Is ore-sand the solution to the mining industry’s waste problem?
By Dr Juliana Segura-Salazar, Research Fellow at The Julius Kruttschnitt Mineral Research Centre, and Professor Daniel M. Franks, Deputy Director – Research at the Sustainable Minerals Institute, The University of Queensland
Recent tailings dam failures are driving big changes in the way some mining companies are handling their waste. Circular economy approaches are encouraging companies to take a fresh look at whether metals ores might be a source of other mineral by-products.
Each and every year the mining industry generates more than 13 billion tonnes of tailings waste and many billions more of waste rock. That’s more than one tonne of tailings, per person, per year. As the quality of mineral ores decline, more material is being mined for less product and dramatic increases in mining for the renewable energy transition are only going to add to the problem.¹
Tailings are the ground-up rock leftover after mineral processing, and they have long been a major environmental and safety challenge. Tailings are typically stored in a tailings dam, with around 3,400 active tailing storage facilities in the world and the total number of active, inactive and closed facilities estimated at more than eight thousand.²
Recent tailings facility failures have caused many to question whether the disposal of vast volumes of ground-up rock is a responsible practice, and forced them to take a second look at the material that they are disposing.