Mineral tailings

Giovanna Antonella Dino (Earth Sciences Department - University of Torino)

Mining industry represents the most important productive activity to exploit raw materials and critical raw materials (RM, CRM) fundamental for society development. Resource security is a priority for governments of developed countries. Over the centuries, the need for RM continued to expand, as did the number of RM utilised in industry, involving also metals and elements not known or used in the past (Bellenfant et al. 2013). The consequence of mining industry is not only the volume of mineral products obtained but also generation of extractive waste (EW, including waste rocks, operating residues and tailings) which represent, on the one hand, a problem due to environmental impacts associated to their production and management and, on the other hand, a potential source to recover secondary raw material (SRM) and CRM. The need of minimizing the negative impacts on the environment has led to an increasingly high interest in recovery and recycling. Extractive industry, in 2017, represented the second most important sector in terms of waste quantities produced in the European Union (EU) across 27 different countries. The total amount of EW which is stored in the entire EU exceeds 5.9 billion tones (BRGM 2001). At a wider scale, about 25 billion of EW are produced worldwide each year (Lottermoser 2010). It has to be highlighted that EW facilities, mostly containing homogeneous materials, are often rich of RM, not exploited in the past, because the yield of mineral was too low to be exploitable without modern technologies, and of CRM, not known (or not used) at the time of mining activities (eg. REE). Thus, EW exploitation is one of the possibilities to exploit RM and CRM from integrative sources (EW facilities), with a potential contemporary environmental impacts decrement (remediation activities performed thanks to RM/CRM/SRM exploitation) (Dino et al. 2018).

The present chapter will focus on issues and potentialities connected to tailings deriving from mining industries: after a brief introduction about mining context, waste production and mining tailings will be presented (origin, characteristics, volume evaluation, etc.) and issues and potentialities connected to their management will be highlighted.

Bellenfant, G., Guezennec, A., Bodenan, F., D'Hugues, P., Cassard, P., 2013. Re-processing of mining waste: Combining environmental management and metal recovery? Mine Closure 2013, Sep 2013, Cornwall, United Kingdom. 571-582.

Dino, G.A., Mehta N., Rossetti, P., Ajmone-Marsan, F., De Luca, D.A., 2018. Sustainable approach towards extractive waste management: Two case studies from Italy. In Sustainable management and exploitation of extractive waste: towards a more efficient resource preservation and waste recycling. Edited by Nicola Careddu, Svein Willy Danielsen, Giovanna Antonella Dino, Richard Prikryl. Volume 59, Pages 564 (December 2018). Resources Policy, 59: 33-43.

Lottermoser B., 2010. Mine Wastes: Characterization, Treatment, and Environmental Impacts. Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg.