Mines must use water stewardship to improve water conservation and water saving, thereby enhancing perception of the industry in the twenty-first century, says innovative solutions developer Xylem South Africa African strategy and marketing manager Chetan Mistry.
The benefits of becoming water stewards include greater operational sustainability and efficiency, and better relationships with communities and governments.
“The mines also become more attractive to investors who link water stewardship with future-minded mining operations,” he adds.
He points out that Xylem Advanced System Intelligence – a collection of software under the umbrella of Xylem Vue – is a prime water-management solution for mines and tailings storage facilities (TSFs).
Xylem Vue enables clients to look at various elements during management of the full water life cycle, including wastewater networks, treatment plants and drinking water networks, in addition to having a firm knowledge of their asset management, explains Mistry.
“As a mine’s impact on the environment is so critical, there are strict regulations in place globally.”
However, he stresses that, in all likelihood, mines will face more regulations and have to meet more standards in the global move towards a greener economy.
Therefore, meeting social responsibility and environmental requirements is beneficial considering more such requirements are yet to come.
Mistry says Xylem’s technologies have been developed to ensure the water systems and networks at mines are optimised to minimise downtime as water management is critical.
“Xylem embraces the mindset of sustainability, so its solutions are designed to not only optimise water but also run efficiently to conserve energy.”
He adds that Xylem offers pumps that are able to self-manage based on flows and media type; they also have small footprints with “exceptionally low” power consumption, as opposed to other technologies.
Further, Xylem uses ultraviolet (UV) radiation and ozone to minimise the risk of chemical leaks or contamination.
Five Ways Forward
Mistry says that, for mines to effectively monitor and manage their TSFs and water systems, they must embrace five concepts.
Firstly, they must embrace the uptake of new technologies to ensure that an array of sensors and monitoring equipment can help mines track water consumption and environmental impacts, as well as identify problems such as leaks and other failures. Site data, combined with artificial intelligence (AI), also helps improve a mine's predictive capabilities.
Secondly, a mine must make its processes more efficient and, thus, improve water- related processes to reduce consumption and costs.
“For example, energy efficient pumps save considerably on power consumption, and switching to ozone and UV methods for disinfection requires less chemicals, resulting in less pollution,” he says.
The third concept comprises the reuse of water.
“Mines can reuse water intelligently for specific processes such as minimising water intake, tailings storage and effluent discharge volumes. “Managing the process using digital solutions will allow for the greatest optimisation and system upkeep,” Mistry stresses, adding that AI can notably reduce overall consumption.
Improvements in using water to transport waste, extracting water from TSFs and capturing water at seepage spots can also result in significant savings.
The fourth concept includes the recycling of water using modern modular water treatment systems, which can recycle and reintroduce clean water at mines.
“Recycled water can support on-site personnel, supply local communities, be safely reintroduced into the environment or stored for later use.”
The fifth concept pertains to alternative water sources.
“Mines typically operate in rural areas, where access to suitable water is a challenge,” he says, adding that, in such cases it makes it even more important for mines to consider their water needs in harmony with the needs of the supporting community.
Many of these interventions are not new, but modern improvements in engineering, materials and technologies provide mines with more choices, Mistry concludes.