Tag Archives: reverse osmosis

Mining, slurry and the human side of leak detection in Latin America

Mining in Latin America is a large scale, well established activity, Atmos International Sales Engineer, Rodrigo Salgado, writes. Latin America accounts for 50% of the world’s silver production, 40% of the global production of copper and 35% of the world’s lithium.¹

*Data correct as of 2021. This is a work derived by Atmos International from IEA material and Atmos International is solely liable and responsible for this derived work. The derived work is not endorsed by the IEA in any manner.
Figure 1: Latin America’s shares in the production of selected minerals

With the region holding a significant share in the production and reserves of the world’s minerals, mining has historically made up between 13% and 19% of Latin America’s direct investment from foreign territories and mining consistently remains a focal part of the economy in the region, but at what cost?

This article looks at the human involvement in Latin American mining and slurry pipeline operations, from the humans impacted by mining operations to the humans who are instrumental in providing vital leak detection support.

Social responsibility challenges facing Latin American mining companies

The ethics of desalination

A substantial amount of water is used every day to sustain the Latin American mining industry’s operational processes, whether that be for mineral processing, separation and extraction, or to facilitate the transportation of ores across long distances in slurry pipelines.² The mining industry requires uncontaminated water too, so it’s also worth noting that desalinated water is often used to support mining operations, a process which can involve many methods.

The most common method for desalination in the mining industry is via reverse osmosis, which requires seawater to pass over a membrane under high pressure conditions to filter out the minerals and other contaminants, creating desalinated water.³

Figure 2: A mining and slurry pipeline operation which uses desalinated water extracted from the sea via reverse osmosis

A water supply imbalance

The high quantity and quality of water required by the Latin American mining industry today is occurring at the same time widespread water shortages in residential areas are being observed. For example, the Chilean mining industry consumes an annual amount of water that could sustain 75% of its population’s needs,4 with Brazil using 1.6% of the country’s total water supply for mining which could supply the entirety of Brazil’s rural population with water, according to Salgado.

The Latin American water supply imbalance has led to many conflicts, with data from the Pastoral Land Commission indicating that 124 out of 197 recorded water-related conflicts in Brazil have occurred in areas where mining ore extraction routinely takes place,5 and this imbalance has only been worsened by the COVID-19 pandemic.

The hygiene concerns caused by the pandemic meant access to safe water in hospitals, for general handwashing and in the production of alcohol in hand gel, had never been more important, especially considering the fact that at least 65 million people in Latin America had no access to soap and water.6

Consequences and considerations

With almost 55 million indigenous men and women representing 8.5% of the Latin American population7, another social issue facing mining is related to pipeline operations that infringe on indigenous people’s territories.

Just as a leak or rupture in mining operations has the potential to devastate indigenous communities, there is also a high risk to more densely populated areas, such as urban locations or locations containing wildlife. With a population density of 57 per sq.km and a rainforest that covers approximately 40% of the region containing endangered species,8 an effective leak detection system is vital for mining and slurry pipeline operations in Latin America.

The humans behind mining pipeline leak detection

Effective leak detection in the Latin American mining industry starts with water management, not only because ore extraction can contain high traces of pollutants,9 but because there are many threats to pipeline integrity in Latin America such as landslides, lahars, riverbed scour and underground erosion.

Solutions like Atmos Pipe can provide statistical volume balance analysis to detect new and existing leaks while Atmos Wave Flow can use volume balance and negative pressure wave methods for fast and accurate leak detection with high sensitivity and a low false alarm rate.

To ensure a mining and slurry operation continues to run at its optimum level, introducing the human element ensures ongoing monitoring of the pipeline, product and activity by experienced engineers who are trained to recognise unusual behaviour, Salgado says.

A batch can include batches of different products or batches of the same product but different quality, so it’s not uncommon for different batches to move through the pipeline in a mining and slurry operation, especially considering the amount of water used in a mining pipeline to transport ores. Atmos Batch is a real time batch tracking solution that enables operators to know the head and tail location of every batch and its estimated time of arrival, reducing the risk of product contamination and supports with draining and filling operations, Salgado says.

