How safe is your tailings storage facility?

This was the question researchers posed to the international mining community as part of P1217, Evaluation of Tailings Storage Facilities (TSF) Monitoring Technologies when it began in July 2020.

P1217 is a cornerstone project being undertaken by The University of Western Australia (UWA).

It is designed to help companies evaluate the efficacy of technology on their sites.

We asked Project Lead and UWA Professor Andy Fourie how the project was progressing.

What stage is the project at now?

The project started two years ago and reached halfway in July 2022. Initially planned as a three-year project, all sponsors unanimously agreed to extend the project by one year due in part to Covid-related challenges as well as the significant benefits expected to be achieved in the second half of the project.

What outcomes have been achieved?

The first phase of the project, namely examining current monitoring systems in the marketplace to produce an independent report on their performance, has been completed.

We have created an interactive web-based app hosted on a tailing monitoring website that sponsors may use to:

Additionally, we have collected and interpreted the tailings from the major sponsors sites which in turn, provided the blueprint for creating digital twins that can best mimic the real-life TSFs.

Thorough investigation of precursors to failure of TSFs is in full swing with centrifuge testing and numerical modelling unlocking behavioural changes that can be interrogated against monitoring instrumentation data.

What have been the highlights so far?

The visits to the major sponsors TSF site have been a true highlight for the research team. The willingness and helpfulness of the mine site personnel to host us and help us collect all the samples that we wished to have has been remarkable.

In your opinion, how is this project benefitting industry?

Close to 100 members of the sponsoring companies currently have access to our monitoring technology dashboard. The sponsors can use the dashboard for interrogating the suitability of their monitoring technologies for determining an array of preliminary monitoring technology systems that can monitor against user-specific triggering failure mechanisms or anticipated changes in behaviour for a particular TSF site.

Furthermore, the mining companies and the technology providers get real insights into the logistics of installing multiple instrumentations on active TSFs and the challenges & solutions developed to achieve successful monitoring. The knowledge sharing sessions have also proven successful in understanding what, when and how can be monitored and by whom.