Designer Tailings

27 Mar 2013

Designing tailings through collaborative research.

An estimated 1150 million tons of heavy metals have been mined since the Stone Age and today, mining activities generate about 5 × 109 tons of mill tailings per year world­wide (Lu and Wang, 2012).  The physicochemical properties of tailings contribute to weathering and soil formation processes which in turn are fundamental determinants of biological activity, vegetation establishment and ecosystem functioning.  Despite this, the complex role of ore and gangue mineralogy, fine grinding, and flotation chemistry in shaping the physical and geochemical properties of tailings and their storage, are not well understood.


This project seeks to improve the management of tailings, through proactively engineering those physicogeochemical properties, as well as the chemistry and quantity of tailings water, during the course of ore body characterisation and mineral processing.  This will be achieved through: the development of novel tailings management models; benchmarking the success of proactive initiatives; and identifying pathways for realistic re-use opportunities for valuable by-products in tailings streams. 

The study will involve feeding data gathered on the biogeochemical processes in tailings storage facilities and immediate receiving environments, back into the design and activities of mineral processing plants and upstream ore characterization, to produce integrated value chain models.  The project aims to eliminate environmental and social legacies of future mine tailings by proactively engineering the physical, mineralogical and geochemical properties of tailings across the entire mining process, including initial ore characterization, mineral processing and rehabilitation.   This research project is part of the SMI’s NextMine Initiative, and is being led by CMLR and JKMRC, with contributions from CSRM and MISHC.