In the face of US Federal regulations requiring a record of pipeline operator training and a plan for continuous performance improvement, Atmos Trainer, meanwhile, combines elements of Atmos SIM with a SCADA user interface to provide a pipeline training environment for the operator.

In the context of mining and slurry operations, the control system can be mimicked, allowing operators to control a virtual pipeline during normal and abnormal operating conditions. Platforming pipeline operators with the training environment to understand a pipeline’s behaviors can improve confidence, reduce the risk to a real mining and slurry operation and support compliance with regulations, according to Salgado.

1 https://www.iea.org/commentaries/latin-america-s-opportunity-in-critical-minerals-for-the-clean-energy-transition

2 https://www.atmosi.com/en/news-events/blogs/what-s-mine-is-ores-how-pipeline-solutions-can-support-the-latin-american-mining-industry-s-social-responsibility-for-water-management/

3 https://www.purdue.edu/newsroom/releases/2021/Q2/breakthrough-in-reverse-osmosis-may-lead-to-most-energy-efficient-seawater-desalination-ever.html#:~:text=The%20most%20widespread%20process%20for,pressure%20to%20remove%20the%20minerals

4 https://www.mckinsey.com/industries/metals-and-mining/our-insights/desalination-is-not-the-only-answer-to-chiles-water-problems

5 https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S2214790X21001866

6 https://www.unesco.org/en/articles/waters-latin-america-and-caribbean-contributions-times-covid-19

7 https://www.ilo.org/global/about-the-ilo/newsroom/news/WCMS_864176/lang–en/index.htm

8 https://education.nationalgeographic.org/resource/south-america-physical-geography/

9 https://www.atmosi.com/en/news-events/in-the-media/international-mining-from-slurry-to-human-consumption-water-management-in-latin-american-mining/

Water treatment plant starts up at Anglo American’s Aquila met coal project

Anglo American’s Metallurgical Coal business says it is now operating the first of two state-of-the art reverse osmosis (RO) water treatment plants at its Aquila project in the Bowen Basin, Queensland.

The aim of the RO plants is to reduce the use of fresh water in its mining operations.

Chief Executive Officer of Anglo American’s Metallurgical Coal business, Tyler Mitchelson, said the A$5 million ($3.9 million) water treatment system was currently treating two megalitres of mine affected water (MAW) a day and supporting construction of the Aquila Mine, near Middlemount in central Queensland.

“A key target in Anglo American’s global Sustainable Mining Plan is to reduce our reliance on fresh water by 50% by 2030 across our mine sites, and I’m pleased to say Aquila is currently sourcing recycled water during construction of the mine,” Mitchelson said.

“A planned second RO plant will to be used to recycle a further 2.4 megalitres of MAW – once Aquila becomes operational in early 2022, more than doubling capacity and helping to reduce the reliance on water from local sources during times of drought.

“Aquila will be one of the world’s most technologically advanced underground mines and will showcase our innovation-led approach to sustainable mining. The project is currently supporting 500 jobs.”

Aquila, owned 70% by Anglo and 30% by Mitsui & Co Ltd, will extend the life of Anglo’s existing Capcoal underground operations by six years and continue to use the associated infrastructure at the Capcoal complex as its nearby Grasstree Mine approaches end of life, Anglo says. The mine will also continue to adopt Anglo American’s FutureSmart Mining™ program, which applies innovative thinking and technological advances to address mining’s major operational and sustainability challenges, the company said. One of the initiatives the company is working on as part of this is remote operation of the longwall; a process the company has trialled at some of its other Bowen Basin coal mines.

Aquila’s Project Director, Tony Willmott, said the A$240 million Aquila Mine was committed to awarding contracts locally.

“Our Aquila project is progressing well, with support from its Queensland-based workforce and contracting partners. More than 90% of our Aquila contracts have been awarded to Queensland-based suppliers,” Willmott said. “Aquila’s integrated network of pipes and pumps is securing the distribution of high-quality water which is necessary in metallurgical coal mining for equipment cooling and coal cutting operations.”

