Aussie scientists develop cost-effective way to treat mining wastewater

Aussie scientists develop cost-effective way to treat mining wastewater

The new treatment in progress to remove a range of metal contaminants. Image: CSIRO

A new cost-effective technology to treat mining wastewater and reduce sludge by up to 90% has been used for the first time at a copper mine in Queensland.

The new method, called Virtual Curtain, was used to remove metal contaminants from the Baal Gammon mine and safely discharged the equivalent of 20 Olympic swimming pools of rainwater-quality water, said Australia's main science and technology research body CSIRO.

Sludge is a semi-solid by-product of wastewater treatment and reducing the amount produced has huge environmental and economic benefits.

“Our treatment produced only a fraction of the sludge that a conventional lime-based method would have and allowed the mine water to be treated in a more environmentally sound way,” CSIRO scientist Grant Douglas said.

Aussie scientists develop cost-effective way to treat mining wastewater

The mine pit following the release of the treated water. Image: CSIRO

Australia’s mining industry is believed to generate hundreds of millions of tonnes of wastewater each year, so Virtual Curtain opens a significant opportunity for companies to improve water management practices and be more sustainable, the expert said.

"The technology can produce a material high in metal value, which can be reprocessed to increase a miner's overall recovery rate and partially offset treatment costs," Douglas added.

If required, the treated water can be purified much more efficiently via reverse osmosis and either released to the environment or recycled back into the plant. This possibility, he believes, makes it a great option for mining operators in arid regions, such as Australia and Chile.

The licensed method, available through Australian company Virtual Curtain Limited, can be used in a range of industrial applications.