Many mining operations rely on dams to manage their tailings. When these dams fail, however, they can cause significant harm to people and the environment. With regulatory pressure increase, the mining industry must find better alternatives to tailings – such as high-pressure filters – to ensure safe and efficient operations.
While major incidents do not occur on a daily basis, the potential for damage is high if an accident occurs. Tailings can fail for a variety of reasons, including the following:
· Earthquakes and other natural disasters cause liquefaction
· Dangerous upstream constructions
· Weaknesses in the dam's structure and uneven ground below it
· Poor design and poor-quality control
What are mining tailings?
Mining operations produce a lot of tailings. Most mined ores – from gold to iron – must be crushed, ground, and mixed with water, resulting in a slurry of silt and gravel known as "tailings."
The precious metals are then extracted from the mixture, leaving a slurry of fine mineral particles and water behind. These tailings are not trivial. For example, mining operations generate an average of half a tonne of waste for every tonne of hard coal produced.
The issue with tailings is that they can be unstable, making integration into the natural mineral basin difficult. When leftover metals or minerals in tailings are exposed to air, they can produce acids, resulting in acid drainage. These slurries must be treated to avoid contamination of local water supplies, both surface and groundwater.All of this means that proper tailings management is critical to the mining industry's long-term success.
What are the dangers of tailings?
A tailings facility or dam is the preferred method of managing tailings for many mining operations. The issue here is that if these dams fail, they can cause significant harm to people and the environment, effectively halting mining operations and subjecting businesses to severe penalties.
Although these fail infrequently, they fail at a higher rate than most other types of dams. Tailings dams have failed at a rate more than 100 times that of reservoir and power dams over the last century. Upstream dams, which are constructed in stages, have historically been the most prone to failure.
How Can We Cut Down on Mining Tailings?
Wastewater treatment and mechanical filtration are required in order to reduce the need for tailings dam and work toward better, safer, and more sustainable tailings management. Here are a few different options that are currently available:
A: Hydro cyclones
Hydro cyclones are a cost-effective way to streamline your wastewater because they are effective at removing large amounts of solids without the use of additional chemicals. Hydro cyclones, which use centrifugal forces to remove solids, are relatively inexpensive, can process large volumes of water, and are relatively simple to maintain.
Hydro cyclones can help remove a large amount of solids and aggregate before your primary method of wastewater treatment, whether you use a pond or a filter press. Their main disadvantage is that they cannot remove all particle sizes, which means you will need to use another method of wastewater treatment to remove total solids.
B: Belt Filters
Belt filters are sometimes used by companies looking for a smaller footprint option that does not require a large initial investment. The wastewater slurry is dewatered here by passing it between two moving belts that are tensioned and run over and under several rollers.
However, as with centrifuges, operating costs are relatively high because a significantly high dose of chemical flocculants is required to keep operations running. Belt wear can also occur quickly, necessitating significant downtime and maintenance. It should be noted that the filtered cakes produced by the belt press are "spadable," which means they may require additional processing before dry stacking.
C: Filter Presses
Filter presses, as one of the oldest and most trusted pieces of dewatering equipment, are effective at solids removal. Slurries are pumped into a filter press via a feeding pump and then pushed through chambers made of filter plates.
For mining applications, low- and high-pressure filter presses are available. In general, high-pressure filtration is preferable because low-pressure filter presses are inefficient and necessitate more complex designs.
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