Tailings and Mine Waste Conference

Tools for bringing mine reclamation research to commercial implementation McKenna, Gord 2011

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Proceedings Tailings and Mine Waste 2011 Vancouver, BC, November 6 to 9, 2011 Tools for Bringing Mine Reclamation Research to Commercial Implementation Gord McKenna BGC Engineering Inc., Vancouver, Canada Mike O’Kane O’Kane Consultants Inc., Calgary, Canada Clara Qualizza GeoDes Consulting Inc., Edmonton, Canada Abstract Mines, universities, and research organizations worldwide spend tens to hundreds of millions of dollars annually on reclamation research, but much goes unimplemented at the commercial scale. Sometimes research results go uncommunicated, but more often, it is other impediments such as lack of understanding, insufficient opportunity to distill and assess all of the implications of the body of research, corporate and regulatory hurdles, and/or a general resistance to change that is the heart of inaction. However, there are some simple strategies and methods for development and commercial implementation of promising research technologies that can substantially multiply the investment of the initial research. One way to streamline the process is to develop a technology transfer plan within a mining company or a mining region. Research is focussed on answering specific questions, provisions are set out for upscaling the research through pilot and demonstration phases in the field, and perhaps most importantly, the results of the research are distilled and communicated to practitioners and decision makers in ways that they can use (e.g. manuals, fact sheets, R&D workshops) such that the results can ultimately be drafted onto blueprints and executed in the field at commercial scale. Examples of reclamation research technology transfer programs, screening and upscaling of tailings and reclamation technologies, and a roadmap for success are presented. Introduction and background It is our experience that too often, the results of earnest, thoughtful, expensive, and successful mine reclamation research and development (R&D) and to a certain extent, tailings R&D, is not effectively communicated, heard, evaluated, and implemented at mine sites. Much of applied research is ultimately aimed at developing new technologies for implementation at commercial scale, or incremental improvements to existing technologies. This paper provides tools and strategies to help design your R&D program and ensure the results receive the fullest consideration for going to commercial scale at one or more mines. The need for timely reclamation research At all but the smallest and simplest mines, reclamation research is an important part of meeting reclamation objectives reliably and cost effectively. Ideally, the work done in the environmental impact assessment and the first conceptual mine closure plan highlight knowledge gaps or opportunities for improvement, and furthermore identifies when this information will be needed by operations staff at the mine. Proceedings Tailings and Mine Waste 2011 Vancouver, BC, November 6 to 9, 2011 From this assessment, a schedule of research and development is set out and executed, providing timely knowledge for commercial-scale implementation at the mine. Some elements, such as tailings, revegetation strategies and techniques need to be developed early. Other techniques, such as end pit lake development, may be decades in the future. For large, long-lived mines, the R&D will be ongoing throughout the life of the mine, with more and more aspects morphing into monitoring and continuous improvement at some point in time. Sometimes there are conditions in the mine permit that require certain research on a certain schedule. It is starting to be recognized that earlier R&D results can help to avoid surprises down the line, enhance the company’s profile and minimize its liabilities, and better protect (or even enhance) the environmental and social well-being of the miners and other stakeholders. In some cases, the research is developed without the participation (or knowledge) of the mine or mining community, often in a university or government research setting. While this amounts to a lost opportunity for the student, researchers, the universities, and the mine, there is still the challenge of getting the results into the field and into commercial practice – a process that often takes one or two decades for the word to spread. While not the focus of this paper, many of the techniques presented here will also benefit recognition adoption of this kind of research. The state of practice, and what usually happens Knowledge gaps or ideas from research usually come from the environmental staff, but may also be highlighted by engineering or operations staff, mine management, stakeholders, regulators, or first nations. Sometimes it comes from consultants or third-party vendors. The resulting research project may be informal or formal, funded or not. Often research just