Construction|Consulting|Design|Engineering|Financial|Mining|srk|SRK Consulting|Sustainable|Water|Maintenance|Environmental
Construction|Consulting|Design|Engineering|Financial|Mining|srk|SRK Consulting|Sustainable|Water|Maintenance|Environmental

Designs evolving to meet new outcomes

SRK Consulting principal civil engineer in mine closure Justin Walls in portrait image

JUSTIN WALLS Engineers are increasingly looking to learn from natural analogues, so that they can better emulate these more sustainable designs and structures

4th March 2022


Font size: - +

Owing to the latest tailings dam standards demanding a longer-term view of design, construction and closure outcomes, a growing interest in design philosophies that incorporate shapes and processes as they exist in nature has been experienced, says SRK Consulting principal civil engineer in mine closure Justin Walls.

“Timelines for responsible post-closure management of mines, including the ongoing risks associated with tailings dams, have lengthened from decades to centuries, or even millennia,” he says.

“This shift renders traditional maintenance techniques very costly – perhaps unaffordable – and calls for a re-envisioning of how we design these structures in the first place.”

Speaking at the Environmental Engineering Division Conference of the South African Institution of Civil Engineering, held in October, Walls highlighted the value of geomorphic designs that emulate natural landforms as an example of this trend.

“Engineers and scientists are increasingly looking to learn from natural analogues, to understand how natural processes operate in a sustainable ecosystem so that we can better emulate these more sustainable designs and structures.”

He adds that, with the recent raising of the bar by the Global Industry Standard on Tailings Management (GISTM), it is likely that these nature-based approaches will gain greater traction.

The GISTM emphasises that designing and operating for closure requires a long-term view, and that tailings facilities should be planned, designed, constructed, operated and closed on the assumption that they will be permanent landforms.

It also stresses that short-term financial or operational priorities should not prevail over better design and operational practices that would have lower long-term impacts, complexity or risks.

Walls notes that the impact of climate change is among a range of ‘unknowns’ that make it difficult for mining companies to fully predict the way that tailings facility designs will perform over a timeline of 100, 500 or 1 000 years.

In the past, designers of these facilities have developed complex scientific responses to a range of factors including physical stability, water management, groundwater pollution, wind and water erosion, cover materials and the establishment of vegetation.

“Today, we face many more unknowns whose impact will unfold in unpredictable ways in coming years and decades – from climate change and neighbouring land use, to shifting regulatory requirements and evolving ecosystems.”

He notes that designing for a more geomorphic result could help introduce redundancies into the design to mitigate the impact of extreme rainfall events – which are becoming more common.

“Another field of investigation is how soil structure on tailings dams can provide better conditions for plant growth,” he said.

The GISTM has highlighted the need for closure planning in relation to tailings dams to begin much earlier in the life cycle of the facility.


Walls concludes that this kind of intervention is going to prove very valuable in reducing future liabilities.

Edited by Nadine James
Features Deputy Editor


Latest News

The Tolilar project in Argentina
Tecpetrol launches hostile bid for Alpha Lithium
5th June 2023 By: Mariaan Webb


Booyco Electronics
Booyco Electronics

Booyco Electronics, South African pioneer of Proximity Detection Systems, offers safety solutions for underground and surface mining, quarrying,...

Weir Minerals Africa and Middle East
Weir Minerals Africa and Middle East

Weir Minerals Africa is a global supplier of excellent minerals solutions, including pumps, valves, hydrocyclones, wear-resistant linings,...


Latest Multimedia

sponsored by

Photo of Martin Creamer
On-The-Air (02/06/2023)
2nd June 2023 By: Martin Creamer

Option 1 (equivalent of R125 a month):

Receive a weekly copy of Creamer Media's Engineering News & Mining Weekly magazine
(print copy for those in South Africa and e-magazine for those outside of South Africa)
Receive daily email newsletters
Access to full search results
Access archive of magazine back copies
Access to Projects in Progress
Access to ONE Research Report of your choice in PDF format

Option 2 (equivalent of R375 a month):

All benefits from Option 1
Access to Creamer Media's Research Channel Africa for ALL Research Reports, in PDF format, on various industrial and mining sectors including Electricity; Water; Energy Transition; Hydrogen; Roads, Rail and Ports; Coal; Gold; Platinum; Battery Metals; etc.

Already a subscriber?

Forgotten your password?







sq:0.078 0.122s - 98pq - 2rq
Subscribe Now