Curtin University and CSIRO recently published a paper on life cycle assessment of coal mine tailings management.
Tailings can be transported in various forms including wet or dry. Wet methods usually involve use of a pipeline to transport tailings from coal handling and preparation plant to tailing storage facility. Dry methods, including belt press methods, seek to reduce the water content in tailings slurry to form tailings cake. Tailings cake generated by the belt press method is then disposed of.
The results of this study indicated that thickened tailings generated the lowest environmental impact compared to the belt press and paste thickener methods. However, in terms of land-use, thickened tailings method occupied the highest land area.
Two strategies (technology improvement and renewable energy sources) were introduced into the belt press option that required the least area of land. These measures can significantly reduce the overall environmental impact.
This study also indicates the importance of considering the environmental impact and land use aspects of coal mine sites prior to selecting a tailings disposal method. Further analysis of economic aspects and reuse opportunities is also required for comprehensive understanding of sustainable tailings management.
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