involves people trying things in the field (for example, vegetation plots with different kinds of seedlings), or a small group working together to try out a new operational idea (creating a rockpile and seeing what wildlife moves in). Other times it is a formal project, with funding for staff, a consultant, or university students, often with formal experimental design, a budget and schedule, and the anticipation of a report or thesis. Many researchers and most students assume that publishing a paper, producing a report or a thesis is the final result – that somehow it will be discovered and adopted by the mine or mining industry, and the idea will take off and spread far and wide. Alas, this is almost never the case. Usually the work languishes on a shelf, and test plots forgotten, but there may be a few old timers at the mine who remember the work or there may be young people who rediscover it. Even in technologically savvy mine (as most are these days), if the results are not well communicated to decision makers and those who would implement the R&D results, the results can still languish for years or decades. The students or researchers move on, the mine staff may move on, the work forgotten. Sometimes the R&D is applied, but then is forgotten or falls out of favour. Proceedings Tailings and Mine Waste 2011 Vancouver, BC, November 6 to 9, 2011  Figure 1:  A well run research and development program is an essential component of sustainable mining Sometimes, there is one individual at a mine who is passionate about such research, and goes to great length to understand, convince others, and use the information gathered. One of the key elements of getting research implemented is to have a champion, someone willing to live and breathe the work. Often this is a highly technical person who understands all aspects of the specific research, but more often, it is generalist with good judgement who can take and adapt the work to changing local conditions, demonstrating and selling the technology to the decision makers. These people also work to change the state of practice in industry, and by hosting tours and presenting information at conferences, helps to disseminate the ideas and enthusiasm. Miners are often (only) swayed when they see new technology working well at a similar mine. The state of the art, and what can happen The authors have been fortunate to work at several sites where it was recognized that the full value of R&D was not always being harnessed, and steps were taken to better structure the research, scale it up through development trials, and shepherd it through implementation. Even working ideally, often only perhaps 20% of research results look promising enough to go to large scale development trials, and of these, perhaps only a third are commercialized, and many commercial implementations ultimately fail. A well designed program embraces this attrition rate, and recognizes that even unsuccessful research and development still provides essential training and experience. Proceedings Tailings and Mine Waste 2011 Vancouver, BC, November 6 to 9, 2011  Figure 2:  Good design of your R&D program is critical to its success A state of the art program for mining R&D involves the following kinds of activities:  A process for identifying and recording potential research needs (often referred to as a “gap analysis”) and a process of gathering new ideas, improvements on old ideas, and new techniques worth investigating (“scanning”)  A process for evaluating, prioritizing, scheduling and budgeting for this research  A process for funding and carrying out the research, allowing input for changes as learnings come in, supporting the researchers in the field, allowing them to work safety and productively  A process for collecting and storing R&D data safely (“data management”)  A process for sharing of information in a timely manner between researchers and between staff and researchers (often takes the forms of field tours and workshops).  A process to summarize and interpret the research results in a way that is meaningful to the mine operation (“technology transfer”)  A process to evaluate the results of research, decide which items should be scaled up through development, and which successful development technologies should be commercialized (“scale up”).  And a process to gain input from not only operations and technical staff, but also stakeholders, regulators, and first nations throughout the research program (“consultation / collaboration”). Ideally stakeholders, regulators, and first nations are involved with or leading some aspects of the R&D. The process need not be complex, costly, or involve a lot of people. But it does need to be thoughtful, well documented, and planned/budgeted. Mostly, it needs a champion, armed with experience and tools to get this important aspect of the job done. Clearly, having good systems / framework in place greatly multiplies the value of the research, and in turn, allows greater investment in R&D as a track record of commercial results come in. Research and development is a major investment. The ratio of R&D spending to total revenue is sometimes referred to as the research and development intensity (see Congressional Budget Office, Proceedings Tailings and Mine Waste 2011 Vancouver, BC, November 6 to 9, 2011 2006; Shapiro, 2007). Mining (excluding mineral exploration) has one of the lowest R&D intensities of major industry typically at <1% (compared to 3 to 5% for most industries and 10 to 20% for the pharmaceutical industry). Being a “high-tech industry”, clearly there is an opportunity for mining to increase its R&D investment to reap the commercial, environmental, and social rewards. A well run R&D program is often essential to earning the trust of regulators and stakeholders that the best technologies are being employed. An ancillary benefit is the training of grad students who go on to hold positions in the industry, as a regulator, or as a well-informed stakeholder. Designing your R&D program Extracting more value and more results from R&D requires thoughtful design and systems. By way of definition, a new idea (say for planting larger more expensive seedlings that have a higher survival rate, or testing new kinds of fertilizer, or developing a new kind of tailings that is easier to reclaim) can be considered technologies. In the end, the goal is to change or improve the way a mine operates (whether it be for tailings, water treatment, reclamation, dump construction) by testing and commercializing new technologies. Assembling your team Arguably, the most important aspect of successful research is having a strong multidisciplinary team with a strong leader and visible support from mine management and operations. We’ve found one of the best approaches for large-scale testing is a university team research approach, drawing upon strong, internationally recognized principal investigators from leading universities supervising a team of up to about a dozen graduate students, working towards masters and doctoral theses. Work is supported by consultants and contractors and scientific and engineering mine staff (who may be also performing parallel research). Successful examples of this approach include studies at Syncrude Canada (Kelln et al, 2009), Chevron Questa Mine (Bucknan et al, 2009), and at Teck Coal (Strategic Advisory Panel on Selenium Management, 2010). There are four conditions that are essential to success:  exceptional researchers and students working closely as a team,  strong leadership to provide direction and support but also allow independence,  well-structured mission with clear questions to answer, and  reliable funding not only for the students, but also the field support. Such university-based programs cost several million dollars per year and run five years or more. For these larger programs, it is often useful to have an independent review team of scientists and engineers (e.g. Bucknan, 2009). These conditions apply equally to smaller research programs there are just a few researchers involved, answering a short list of questions. Answering questions with good research A useful method for designing your research program is to frame the work as good questions to answer, building on a similar frame for designing geotechnical instrumentation by Dunnicliff (1993). Your questions might be similar to the following site-specific research questions: “What is the optimum reclamation material thickness for supporting good conifer tree growth?”, “What cover design will minimize the net percolation into a waste rock dump over a 20 year period?”, “What Proceedings Tailings and Mine Waste 2011 Vancouver, BC, November 6 to 9, 2011 factors govern the chemical weathering of waste rock in a dump”, “What is the highest fines content that a tailings slurry can and still provide reasonably rapid consolidation in the field?” These are the kinds of questions that are important to mines. The more academically minded researchers might also be attempting to answer broader questions with the same work. Questions such as “How does layering affect moisture movement in a cover?”, “How do we take into account natural climate cycles in the design of covers?”, “What are the mechanics and rates of chemical weathering of waste rock result in geochemically stable clay mineral formation?”, “Is there a predictable reclamationship between laboratory and field consolidation rates?” And sometimes researchers can tap into additional or matching research funding from other organizations and may have additional questions that they are researching that at first may not seem that applicable to the mining questions first posed. For example, “How can isotopes be used to understand the age of waters within a waste rock dump?” or “What are the mechanisms by which mycorrhizal fungi accelerate tree establishment on a newly reclaimed site?” Serendipitously, answers to these research questions often prove as useful to a mine as the original questions even though the links will often appear