The first aim of this commitment is to develop the methodology for classifying the mineral content and exploitation potential of mining waste disposal sites, and – in connection with this - develop a toolbox for classifying these sites to facilitate environmental and societal impact as well as economic value assessment. This will help identify recovery or other compound-based uses from this waste and drive market uptake. The second aim of this commitment is to develop novel approaches to the design of new waste disposal sites and the maintenance of existing sites so as to prevent and/or mitigate slope stability problems which can lead to disaster. By accomplishing these R&D actions, EU businesses will be in a much better position to design safer, sustainable waste disposal facilities which can be maintained AND exploited.
If the EU is to move toward a waste-efficient economy, there is a clear need to undertake market-driven research to assess what already existing waste resources (stockpiles, heaps, waste facilities, tailings ponds etc.) contain that can be of economic value. An indication of the importance of this development is the fact that the BAT document on the Management of tailings and waste-rock in mining activities (Article 21.3. of the Mining Waste Directive) is currently under review. The question concerns not only secondary raw materials with a stable supply generated in the EU (e.g. copper slag being used as adhesive for road-building or as base material in construction) but critical secondary raw materials which are in short supply domestically (esp. beryllium, tungsten, flourite and rare earth elements). This is an essential step to driving business growth in a largely untapped part of the extractive sector. A sound methodology for assessing the value of mineral resources in waste disposal sites and the environmental and societal impact of drawing on them will provide the groundwork for a sensible and sustainable utilization. By this we mean the ability to define critical waste areas, at a European scale. Some metal-rich waste areas can consequently be considered as potential economic resources. In favorable cases, considering the waste value and profit from extraction, a decision to re-mine may take place, which will have further economic and environmental benefit. The end result is new solutions reaching the market, whether they are adsorbents, binding materials (including geopolymers) or other waste-derived products.
To come up with a reliable toolbox and a single EU-wide reporting system for assessing and classifying mining waste disposal sites will involve the following research actions:
- Impact of laws and regulations which affect recovery of secondary raw materials from disposal sites (formulation of recommendations for improvements in legal status quo to facilitate recovery).
- Carry out research, estimate the potential of waste material, and conduct a feasibility analysis of recovering mining waste (formulation of possible approaches to facilitate an economic recovery of secondary raw materials from waste disposal areas, including new business models e.g. mobile extraction unit, centralized concentration).
- Investigation of approaches to assessing value of waste disposal site for recovery, exploitation, reclamation purposes (formulation of sampling criteria).
- Development of classes of waste disposal sites based on their environmental and community impact AND hydrogeological, geotechnical properties (formulation of classification system for waste disposal sites).
Exploitation cannot go ahead if the stability of the site is not safeguarded. With a spate of recent tragedies (in Poland – 2011; in Germany – 2009) linked in one way or another to slope failures, which in some cases cost human lives as well as heavily impacted local ecosystems, more advanced research and modelling tools are needed to better design for slope stability and predict failure modes as well as improve the durability of bottom and cover structures against the harmful discharge of tailings water to groundwater. For stability analysis of waste rock and overburden dumps to be effective, it is necessary to properly identify their strength properties. Properties of soil and rock mass composing the waste facility are variable in both the vertical and horizontal direction. This makes it difficult to determine their stability. Within the project the following activities will need to be carried out:
- Analysis of laws and regulations both at the EU and individual member states level, in the field of slope stability of the mining plant facilities (waste rocks facilities and overburden dumps).
- A review of the design methods applied for waste facilities and overburden dumps sites associated with the underground and opencast mineral extraction, and the state-of-the-art for analyzing their stability.
- Development and testing new methodology for the analysis of mechanical properties of waste rocks and soil contained at the disposal sites i.e. the parameters needed for the correct evaluation of the stability of already existing and newly designed waste facilities and overburden dumps.
- Development of guidelines for testing the properties of the subsoil, waste rock and overburden.
- Testing of the proposed tools at selected waste facility in the countries participating in the project. In each country partner of the project case-studies must be selected to detail waste mapping (up to 3 case studies). The mapping program can be supported by geotechnical and geochemistry works and boreholes.
- Formulation of comprehensive guidelines and recommendations for the analysis and design of safe waste facility and overburden dumps.
- Securing of funding to implement these guidelines and recommendations.
This Commitment brings together two inter-linked topics, which tie in closely with key action areas and expected impacts of the Strategic Implementation Plan.
One of the impacts of Action Area n° I.3 is the reduction in the “risks to the population and natural life caused by potential failures of tailings dams or mining operations”. The Commitment assumes a multi-disciplinary approach to the design of tailings dams and other waste facilities, the point of which is to minimize uncertainty with respect to slope stability and thereby prevent dam and facility failures.
Another Action Area n° I.4: “Processing and refining of raw materials” calls for efficient processing of secondary raw material feeds and with its emphasis on preparing a comprehensive approach to gauging the economic value of waste disposal sites, the present Commitment advances an economically sound argument for such processing.
Action area n° II.1: Minerals Policy Framework stresses the need for actions designed to “manage mining waste as a resource including how to deal with liability issues around old mine tailings facilities should be explored as well”. The Commitment is centered on providing the necessary design and analytical tools to ensure that mining waste is not just a liability, but a resource and provides for a comprehensive review of legal and other obstacles standing in the way of responsible exploitation, which include issues around who is responsible for the environmental impact of old mine tailings facilities. The Commitment calls for a systematic approach to gathering and analyzing data on mining waste and thereby contributes directly to the action’s areas expected impact of improving environmental management but also developing monitoring systems on raw materials flows and early warning systems on EU dependency on certain raw materials.
A very strong link connects this Commitment with Action area n° III.3, which envisions standards for secondary raw materials. This is in fact exactly, what the analysis/design guidelines and recommendations are meant to create – a code of good practices, which enable safe and responsible waste site design.
AGH University of Science & Technology (AGH UST), Faculty of Mining and Geoengineering will lead the project as well as be a partner within consortium responsible for tasks in the scope of waste inventory and analysis of their content, influence into environment, as well as economical, natural or cultural value. AGH UST will conduct also slope stability analysis in the context of both their safe building as well as reclamation process and their adaptation for different useful function.