Tailings 2024 – greater collaboration and evolution driving progress

The Tailings 2024 conference is being organised by Gecamin, the Universidad Tecnica Federico Santa Maria, Universidade Federal de Ouro Preto and The TAilings and IndustriaL waste ENGineering (TAILENG) Center, and will be held June 12-14 in the Sheraton Santiago in Chile. Ahead of the event, we spoke to Geraldo Paes, Corporate Geotechnical Director at global mining company Vale, who is also the Chair of the event this year. The wide ranging discussion covered trends in tailings management, water as a resource, tailings disposal innovation and tailings monitoring.

Geraldo Paes, Corporate Geotechnical Director, Vale and Tailings 2024 Chair

Q This is Gecamin’s 10th Tailings event – how have you seen the industry, by which I mean the consultants, engineers, regulators, miners and solution providers, evolve in that time in its approach to tailings management?

Reflecting especially on the past five years, I’ve witnessed significant evolution within the industry in tailings management. Stakeholders, including consultants, engineers, regulators, miners, and solution providers, have become more proactive in applying technology, improving processes and practices and emphasising ESG in tailings management. This shift towards greater collaboration has been notable, aligning with values such as ethics, safety, and integrity, which are transforming the industry’s culture. As a big advocate for safe and responsible mining, I’ve seen how these values drive industry-wide progress.

Q Water is increasingly seen as a valuable resource – is water would you say among the most important or the most important factor driving tailings technology today?

Water conservation has indeed emerged as a critical factor driving tailings technology today. Throughout my career, I’ve come to understand the vital importance of water as a precious resource, not just for our operations but for the communities and ecosystems we serve. This awareness has fuelled my commitment to developing solutions that not only optimise water usage but also prioritise safety, efficiency, and environmental stewardship.

Q Do you see a future where conventional tailings, thickened/paste tailings and filtered tailings will all continue to play their part based on the particular aspects of the project concerned, or that the industry will move towards a more standardised method of dealing with tailings?

The future of tailings management most likely involves a combination of all these methods, each tailored to the specific requirements of individual projects. While standardisation may offer certain benefits, the diversity of geological, hydrological and operational contexts suggests that a flexible, case-by-case approach will remain prevalent. In my point of view, the most important change is not in the method of disposal itself, but in the fact that safety and environmental responsibility are driving factors in choosing those methods and in operating TSFs across the world.

Q Is there still room for innovation in tailings management in your view? Will different approaches to processing such as the greater use of dry grinding and coarse particle flotation also help to change the tailings status quo in mining?

Absolutely, there’s a lot of room for innovation in tailings management. Innovations such as dry grinding and coarse particle flotation present promising avenues for improving efficiency and reducing environmental impact. I would add to this list the many possibilities for reusing, reducing and reimagining tailings – these will be amongst the greatest challenges for the mining industry in the coming years. At Vale, we continually seek new technologies and approaches to drive sustainable change. I am positive that at the Tailings 2024 conference we will see many innovative solutions which have the potential to challenge the status quo and push the boundaries of what’s possible in our industry.

Q Tailings monitoring via satellites and using the latest sensors is another important topic – the tools that help mining operations manage their tailings operations. Again, is technology advancement aiding industry in this regard and is this an important topic within the event agenda?

Definitely. Technology advancements, including satellite monitoring and sensor integration, have revolutionised tailings management, providing real-time data and insights for effective decision-making. This goes to show how much we, as an industry, have progressed over the last few years and how much technology we now have applied to our TSFs. At Vale, we recognise the importance of leveraging these tools to enhance safety, performance monitoring, and operational efficiency. This focus on technological innovation is a priority on the Tailings 2024 agenda, reflecting our commitment to continuous improvement in tailings management practices.