Authors: Kalumba, D; Mudenge, ST

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Kalumba, D & Mudenge, ST 2019, 'Review of the potential role of electrokinetics technology in tailings dewatering and minerals recovery', in AJC Paterson, AB Fourie & D Reid (eds), Proceedings of the 22nd International Conference on Paste, Thickened and Filtered Tailings, Australian Centre for Geomechanics, Perth, pp. 259-274.

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Water is employed as a cost-effective media of transporting tailings; a mixture of ground waste ore, water and chemicals used in metal extraction processes. Tailings are conveyed in pipelines from the plant to the tailings dam. From the dam, the water should be recycled back to the processing plant but herein lies the challenge. The hydraulic conductivity of fine-grained tailings is very low such that instead of draining, the water tends to accumulate in the dam. Not only does this led to pore water pressure build up which undermines the dam’s stability, but it also causes massive water losses by evaporation more so in arid regions. Dewatering of tailings prior to disposal has emerged as a solution that can be used to conserve water by producing paste or thickened tailings. Thickened tailings have higher shear strength, lower volume and they reduce dam closure costs. Filtered tailings can also be used as underground backfill for mine cavities or transported with conveyor belts and trucks to a designated point. The main limitation is that the benefits of dewatering are mainly technical and they do not yield a direct financial return. Processes that increase mineral production are vital in mine operations. Apart from the residue of the targeted metal, most tailings contain base metals like copper, nickel and zinc. Some mines have already established systems to extract valuable minerals from tailings; these include DRDGold, Lonmin and Sibanye mines in South Africa. Dewatering systems are designed to be in close contact with tailings and if they can perform the dual function of recovering water while extracting metals, they would fully meet the demands of the mining industry. One of the most efficient techniques which can harness both dewatering and metal extraction is electrokinetics. Electrokinetics involves the application of an electrical current to induce the flow of water from the anode to the cathode in a process called electroosmosis. Electrokinetics also induces the migration of ions in a phenomenon termed electro migration. The metal cations precipitate at the cathode where they are collected and dried. This paper evaluates the viability of using an electrokinetic system to dewater and extract metals from tailings. Introducing a mineral extracting function could well be the key to increase the usage of tailings dewatering techniques by mines.

Keywords: tailings, dewatering, metal extraction, electrokinetics, electroosmosis, electro migration

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