Outotec provides resource efficiency and minimized risks for mining companies

This article was published in Outotec's Sustainability report 2019

Water availability and environmental risks have become increasingly significant issues for mining companies. Climate change and uncertainty of resources press miners to look into tailings management solutions for increased efficiency and sustainability.

Mining companies are faced with a myriad of challenges, with perhaps the most significant ones currently being water availability and resource efficiency. Water is a scarce resource in many parts of the world and local communities are using the same water sources as companies.

Decreasing ore grades mean that it is becoming necessary to extract higher volumes of ore to generate the same amount of refined product. In general, the lower the ore grade, the more water-intensive the processes to extract the ore. This sets importance on investing in resource efficiency and minimizing impacts on the local communities from the start.

Outotec’s solutions have been used to help future proof operations and prevent mining water-related risks via taking advantage of different tailings management solutions.

“These risks are major sustainability issues for miners, because the impact on the community can be massive if operations are not carried out well,” says Jason Palmer, Director of Tailings and Water solutions at Outotec,

“By changing the way you handle mining waste, you can significantly reduce the impact on the community and the environment.”

Minimizing risks with tailings solutions

UMMC’s Uchalinsky mining and processing plant, which processes copper-pyrite ores and produces copper and zinc concentrates, was facing a problem with the almost-full tailings pond in 2014. The solution was Outotec® Thickened Tailings and Paste Plant, which turns concentrator waste into an environmentally-friendly paste.

Outotec’s plant allows efficient recovery of process water and decreases the energy consumption of slurry and water pumping. The plant also reduces the area occupied by the tailings pond and the risks of environmental contamination.

In Uchalinsky’s case, for example, moving away from the traditional method of disposal also meant that the operating life of the tailings pond was increased significantly, from 20 to 50 years.

“We can help our customers to use less energy and water in their production and reduce CO2 emissions,” Palmer says.

Dry tailings are the future

Currently, mining companies are tackling the issue of tailings with a range of solutions, and they need to combine efficiency with environmental considerations.

“Mining companies are constantly managing the effluent from the sites,” says Palmer,

“Dry stacking means that they would have the possibility to quickly reclaim the site after the life of mine has come to an end, compared to a wet tailings dam, which can remain a long-term responsibility.”

Dry tailings solutions signify a substantial reduction of not only the amount of water used but also the risk of failure – something that carries endless value.