May 03, 2023

Properly preparing a strategic plan to pump mine tailings

  • Article
  • Master plan
  • Mine waste pumping
  • Mine tailings pumping

It’s crucial to adequately size tailings pumping systems to ensure ore production plants run smoothly and that operational goals are met. The natural progression of tailings storage facilities inevitably leads to an increase in pipeline length or evacuation elevation, or both, over the years. Production slowdowns can be avoided by planning tailings pumping requirements and increasing system capacity in a timely manner, if required.

  1. The challenges

    Operating parameters for tailings pumping systems are constantly changing because of variations in the mining process and the evolution of the filling plans for the tailings storage facility. Tailings deposition must be performed within the design parameters to ensure the safety of geotechnical structures and to comply with environmental approvals. Moreover, tailings are frequently used to build dikes.

    Large-scale equipment is required to evacuate tailings volumes, which are considerably higher than concentrate volumes. Major investments and significant lead times are therefore required.

    Tailings pumping is typically achieved using complex multistage systems that are arranged in more than one building (booster pumping stations). High pressures may be involved and must be taken into consideration when selecting components.

  2. The methodical approach

    A rigorous analysis of current and future operations is required to properly define the design criteria for system sizing. All operating modes must be considered: tailings evacuation, line switchover to move end-of-line piping under deposition, pipeline flushing, etc. It is also essential to provide the required redundancy to ensure the robustness of these critical systems. The constructability in a brownfield environment and the operability of the proposed solutions must also be taken into account.

  3. The master plan

    Developing a tailings pumping master plan is recommended as it provides the following benefits:

    • Establishes the pumping needs for the years to come, typically a zero-to-five-year timeframe, as well as any modifications needed to the system.
    • Implements the required capacity increases in a timely manner, taking into account the implementation timeframe (conceptual and feasibility studies, detailed engineering, procurement of major equipment and construction).
    • Allows to plan the overall investment requirements for each year.
    • Helps anticipate and schedule major investments.
    • Avoids production losses associated with under-capacity systems.
    • Secures geotechnical structures by complying with the filling plan for the tailings storage facility.
    • Helps organize the replacement of some end-of-life components (preventive maintenance), if necessary.

    Optimizing the use of existing equipment and deferring investments, whenever possible, can result in significant savings.

    Furthermore, a periodic update of the master plan helps maintain an accurate portrayal and adjust strategies, based on how the process and tailings deposition evolve.

    It is also best to verify the long-term high-level pumping requirements to plan major investments. Having a short-, medium- and long-term vision is a good way to optimize decision-making and promote strategic planning based on future needs, such as increased production, how the tailings storage facility evolves or the development of a new storage facility.

  4. In conclusion

    BBA has acquired leading-edge expertise in designing tailings pumping systems for many clients over the years. Our experts will work diligently with you to plan the right capacity additions to your tailings evacuation systems at the right time so you can achieve your operational goals. Feel free to contact us for more information.

This content is for general information purposes only. All rights reserved ©BBA

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