Tonnes of mining waste is being dumped at Flinders University’s College of Science and Engineering – all for a good cause.
The major new initiative will focus on scaling up improved methods for acid mine drainage assessment and remediation, water and ecosystem decontamination, better use of natural microbial biodegrading and other methods to improve both mine site closures and mining’s impact on the landscape.
Flinders University Professor Sarah Harmer, who is leading the five-year $10 million project, says the lab-based research aims to put better remediation practices into practice.
The project is part of the Cooperative Research Centre (CRC) for Transformation in Mining Economics (TiME) program, and will focus on examining how climate, geochemistry, microbiology and other factors affect mine waste materials.
“Our new lab will handle tonnes of mine waste rock and tailings to find better ways for industry partners to assess and manage acid mine drainage for mine closure planning,” says Professor Harmer, director of Flinders Microscopy and Microanalysis and deputy director of the Flinders Institute for Nanoscale Science and Technology.
“We will look at improving acid-base testing, better waste disposal planning and neutralisation of acid mine waste to help restore environments for future uses.”
Managing acid and metalliferous drainage (AMD) costs up to $650 million a year, and tens of billions for mining companies worldwide. When mining activities have ceased in the past, poor quality water from the production of AMD may continue to damage the environment, human health and livelihoods for decades or even centuries.
This week, senior executives from global resources company Newmont visited the Flinders lab during a tour of their Australia mine sites.
Hugh Davies, Newmont Mining’s director of Water Systems, says the detailed test work will help the company adopt best-practice guidance to improve prediction, remediation and closure of acid and neutral metalliferous drainage sites.
“Over the past year, we have identified various geological materials at mine sites in Australia and North America that we would like to learn more about through detailed geochemical characterisation,” says Mr Davies.
“Bulk samples were collected and shipped here to Flinders University for ongoing meso-scale long-term rock weathering experiments.
“In the next three years we hope the project will enable us to demonstrate and test operational interventions to reduce the long-term post-closure risks to water, ecosystems and people, and deliver fit-for-purpose post-mining land use.
“Improved understanding of the environmental behaviour of these materials will be integrated into our mine rock stockpile design and closure planning processes.”
Other partners in the project include Rio Tinto, FAME, Fortescue Metals, BHP, MMG Australia, Blue Minerals Consultancy and Teck Resources as well as Genome Research Facility, Okane, the Minerals Research Institute of WA, the SA Department for Energy and Mining, Australian Department of Agriculture, Water and the Environment, Mineral Resources Tasmania, The University of Queensland and University of Windsor.