Mine water treatment is a huge global market, with large volumes of water used on mine site for processing ores, creating a large volume of wastewater that often ends up in evaporation ponds or tailings dams. Water scarcity is a key threat to the continuous operation of mines in some regions, and additional water sources such as groundwater or treating water for reuse are a big focus.
water treatment plants for the mining industry can use a range of technologies, including ion exchange or membrane systems. Reverse osmosis is often used, but can suffer from low water recovery and generate a large volume of difficult to manage waste since mining wastewater can contain contaminants that are difficult to treat. Ion exchange can be very beneficial in these applications, removing hardness or selectively removing or recovering metal contaminants. This can help miners reach their environmental discharge targets and allow water to be reused on site.
A key consideration of any technology is the cost addition of a water treatment plant compared to the cost of lost production due to water shortages, or the cost of trucking or piping water to site. In most cases installing a water treatment solution provides great economic benefit and only carries a small cost compared to the rest of equipment on site.
Many engineers work in the mine water treatment sector and a number of companies exist that can assist with the water balance at mines. As environment regulations imposed by Governments become increasingly strict, mines will have no choice but to install treatment solutions and comply with the regulations, or face the risk of closure by the local environmental agency.