Reducing Water Consumption in Mining (Case Study)
Digitization in beneficiation technology is helping to ensure that this precious commodity is used efficiently.
Plenty of water is needed for mineral processing. Photo: HZDR/Detlev Müller
Water is a vital resource on which many industries rely and which can be used more sparingly. An example is the beneficiation of mineral ores. Taking the raw material fluorite as their example, researchers at Helmholtz Institute Freiberg for Resource Technology (HIF) have now shown how water usage can be optimized. They have developed a new procedure that extends the simulation of the beneficiation process. It indicates the circumstances in which it makes sense for water to be recycled without incurring losses during ore enrichment. The consumption of fresh water can thereby be significantly reduced. This not only benefits the environment but also the mining companies because it makes the extraction of raw materials more efficient. The researchers have presented their new procedure in the Journal of Environmental Management. HIF is part of Helmholtz-Zentrum Dresden-Rossendorf and works in close collaboration with TU Bergakademie Freiberg.
Found in smartphones, modern cars, climate-friendly photovoltaic units and used in many other industries, hi-tech materials have become an indispensable constituent of everyday life. Although recycling can partially cover the demand for raw materials, most are still sourced from mining. The environmental impacts are well known: land use, the generation of additional traffic infrastructure and the industrialization of often remote areas. Mining also requires vast quantities of water and produces correspondingly large volumes of wastewater. Working in partnership with colleagues in Finland, a team of researchers at HIF led by process engineer Bruno Michaux has developed a method of making water usage in the processing of mineral raw materials more sustainable. Taking the mineral fluorite as an example, they have shown how water consumption can significantly be reduced by the aid of process simulation.
Fluorite – also known in mineralogy as fluorspar and by its chemical name of calcium fluoride – is an important raw material for industry. It is used, for example, in the smelting of iron, in aluminum extraction and in the chemical sector as a raw material for producing fluorine and hydrofluoric acid. Probably the best-known product of fluorine chemistry is PTFE, a fluoropolymer which is sold in membrane from under the trade names Teflon and Gore-Tex.
B.Michauxa, J. Hannulaa, M. Rudolph, M.A. Reuter, K.G. van den Boogaart, R. Möckel, P. Kobylin, M. Hultgren, M.Peltomäki, A. Roineb, A. Remes, "Water-saving strategies in the mining industry – The potential of mineral processing simulators as a tool for their implementation", Journal of Environmental Management, March 2019, DOI: 10.1016/j.jenvman.2018.11.139
Read the full study on Helmholtz Zentrum Dresden Rossendorf