distant at first. A watershed approach A useful way guide field activities is to use an instrumented watershed approach (see Innovation Alberta, 2005). An instrumented watershed for reclamation research is a well-defined watershed typically ten to one hundred hectares in area, with climate, surface, and subsurface instrumentation to allow a full water balance. The watershed mining and reclamation history is well documented and the substrates well characterized. Reclamation (soil placement and revegetation) and cover test plots take place within this watershed. Understanding and documenting the history and processes (particular those involved with water and ionic balances) provides the necessary basis for understanding the research results, and also focuses researcher and management into well-defined areas allowing for incredible synergies at numerous levels. A question of scale: technology development stages Technology development proceeds along a continuum, from a good idea through to becoming a mature commercial technology – something that becomes part of the operational DNA and taken for granted. But it is useful to divide technology development and scale up into discrete steps (see Figures 3 and 4 and Table 1):  “Research” usually involves a new technology or revisit of existing technology at a bench / laboratory / greenhouse scale, and is not closely tied to economics; it usually concentrates on the potential up side of the technology. The work may apply to a specific technology or may be aimed at gaining a better understanding of fundamental processes. Research focuses on understanding and assessing technologies.  “Development” involves a promising, well-researched technology that has graduated from the research stage and is ready to be tested at field scale, typically many orders of magnitude greater size or fluxes than practical in the laboratory. Development focuses on scale up, performance under continuous operation, and includes environmental and economic assessments. It also aims to identify fatal flaws, provides opportunity to learn how to design, construct, operate and implement technologies and characterizing the environmental impacts to the degree where it can be permitted at commercial scale. Often a pilot or large field plots are undertaken, and if successful, there is a scale up to prototype scale using full size equipment over larger areas. Prototype field tests are permanent and reclaimed using commercial scale equipment. They are Proceedings Tailings and Mine Waste 2011 Vancouver, BC, November 6 to 9, 2011 large enough to gain confidence to move to commercial scale and are designed to allow optimization of design for commercial, to fit into mining and closure plans, receive regulatory approval. The focus is on testing at full scale, developing parameters and optimizing design for commercial operation, and gaining commercial-scale experience for operators.  “Commercial” scale involves normal operations running at full scale for many years. A focus of commercial scale operation is safe, reliable, cost effective operation, with continuous improvement.   Figure 3:  For success, technologies need to be thoughtfully scaled from the lab (research), through field pilots and prototypes (development) and ultimately to full scale implementation (commercial). Proceedings Tailings and Mine Waste 2011 Vancouver, BC, November 6 to 9, 2011  Figure 4:  Waste rock test scales Table 1:  Typical scales for R&D and commercialization of technologies Development  Research Pilot Prototype Commercial Deposit volume m3 10-2 to 10+1 10+2 to 10+5 10+5 to 10+7 10+7 to >10+9 Deposit area, ha <<0.1 0.1 to 10+1 10+1 to 10+2 10+2 to >10+3 Deposit depth, m 0.1 to 3m 1 to 5 5 to 15 >10 (often 40 to 60) Flux rates tph 0 (batch); 1 to 10 (lab and field) 30 to 300  4000 to 8000 5000 to 20,000 Tailings scales Flow rates m3/hr  0 to 2  2 to 20 4 to 16” line 1000 to 7000 20 to 24” line 1000 to > 20,000 24 to 30” line Deposit volume m3 Lab (0.001); barrel tests (0.1); testpads (10 to 300) 5m field pile 300 to 30,000 40m dump 1 to 10Mm3 Large dumps 100Mm3 to 1Bm3 Deposit area, ha <0.001 0.1 to 1 0.1 to 0.5 100 to 10,000 Waste rock dump scales Deposit height, m <2 3 to 10 20 to 50 20 to 500 Processed volume, m3 < 0.5 10 to 50 0.5 to 5 Mm3 1 to 20 Mm3 Water treatment scales Volumetric flow rates m3/hr < 0.2 1 to 10 100 to 500 100 to 3000 Terrestrial Greenhouse studies <10m2 Plots 10x20m Fields 0.5 to 3ha Landforms 30 to 3000ha Reclamation scales Wetland Lab or field <1m2 Field plots 10 to 200m2) Wetland 0.5 to 3ha Watershed 3 to 10ha Wetland 5 to 20ha Watershed 10 to 200ha Wetlands 5 to 1000ha Watersheds 50 to 10000ha  Proceedings Tailings and Mine Waste 2011 Vancouver, BC, November 6 to 9, 2011 Ideally, a technology moves through these stages over several years, the most promising technology making it all the way to commercial scale. There are risks in skipping any of these steps. For a large variety of reasons, many promising research technologies experience difficulties at