Blog: Mining Minds

How to generate value from tailings with reprocessing to be future ready?

There are millions of tons of tailings being discharged today and billions lying in legacy dams. A lot of older tailing facilities have impressive residual mineral values, which could provide opportunities to help in environmental reclamation, while at the same time, generate additional revenue. With reprocessing, the mining companies can set the agenda to transform the tailings ponds from a liability into an asset.

Whether driven by regulatory compliances, tailings dam failure and water scarcity, mine tailings can well become a strong business case in the near future. Due to growing mining volumes, global tailings generation was estimated to total ~3.2 bn tons for copper and ~1.8 bn tons for iron in 2018. It is well known by the mining industry that the cost of tailings management and reclamation are significant for business profitability and long-term survival.  

With a deeper commitment towards a more sustainable vision, mining companies around the globe are looking for smarter solutions and strategy for reducing the waste or tailings generated during mining activities. Reprocessing is a viable solution which helps to minimize risk and deliver a valued return on investment.   

Reprocessing – turning ‘waste to value’

A lot of operational and closed tailings facilities have residual mineral values that might not have been of interest in earlier times. With advent of novel technologies, mining companies are now figuring out ways to extract valuable metals from tailings.

In gold, copper sulfide and iron ore tailings, the potential of extracting minerals is an opportunity. Reprocessing tailings to collect the valuable minerals can be a cost-effective approach compared to processing virgin material. At Metso, we have conducted studies recently that tell us that processing one unit of tailings could be three times more cost-effective than virgin material.

A standard method of reprocessing involves dragging tailings from an existing dam back to the concentrator and using required mineral processing solutions to liberate the valuable metals. The discarded tailings are then dewatered and dry stacked, and the water recycled within the plant or properly disposed back to nature.

This helps mining companies to reduce possible water losses as well as cleanup the existing tailings dams or eliminate them completely while providing an opportunity to convert mine waste to value. Overall, sustainable and productive mining solutions like reprocessing helps in creating a shared value for mining companies, local communities and entire ecosystem.

Future ready solutions

Metso offers complete solution for reprocessing of tailings dams through its expertise in comminution and beneficiation, thus conserving ore and enabling profitability of mining operations. We firmly believe, dry stacking tailings is the way forward and a disruptive practice can virtually eliminate the need of tailings ponds in coming years besides lowering the risk of dam failures and groundwater contamination.

Ensuring a comprehensive mine life cycle strategy

Looking at a bigger picture, ultimately, it is about the mine life cycle strategy. An effective mine life cycle needs a vision that goes beyond environmentally safe practice. Issues such as safety, compliance, and sustainability should be addressed with the same sense of responsibility as quality, productivity and cost efficiency. Tailings management is not restricted towards finding the most technically suitable equipment or solution; it is about transformation and taking the mine life cycle to a new level.

At Metso, we are ready to lead the dialogue and transformation towards dry tailings management and even look at addressing the decommissioning of legacy dams. With introduction of the new age dewatering technology, Metso is committed to offer productive and eco-efficient solutions to its customers.

This blog post is part of a three-piece series on tailings management in mining. Read the full series:

  1. Sustainable and socially responsible mining needs radical transformation
  2. How to manage tailings not just efficiently but also economically
  3. How to generate value from tailings with reprocessing to be future ready?

Tailings management solutions
Our goal is to transform tailings management by changing legacy and risk prone practices with a positive value creation model.

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Rodrigo Gouveia

VP, Tailings Management Solutions

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