Sense-able tailings dam

A better way to monitor spoil dump and tailings dam stability.

Tailings impoundments are one of the largest man-made structures on earth and ensuring their integrity for the safety of human life, the environment and property are critical in today’s mining operations. Past and recent catastrophic tailings dam failures have placed an urgent need for improved waste disposal, storage processes and monitoring capabilities.

Currently, the integrity of the tailings dam infrastructure is monitored by mining staff walking along the – potentially unstable – perimeter and visually inspecting the exterior. Piezometer-like devices are also placed throughout dams to measure changes in liquid pressure. Combined these methods provide subjective data that cannot deliver an ongoing and accurate assessment of the integrity of these waste storage facilities. Without a reasonable assessment of these large structures, there is no way to identify if or when one might fail.

Mining3 and The University of Queensland in conjunction with the Australian Coal Association Research Program (ACARP) are currently in the process of building prototype autonomous sensors for the constant monitoring of tailings and spoil storage facilities.

With a web of small, interconnected sensors spread across a tailings dam or spoil dump, accurate measurements in the change of water pressure or movement in the soil can be delivered to the surface in real-time. This provides up to date readings of environmental factors that can affect overall wall stability, limiting the need for staff on the ground.

The research will also delve into identifying indicators and precursors to failures, in relation to data collected from these sensors. This could revolutionise the understanding of these storage facilities. By understanding the causation, steps can then be taken to minimise risk in the future.

The current project addresses key industry outcomes surrounding safety and the removal of personnel from hazardous situations such as those involved in ground stability, the investigation of material properties and their implications in the design and functionality of a dump site, and the investigation into aspects of effective mine closure and the long term impacts associated with tailings dams and spoil dumps.

Mining3 intends to increase its research into the autonomous sensors of tailings dams and spoil dumps and invites interested parties to collaborate through the process. For inquiries contact Project Lead, Byron Wicks.