larger scales. For tailings and water treatment technologies, common problems include difficulty in converting from batch to continuous processes, difficulty in retrofitting existing operations, difficulties in operating under a wide variety of climatic conditions, or parts of the technology are too complex to be run in an ever changing mining environment. Examples of difficulties in upscaling reclamation research is the use of large mining equipment to place reclamation material and the inherent variability of the soil profiles that result, and difficulty in plant establishment, particularly in wetland situations where access is limited. In all of these situations, what is easy in the laboratory is much more challenging in the field, requiring significant changes, and in some cases abandoning promising technologies as impractical or unworkable. Many technologies in the research stage are not successful – the good ideas are carefully tested, and the results are disappointing. More often, while not a failure, the results are less than hoped for. A screening process is used to select the list of promising technologies, the rest are documented and put on the back burner – they will often re-appear or be revisited in five or ten years. Promising technologies should be evaluated with a commercial eye. What would commercial implementation look like? Using optimistic assumptions, would field use of the technology be practical, economical, or useful? Would they be acceptable to regulators or stakeholders? For example, research on certain species of agronomic plants in the greenhouse may indicate they are ideal for dewatering tailings or maximizing evapotranspiration for a cover. Further analysis might indicate that some species may be impractical for use in the field, while others are economically and technically attractive, but might be judged as violating a reclamation policy with regard to exclusive use of native species. After this screening, promising technologies will advance. The need for long-term monitoring and continuous improvement Research winds down as the technologies become commercial (though sometimes inertia causes the research programs to carry on beyond their best before date, which is why it is a good idea to carry out research in five year increments with critical review at the end). The focus turns to good monitoring of the field conditions and a formal program of continuous improvement as the technology matures. Both are critical elements and often overlooked. Monitoring programs need to be designed that focus on key activities that have well defined protocols, good data management and communication, and are focussed on confirming performance or providing data to make changes. Often the monitoring budget will be similar in size to the research budget. Mines are often focussed on continuous improvement in their day to day operations, and the research and development teams need to help mines to expand this focus to include changes to existing tailings and reclamation technologies. Most successful change comes from incremental improvement rather than a wholesale breakthrough technological change. Technology transfer – getting the most out of your R&D efforts As described previously, both research focussed on technology development and the more fundamental research needs to be communicated to those who need it – scientists, managers, operations people, regulators, and stakeholders. Sarewitz et al (2000) explain that there are several key steps between generation of information and its use: information must be communicated, heard, accepted/believed, and the listener must decide to act. A formal program of technology transfer helps to bridge the gap between information generation and action/use. It is most easily explained by example: say an MSc thesis that demonstrates how to perform Proceedings Tailings and Mine Waste 2011 Vancouver, BC, November 6 to 9, 2011 a water balance for a wetland complex in a natural setting. The information will be of use to designers and other researchers for designing and constructing a wetland in a reclamation setting, but simple existence of a MSc thesis on the shelf, in the library, or in digital format is seldom enough, even if it has been generated for the use of the mine in question. The technology transfer program starts with communication during the generation of the work – all interested parties are invited to attend workshops (typically twice a year, one focussed around a summer field visit, the other in the winter when the summer field results have been analysed). This provides an opportunity for all parties to interact, influence each other, and communicate the ongoing work. When the work is complete, and the thesis or report is final, a group of researchers, including the principal investigators (the professors), hopefully the student researcher (though this is often impractical), the research coordinator and several staff summarize the results of the research in a short document, and create tools that