Water is the main medium for removing impurities from iron ore during wet processing to achieve a higher quality product. However, there is a substantial increase in freshwater consumption due to an increase in demand from the following two factors: in the past 55 years the world population has doubled from 3 to 7.5 billion and crude steel production has increased five times from approximately 350 to 1662 Mt/a (IISI, 2008). Furthermore, social development in developing countries exacerbates water consumption making freshwater an increasingly valuable resource with an average distribution of 70 per cent for agriculture, 20 per cent for industry and only ten per cent for domestic consumption (Hourtolle, 2005; OECD, 2009). Rapidly changing regulations over the access and preservation of water across the world indicates the growing importance of this issue, so the mining industry must adapt to this continual change and must be committed to increasing the efficiency of water usage.
Tailings dams receive most of the water used by the process plant. In arid regions where evaporation is high and availability of water low or non-existent, technical solutions other than the conventional tailings dam, such as thickened and/or filtered tailings, exist to optimise the recovery of water and reduce the need for external water consumption. However, these solutions present additional challenges, such as energy consumption and transportation from the process plant to the ultimate storage area.
This paper considers a range of alternatives covering thickening and filtering, transportation and storage, water return, closure and rehabilitation. Mining projects in the future will be more affected by the rising cost in water and tighter regulations in accessing water and energy. Good tailings management can contribute significantly to reducing the dependence on these two key commodities (water and electricity), improving the resilience of iron ore projects especially in arid regions and areas with high competition for water.
Vuillier, C and A Roshdieh, A, 2017. Minimising the water loss associated with mine tailings disposal, in Proceedings Iron Ore 2017, pp 245–250 (The Australasian Institute of Mining and Metallurgy: Melbourne).