The presence of clay minerals slows down the settling rate and mitigates compact consolidation efficiency in tailings dewatering. The increasing use of saline water in many plants, affects the dewatering performance and presents the mining industry with new concerns. Efficient tailings dewatering is a great challenge due to the complexity character of tailings, especially clay mineralogy, clay content, and water chemistry. In this study, existing studies of the effect of different affecting parameters, such as pH, ionic strength and polymer flocculants, on clay aggregation behaviours are reviewed. The settling behaviours of three types of commonly observed clay minerals in tailings, kaolinite, bentonite, and illite, are also investigated in saline water with different water salinity as a case study. The settling rates of clay minerals are found to be affected by water salinity, clay type, clay content and polymer dosage levels. High salinity water hinders the settling of kaolinite but assists the settling of bentonite and illite through formation of different aggregation structures.
The current work has indicated that strategies to promote more rapid dewatering could include adjusting flocculant type or level, water salinity and salt balance, and tailings solid content levels. Implementing dewatering strategies may require a more detailed knowledge of the effect of surface chemistry on the nature and strength of the clay inter-particle forces. This study discusses the research gaps on how to better manage clay-rich tailings in saline water and identifies new research directions. The development of a water management model, supported through in-line monitoring data to predict and manipulate of the surface chemistry of the clay component of the tailings could be a new direction to manage the issues associated with clay minerals in the process of dewatering and tailings management. Mine planning (water use requirements, operating costs) could benefit from more detailed studies on dewatering of clay-rich tailings in saline water.
Liu, D, Edraki, M and Berry, L, 2018. Improving the dewatering efficiency of clay-rich tailings in saline water, in Proceedings Mine Waste and Tailings Stewardship Conference 2018, pp 476–484 (The Australasian Institute of Mining and Metallurgy: Melbourne).