Success for recomine network at BHP Tailings Challenge

Approach of processing steps for flotation tailings and process water reaches proof of concept stage within the challenge

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BHP Tailings Challenge ©Copyright: HZDR

recomine coordinator Phillip Büttner presenting the concept at the BHP Tailings Challenge

Foto: HZDR

A team under coordination of recomine, a saxonian BMBF funded WIR! alliance at the Helmholtz Institute Freiberg for Resource Technology (HIF) an institute at the Helmholtz-Zentrum Dresden-Rossendorf (HZDR), has successfully reached the next stage at the BHP tailings challenge. The three-phase innovation competition asks the participating teams to developing concepts that can significantly reduce tailings from BHP´s mining activities. The goal is to reduce the volumes of the next generation of tailings dams from copper and other metals mining. Amongst 10 other teams, the recomine approach got selected out of 153 worldwide proposals that were submitted in summer 2020. After a kick-off presentation at a Demo Day on January 19th 2021 BHP will provide sample material for experiments to test the approach. In summer 2021 the teams will present their results and BHP will chose the three winning teams for the next phase.

Old mine tailings and process waters can be an important source of raw materials. They still contain considerable amounts of recyclable materials, but in the past these were not technically recoverable or of no interest to industry. But views have changed and scientists developed technologies to extract resources from and to reprocess mining dumps, this approach is called "re-mining". The British-Australian resource company BHP (former Broken Hill Proprietary Company) has launched the “BHP Tailings Challenge”, a new initiative that seeks to promote the development of innovative solutions for repurposing copper tailings, a re-mining process. The challenge is set up with the support of Fundación Chile, through its open innovation program EXPANDE. Chile is the world´s leading copper supplier and has an interest to improve the mining situation. Copper and other non-ferrous metals cannot be completely mined. Some of the valuable metals are also left over during the subsequent metallurgical processing. The residues are stored on tailing dams.

Under the coordination of the HIF alliance recomine experts from science and industry developed a concept for the challenge. The partners are: TU Bergakademie Freiberg (Institute for Inorganic Chemistry, Institute for Mechanical Process Engineering and Processing (MVTAT), Institute for Thermal and Environmental Process Engineering (ITUN), Institute for Nonferrous Metallurgy and Purest Materials (INEMET)), Additionally, the G.E.O.S. mbH and the Research Institute for Leather and Plastic Sheets (FILK) as well as the Sustainable Mineral Institute of the University of Queensland contribute to the project with novel and decisive technological developments. Together they developed modularly arranged processing steps for flotation tailings and process water.  Tailings is a common by-product of the mineral recovery process. In hard rock mining, the rock containing the ore is pulverized in a series of crushing and grinding processes in order to extract the mineral. This process is also known as comminution, i.e., grinding the ore into fine particles. Because this comminution uses water, tailings usually consist of a slurry of fine particles, ranging from the size of a grain of sand to a few micrometers.

On January 19th 2021 the concept was presented to the largest actors in Southern American copper mining. “Our approach considers three versatile modules: a processing of tailings module with focus on the extraction of valuable minerals, a processing of solid residues module with focus on creating construction material, and a water treatment module to recover fresh and processing water. We believe that our approach will improve the mining situation as well as environmental conditions,” says Philipp Büttner, coordinator of recomine. “The challenge is a perfect opportunity to show the expertise of recomine and our regional partners. Reaching the next stage has shown that our concept is promising.” Following the kick-off presentation in January 2021, BHP will ship sample material to the participating organizations. recomine and its partners will conduct experiments that will provide a proof of principle to the organizers. Presenting results from these experiments represents the next competition among the ten selected teams in summer 2021. Three teams will then enter the next stage of the BHP tailings challenge that considers an on-site demonstration of the selected approaches. 

Further Information:

Philipp Büttner

Helmholtz Institute Freiberg for Resource Technology at HZDR

Tel.: +49 351 260-4417

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