#08 | Research as a key to optimising water management

By Rob Scargill, executive Director (Sandfire MATSA)

One of the main challenges in the management of a mining operation is closely related to optimal use of water resources. It is not merely a question of scrupulously complying with the law in this area, but also of achieving real efficiency as regards use, reuse and recirculation so as to achieve lower dependence on external sources and better use of the water that is already part of the various circuits within the operation itself.

At times of scarce natural water resources, such as we are currently experiencing, it is even more critical to be aware of this commitment we have made as a responsible company committed to sustainable development. Sandfire MATSA therefore participates in research studies that lead us to develop new treatment solutions to regenerate and reuse wastewater in mining

It is with great pride that we can now state that our facilities house the first platform for water treatment technological experimentation in the mining sector, the Mining Water Living Lab, which is also supported by renewable energies to drive the recovery of resources and the reuse of process water.

This project, which is co-funded by the European Union’s LIFE programme, is coordinated by Cetaqua Barcelona (a Water Technology Centre), in collaboration with the Łukasiewicz-Institute of Non-Ferrous Metals of Poland (IMN), which is responsible for examining the replicability of the process in the mining and metallurgical industry; and the French SME Newheat, which specialises in implementing solar thermal energy projects in industry, which will demonstrate the financial feasibility of using this type of energy in water treatment processes in the mining sector.

The purpose of this platform is to turn the current water treatment process from a linear to a circular economy model, thus allowing more than 90% of the treated water to be recovered for later reuse.

This system is partly powered by solar thermal energy, thus eliminating the carbon footprint associated with operating evaporation processes and achieving a more sustainable and lower-cost process. On the other hand, a second treatment line will make it possible to recover 70% of the copper and 40% of the zinc in metal-rich acidic streams.

Sandfire MATSA is committed to protecting the natural environment by developing initiatives to promote greater responsibility in our environmental practices. Therefore, besides hosting the project’s pilot plant, the company has for years been investing heavily in water infrastructure to guarantee the supply and efficient management in the mines, treating industrial water and protecting the surrounding area’s natural resources.

Thus, our environmental actions to achieve truly sustainable mining cover five main areas: climate action, by reducing our carbon footprint and constantly seeking alternatives to use renewable energy; protecting biodiversity and restoring degraded spaces; tackling environmental emergencies, conducting environmental impact studies for all mining projects and expanding our forest fire prevention plan; environmental training, strengthening environmental dissemination and awareness-raising; and, finally, efficiently managing water resources, which is why we measure our water footprint and participate in studies related to new sustainable mining water treatment methodologies, such as that which will be validated with the Mining Water Living Lab.

Mining Water Living Lab in Aguas Teñidas Mine’s facilities