the landform designers / construction specialists can use. For example, a concise description of the findings using mining or reclamation terminology along with a graph or table that provides useful design information, description of the data generated, and often a few key illustrations are created. The purpose is to frame the work in terms that the designers and construction specialists can use as part of their daily work. Furthermore, usually the research work is part of a broader effort, with numerous documents having been generated by the researchers. Technology transfer in this respect involves collating the data and information, and generating design guides, case histories, models, or other tools to provide a synthesis and direction for designers and constructors. Often this is done at the end of each five year period of research. At broader scales, design guides may be generated for a region – for example a terrestrial revegetation manual developed from research and experience by multiparty groups in the oil sands region (Oil Sands Vegetation Reclamation Committee, 1998). Roadmap for success At your mine, you can take the following steps over the next year to enhance the value of your mining and reclamation research:  Adopt a formal research and development framework with support from mine owners, management, and operations to guide all research activities.  Designate or find a leader and establish or formalize a multidisciplinary team with members of your environmental and operations staff. Getting regulatory and stakeholder participation in this team is highly desirable. In that the work is multidisciplinary, the team may be quite large.  Develop a process for identifying research needs – questions to answer.  Develop a process evaluating, prioritizing, scheduling and budgeting for this research.  Assemble the researchers from within and from outside the company. A university research model has been described, but typically there will be a combination of internal researchers, consultants, and government and university researchers. Don’t underestimate the efforts required to develop collaborator intellectual property protocols (IP); engage experts to help.  Design the research program, with a focus of testing technology and scaling up to commercial scale.  Have the team develop methods for working safety in the field and collating and safely storing and sharing data. Proceedings Tailings and Mine Waste 2011 Vancouver, BC, November 6 to 9, 2011  Carry out the research within the framework of five year intervals.  Communicate the work throughout the five years, but in particular, adopt a technology transfer program to summarize the data and provide useful tools for the end users.  Continue a program of continuous improvement of successfully commercialized R&D. Acknowledgments Much of the learnings presented in the work above comes from the following mines and organizations: Syncrude Canada / Oil Sands Tailings Consortium, the Strategic Advisory Panel on Selenium Management / Teck Coal, and the Acid Drainage Technology Initiative (ADTI) / Chevron Mining’s Questa Mine. Illustrations by Derrill Shuttleworth, Gabriola Island, BC, Canada. References Bucknan, C.H., Perry, E., Turner, D., Figueroa, L.A., Castendyk, D., Eary, L.E., and Gusek, J.J., 2009, Update on the Acid Drainage Technology Initiative (ADTI), the INAP Global Alliance Member Representing the United States, Securing the Future and 8th ICARD: Skelleftea, Sweden. Congressional Budget Office, 2006. Research and Development in the Pharmaceutical Industry. Washington, The Congress of the United State, 65p. Dunnicliff, J.,1993. Geotechnical instrumentation for monitoring field performance. 2ed: New York, NY, United States, John Wiley and Sons, 577p. Kelln, C.J., Barbour, S.L., Purdy, B., and Qualizza, C., 2009, A multi-disciplinary approach to reclamation research in the oil sands region of Canada. in Yanful, E.K., ed., Appropriate Technologies for Environmental Protection in the Developing World: Selected Papers from ERTEP 2007, July 17–19 2007, Ghana. Springer, p205-215. Oil Sands Vegetation Reclamation Committee, 1998, Environment, p. 212. Innovation Alberta, 2005. Radio interview with Clara Qualizza, Senior Environmental Researcher, Syncrude Canada, Fort McMurray (#166 Emerald Awards: Instrumented Watershed Oil Sands Reclamation Research Project, Research and Innovation Category). http://www.innovationalberta.com/article.php?articleid=588. Downloaded 2011-09-17. Sarewitz, D.R., Byerly, R., and Pielke, R.A., 2000, Prediction: science, decision making, and the future of nature. Washington, DC, Island Press, 405 p. Shapiro, D., Russell, B.I., and Pitt, L.F., 2007, Strategic heterogeneity in the global mining industry. Transnational Corporations, 16(3). Article 1, 34p. The Strategic Advisory Panel on Selenium Management, 2010, A Strategic Plan for the Management of Selenium at Teck Coal Operations, Panel report. Calgary, Alberta. 233p.  


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