Mine waste or potential future resource: integrating Industrial Ecology thinking into a mine project

Mine waste represents by far the largest waste stream generated by our economy. Mine tailings and waste rock piles are the source of important environmental damage as heavy metals together with acid inevitably leak out of the waste deposits; at the same time valuable metals are lost while there is evidence that they are present in significant amounts in mine waste and could potentially be extracted. A more recovery-oriented approach to waste management could be both economically attractive and environmentally beneficial since it would: mitigate environmental impacts related to mine waste disposal (and consequently reduce the remediation costs); and increase the resource efficiency of a mine site by maximising metal recovery. The research will first investigate the existing mine waste deposits and understand how technical and non-technical factors are impacting on their composition and on current waste management practices. Such factors include: ore deposit mineralogy, commodity prices, management culture, available technologies etc. Secondly, the research will focus on the potential for future improvement in order to not only recover metals from existing mine waste but eventually prevent their disposal in earlier stages by having a recovery-oriented waste management system integrated throughout a mine’s life cycle. This PhD is undertaken as part of the Wealth from Waste research collaboration program funded by the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO). The Centre for Social Responsibility in Mining at the University of Queensland leads one of the core research streams, “Recycling Systems: Barriers and Opportunities for Industrial Ecology in Australia”. The overall cluster project also includes the University of Technology in Sydney, Swinburne University of Technology, Monash University and the Center for Industrial Ecology at Yale University.

Author Eléonore Lèbre
Institution Sustainable Minerals Institute, University of Queensland
Advisor Glen Corder
Degree Doctoral
Expected graduation 2017