in this area, but it’s a worldwide initiative with some very good work also being done in Canada and elsewhere.”
The concept has been in development since the turn of the century according to Fourie and has been adopted by over a dozen Australian mines, with a total of 30 or 40 mines using the technique globally.
Thickening of tailings can improve the operation’s efficiencies and provide benefit to sites at which water scarcity is a key concern. “At the Osborne mine in Queensland, they reported a 35-40 per cent saving in water with thickened tailings, and that’s a heap of water,” Fourie explained. “It also has the advantage of reducing the risks of these catastrophic failures. As communities become more concerned about mining impacts, this issue will become greater and greater,” he warned.
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