De-risking Tailings Management | Global Mining Review

Mining companies are subject to varying regulatory regimes, but one…

Mining companies are subject to varying regulatory regimes, but one thing that is common across almost all jurisdictions is that it is getting more challenging to obtain approval to construct new tailings dams.

De-risking Tailings Management

Even when they are approved, it is a much longer and more arduous process than it was in the past. There are important safety and environmental reasons for this; nonetheless, it inevitably has operational consequences.

For instance, some miners, rather than embarking on what can be a multi-year process to get approval for a new dam, are opting to manage their tailings with their existing infrastructure. As a result, miners are moving their tailings around their site a lot more than they did in the past.

As a case in point, an Australian operator recently wanted to mine a previously unmined area of their asset. The area was located near the existing tailings dam. Time did not allow for the approval and construction of a new tailings storage facility (TSF), so they decided to fill up an old pit with the tailings.

Consequently, this increased transfer of tailings indicates a rising demand for pipelines at many sites. Alongside this demand come operational challenges and additional risks that need to be thoroughly assessed and managed. Pipelines – both concentrates, as well as tailings pipelines – constitute significant capital and operational expenses, so it is vital that they are correctly designed to prevent failures.

There are a lot of pipe design models available and digital tools are increasingly used when designing pipelines; however, new systems are dewatering higher solids concentrations, which means it is more common for slurries to contain larger particles. As a result, pipe loop testing is a vital part of de-risking pipeline designs.

De-risking pipeline design

The Weir Technical Centre (WTC) in Melbourne, Australia, is a global hub, providing slurry, tailings, and pipeline solutions to its customers worldwide. Working closely with miners and EPCs, its pipe loop test facility provides design inputs to pipeline designers in order to de-risk the designs.

Mineral slurries vary in many ways – mineralogy, particle size distribution (PSD), solids concentration and chemistry, etc. – which means each slurry behaves differently when in a pipe system. Therefore, pilot test work is important to help determine the best solution for each customers’ sites, while reducing the overall design risk.

For instance, Weir Minerals can run a variety of tests to identify possible issues. The testing can determine how the slurry behaves when pumped in a range of different conditions, solids concentrations, and velocities, as well as simulating pump failure and a possible restart event.

Pipelines also consume a significant amount of energy, so testing can assist with motor selection. The outcome ensures the pump and motors selected will provide the right tool for the job and the optimal operating window for mine site staff.

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