Mining companies have a role to play in reducing their environmental footprint. But this shouldn’t mean less efficiency for them. FLSmidth has solutions that offer both benefits.
FLSmidth is on a mission. The company has set an ambitious goal to offer its global mining customers zero-emission mining processes by 2030 and already has a range of digital and processing solutions in place to support that target.
Mark Mulligan, FLSmidth’s vice president for process line management says two of the key aspects of the company’s Mission Zero goals are to help miners with sustainable tailings management and to increase digitalisation.
“As a solution provider to the global mining industry for several decades, we are seeing a shift in the industry towards being more sustainable and implementing new ways of doing things that minimise the risk for the industry, by reducing water consumption, emissions, and energy waste,” Mulligan tells Australian Mining.
One of the ways that miners can make their entire process more sustainable and efficient, according to Mulligan, is by adopting new tailings management technologies.
“The traditional processes of tailings management often require large amounts of fresh water. In a country like Australia where most mines are located in remote areas with limited access to water sources, these solutions are not sustainable,” Mulligan says.
In 2018, FLSmidth collaborated with GoldCorp to jointly develop an innovative filtration and stacking technology for tailings management – a process named EcoTails.
“EcoTails is essentially a process technology that blends fast filtering tailings with waste rock while they are being transported on a conveyor to create what we refer to as GeoWaste, which is a lot more stable than the traditional filter cake tailings,” says Mulligan.
The EcoTails process is based on the dry stacked tailings technology, which is itself seen as a more sustainable alternative to conventional slurry tailings dams in terms of water consumption and land usage.
Mulligan says EcoTails improves the efficiency of that technique and makes it feasible for larger mines.
“While traditionally stacked tailing was adopted by small tonnage mines of less than 10,000 tonnes per day, EcoTails make it feasible for mines of up to 150,000 tonnes per day to use the technology,” he says.
“Another advantage of EcoTails is the higher water efficiency. With EcoTails, as much as 90 per cent of the process water can be re-circulated to the plant, eliminating the need for fresh water usage.”
According to Mulligan, many large mining companies are beginning to see the sustainability benefits in moving from traditional tailings dam designs towards solutions such as filtered tailings, paste backfill and EcoTails.
For those miners which are still wary of adopting the filtered technology – because of the previous limitations of the traditional filter technology – FLSmidth has developed a five metre by three metre filter press as a pilot demonstration unit at its Tucson facility in the United States, where potential clients can see the filtering technology in action.
“This filter technology can dewater high tonnages to the scale of more than 150,000 tonnes of tailings a day. We can run material from any given mine through that unit to demonstrate the scale-up of the technology. We can also use data from this test to design the full-scale unit for the client’s particular site,” Mulligan explains.
Towards more digitalisation in mining
To help miners improve the efficiency of their operations, FLSmidth also offers a range of digitalisation solutions.
“The first step in digitalisation is to become digitally connected. We have an international customer base and over the years we have installed thousands of equipment across the globe,” Mulligan says.
“By ensuring that our clients’ technologies are digitally connected into the cloud, we can assist them in analysing that data to help them optimise their processes.”
With more mines implementing modern sensors and control systems on their equipment for real-time monitoring of their machinery assets health, Mulligan says FLSmidth has been able to assist more clients with online condition monitoring and predictive maintenance.
“We have a 24/7 remote support centre where our global service team can troubleshoot and assist our clients by doing diagnosis and helping the clients by remotely analysing the situation on their site to help them predict where maintenance will be required,” he adds.
As miners look for ways to enhance efficiency of their operations, asset optimisation is another key term that often comes up.
But what does asset optimisation mean in practice? Mulligan demonstrates this with the help of an example.
“SAG mills are often one of the largest energy users in a mineral processing plant. They are also critical machines as the unexpected shutdown of one SAG mill can cost the plant’s operators thousands of dollars,” Mulligan explains.
“FLSmidth has developed SAGwise technology, which uses acoustic sensors and proprietary process control software to predict and adjust the SAG mill operation according to impacts in the mill.
“Test results show that these adjustments reduce damage to the mill’s liners by up to 40 per cent. They also lower the grinding media consumption and further reduce energy consumption by up to 6 per cent.”
Solutions like EcoTails and SAGwise, and many other such solutions by FLSmidth, help miners get more out of their running plants, while also contributing to the industry’s move towards higher sustainability.
“We have a goal to achieve the highest level of sustainability in mining to minimise the environmental impacts of the sector. We believe this is possible and we can help miners achieve this through reduced water consumption, lower emissions and optimised energy consumptions,” Mulligan concludes.
This article also appears in the May edition of Australian Mining.