As the Australian minerals processing sector deals with diminishing water supplies, effective water management programs are becoming an operational asset.
Savings of more than 95% are being targeted.
With the nation confronting the issues associated with maintaining a regular and sustainable supply of water, industry, governments and community groups are investigating methods of better managing water resources.
The Australian mining and minerals processing sector is also allocating more and more resources to water management.
“All mineral processing activity in Australia needs water, with some processing requiring more than others,” Nalco Australia’s Mining & Minerals Processing Group Asia-Pacific marketing manager Len Lawrence said.
“Hydrometallurgical processes, by definition, require substantial quantities of water to efficiently extract targeted minerals. And if there is no water, there’s no processing.”
“Given the climatic conditions in Australia at present, water supplies in some areas are critical and threatening continuing operations,” he said.
“In some cases water shortages could lead to temporary plant closures – a drastic outcome perhaps but a realistic one facing some processors. However, for the bulk of Australia’s processing sector, the results of investigations into the available water management programs and improvements in water use efficiency will see operations sustained.”
According to Lawrence, maximum recycle and treatment to allow reuse are the best water management options to ensure a reliable supply of processing quality water.
To this end Nalco has embarked on a national awareness program to provide information on maximising the use, and reuse, of available water.
Lawrence believes the single most important step any processing site can commit to is a water-use audit, to determine how much water, and what quality of water, is required by each section of the plant – from administration to tailings – for in its day-to-day operations.
“This information opens the options for a plant-wide water management program,” said Lawrence.
By way of example he cites a current survey Nalco is undertaking at a Queensland minerals processing facility.
The survey has broken down the operating areas in the plant to more than 20 discrete – and measurable – locations.
Water use at each location was collated and, based on normal use patterns, the quantity and quality of water required to maintain operational standards has been determined.
Based on the results of the audit, a water management program is now being developed which could see more than 95% of all process water collected, treated and recycled throughout the plant.
“The size and output of the plant are secondary considerations in a water-use audit,” he said.
“The goal is to determine total water use, where it is being used and how much can be treated and recycled.”
He agrees that, ultimately, any recycled processing water will require replacement but says that such an event is a sign of a sustainable water management program.