The mining industry is typically water intensive so there is an increasing requirement to find more effective means of water management. Effective water management will ensure the industry is sustainable in its own right in order to meet the increased demand for the commodities we produce.

Whilst the amount of freshwater globally has remained fairly constant over time, the planets population has increased and in parallel our efficiency in its use has declined, with the UN estimating water usage has grown at more than twice the rate of population in the last century.

Water Usage and the Impact on Mining Operations

Water is used and managed in a variety of ways across the mining industry, including:

  • Dewatering of ore bodies
  • Mineral processing
  • Slurry transportation
  • Dust suppression
  • Equipment maintenance
  • Diversion and collection of surface water to protect operating assets
  • Drinking water for personnel.

Many operations are challenged by how to handle problems generated by having too much water. For example, water volumes being in excess of site storage capacities due to heavy rainfall.

Conversely, mining operations can also be affected by water scarcity challenges as a result of reduced supply, whether by naturally occurring drought conditions or regulatory restrictions imposed to manage water scarcity.

Mining operations that include tailings facilities are constantly striving for ways to reduce the amount of process water presenting to tails, or reusing the water that does.

Copper producers in key regions, particularly those using flotation techniques in drought affected areas around the globe, are at risk of having production curtailed as a result of water restrictions at a time when the shift to electric vehicles and other decarbonisation initiatives demand more copper.

A similar situation exists in NSW which has also been experiencing sustained drought conditions.

The need to maximise efficiency in water handling and usage in both excess and deficit scenarios should be front-of-mind for all functional areas of the resources industry.

Practicing Good Water Management in Mining

One advantage the mining industry has over the majority of other industries is our ability to typically use water that is of a quality lower than fit for human consumption.  The ability to use these sub-optimal water sources creates an opportunity for us to look at a wide variety of technologies to better manage available water and, as an ideological goal, aspire to a closed-circuit water operating model to maximise efficiency in water consumption.

Aspiring developers and operators alike have a range of means at their disposal – some being relatively simple and cost effective to implement - while at the other end of the scale, providing transformational change by reducing reliance on traditional fresh water sources typified by increased capital intensity.

Some examples of water use, reuse or usage reduction measures include:

  • Tailoring the development of process flowsheets to account for anticipated project water characteristics such as:
  • Adopting water efficient processes where water is scarce
  • Ensuring flowsheets reflect expected sub-optimal characteristics of the site water source, as compared to laboratory sources.
  • Treatment of process water to improve the chemical quality and enhance flotation recoveries.
  • Diversion, capture and storage of surface water run-off for re-purposing (i.e. dust suppression, irrigation) and asset protection.
  • Water recycling, treatment and subsequent re-purposing to reduce potable water demand.
  • Improved management of acid mine drainage.
  • Dry stack tailings to reduce water consumption and improve environmental and safety factors.
  • Building inter-connectivity of data across different aspects of the operation, to facilitate analysis of the data and adopt a holistic approach to integrated water management.

Final Thoughts

Engenium, through its extensive pre-development expertise during the various study phases, coupled with our experience in maintaining and improving the functional aspects of all facets of mining operations, can help you maximise the efficiency and effectiveness of water usage across your entire asset and its operational lifecycle.

At study stage, we can investigate and advise you on the most appropriate water management strategies to maximise the value of your asset and find the right balance between the technical and commerciality aspects. 

Finding the right balance across these related but undeniably different aspects is vital to facilitate and underpin the all-important transition from development to execution by way of ensuring your project NPV is sound and ESG principles are strong.  

It must be remembered the best and most responsible water management systems are devised early in the project lifecycle when the ability to explore optionality is at its most productive level. The longer you leave it the harder and more costly it is to change.

Further Reading:

The Importance of Sustainability in Mining Operations

Slurry Pumping Systems: Key Considerations for Design and Operation

 

Contributor:

Jason Hislop

Business Development Manager, Perth WA

Engenium Pty Ltd