ICMM members are exploring innovative approaches and technologies to minimise and ultimately eliminate tailings waste from the mine life cycle.
The main forms of waste produced by the mining industry are waste rock and tailings. It is important to not only ensure the safety and integrity of tailings storage facilities but also to avoid and reduce the generation of tailings, to reprocess waste rock and tailings to extract metals and minerals that escaped the initial mining process, and to re-use and recycle tailings in different ways so as to minimise the requirement for tailings storage facilities.
We cannot conduct this critical work in isolation. We believe that the best solutions are created through partnering and engaging with other groups across the mining and metals industry, including technology providers and suppliers, academics, investors and other industry representatives.
ICMM’s work towards the prevention of pollution and related impacts associated with tailings facilities involves three tracks of work which mirror the mitigation hierarchy.
- Reducing or eliminating the generation of tailings waste. This is through investigating and identifying alternative methods of metal and mineral recovery. A long-term (>15 year) aspiration.
- Removing moisture from tailings and strengthening tailings. This is through enabling cost effective scaling up of tailings dewatering and material handling technologies and approaches. A medium-term (5–10 year) aspiration.
- Strengthening operational performance for the design, operation and closure of tailings storage facilities. Supports a short-term (3–5 year) goal.
Tracks 1 and 2 support companies to prevent and reduce the generation of tailings waste, while Track 3 supports the safe management of tailings facilities.
Cost-effective alternatives to conventionally managed tailings facilities
In the last few years, ICMM has identified five aspects of metal and mineral recovery that have the potential to eliminate or dramatically reduce the generation of tailings: precision geology, precision mining, precision segregation, in situ and ex situ recovery, and tailings valorisation.
For each of these aspects, we undertook landscape reviews to identify prospective and applicable technologies that can reduce or eliminate tailings. Key stakeholders (i.e. original equipment manufacturers (OEMs), mining equipment technology suppliers, consultants, research consortia and organisations) were also identified for each technology theme. ICMM is working with these key stakeholders to identify collaborative initiatives that can advance the development and uptake of the technology themes.
- Precision geology: Geological techniques, processes or models that have the ability to better characterise the ore body for downstream processing, maximising ore and minimising waste rock being mined which will have an impact on tailings generated.
- Precision mining: Mining approaches or technologies that minimise or eliminate waste rock being mined which will have an impact on tailings generated.
- Precision segregation: Segregation and liberation technologies that are able to optimise metal and mineral recovery or produce more benign tailings.
- In situ and ex situ recovery: Leaching techniques that can optimise metal and mineral recovery and minimise and/or eliminate the volume of waste rock produced which will have an impact on tailings generated.
- Tailings enhancement and valorisation: Different ways to create value from tailings, or ways to minimise the requirement for tailings storage.