Anglo American commits to Aquila coal development with >A$240 million of contracts

Anglo American has invested more than A$240 million ($175 million) with suppliers for its 70%-owned Aquila metallurgical coal project in Central Queensland, Australia, which, the company says, will be one the world’s most technologically advanced underground mines.

Aquila will extend the life of Anglo American’s existing Capcoal underground operations near Middlemount by six years and continue to use the associated infrastructure at the Capcoal complex as its nearby Grasstree Mine approaches end of life, Anglo says.

Anglo American has awarded nearly A$200 million to six longwall equipment suppliers to deliver a “walk-on, walk-off system” using two complete longwalls, a A$20 million overland conveyor system and more than A$20 million in civil works, it said.

The project, which is scheduled for first longwall production of premium quality hard coking coal in early 2022, includes a A$5 million reverse osmosis water treatment system to increase the use of recycled water and reduce the reliance on fresh water at the mine – a key target in Anglo American’s Sustainable Mining Plan.

Chief Executive Officer of Anglo American’s Metallurgical Coal business, Tyler Mitchelson, said: “Our Aquila project is progressing well, with support from its Queensland-based workforce and contracting partners. More than 90% of our Aquila contracts have been awarded to Queensland-based suppliers, and we currently have around 500 people working on the project in engineering, surface construction and underground development.

“Aquila will be a breakthrough project, designed to set a new standard of safety and performance by leveraging technology and focusing on operational improvements. The mine will showcase our innovation-led approach to sustainable mining, with a remote operating centre on the surface of the mine, proximity detection systems underground to alert machine operators to pedestrians, and the continued digitisation of our operations, using new technologies such as our Australian-first intrinsically safe underground electronic tablets.”

In addition to the aforementioned construction contacts, Anglo American awarded a A$95 million mining development contract to Mackay-based mining company, Mastermyne in 2019.

Multotec, Clean TeQ bring mine effluent treatment solution to Africa

Multotec Process Equipment and Clean TeQ Water have combined to offer the Africa market a game changing reverse osmosis (RO) technology solution able to truly unlock the significant potential of resin chemistry for effective mine effluent treatment, Vincent Ridgard, Process Engineer at Multotec Process Equipment, says.

Treating effluent on mines often makes use of RO technology, Multotec says, but low recoveries can raise costs substantially. A continuous counter current ion exchange can provide a fit-for-purpose solution, according to Ridgard, who notes that RO was initially designed to remove monovalent salt molecules from sea water.

“However, wastewater on mines also includes divalent and trivalent elements, which cause scaling of membranes in RO systems,” he says. “This means that when a standalone RO plant is utilised to treat these waters, it is operated at lower recoveries to enhance the lifespan of the membranes.”

This results in large volumes of highly concentrated brine streams, he says, which are either recirculated within the system or require very expensive effluent treatment systems. To address these challenges, Multotec offers niche technologies suited to treat divalent and trivalent elements in water on mines.

“Through our close partnership with Clean TeQ Water, in Australia, we offer mines across Africa a continuous counter current ion exchange technology,” Ridgard says. “This uses resin, which is more selective to extracting larger molecules.”

As a result, these systems achieve high recoveries of over 90%, so process water can be re-used within the mine’s process circuits or discharged safely to the environment. The resin-based chemistry removes target species, selectively extracting contaminants through exchanging ionic functional groups engineered on the resin beads.

Ridgard notes that, while these scientific principles are well accepted, there has previously not been a suitable technology to truly unlock the significant potential of resin chemistry. Clean TeQ’s ‘moving bed’ solution – supplied to the Africa market by Multotec – is, therefore, a game changer.

In contrast to the conventional fixed-bed systems, the use of resin transfer mechanisms allows the continuous ionic filtration to handle up to 150 parts per million of solids, whereas conventional systems need a 100% clean liquor. Total suspended solids and total dissolved solids can, therefore, be simultaneously removed.

It also optimises the inventory of resin, a significant cost contributor to the overall plant, and provides high water recoveries. Other benefits include its low power consumption and ability to recover valuable trace metals as a by-product.