Mining industry can play key role in saving water

6th February 2023 By: Creamer Media Reporter

The South African mining sector can play a significant role in water savings, says water treatment chemicals, equipment and services group AECI Water executive Dean Mulqueeny.

With about 200 mines consuming between 2% and 5% of South Africa’s available water, there is potential to leverage new water management principles and technologies to save water.

Currently, AECI Water is treating and reusing fissure water through desalination processes at a platinum mine in North West, and, at a deep-level gold mine, also in North West, the company is treating and reusing process water through proprietary chemical technology.

This treated process water is being used in high temperature cooling systems while safeguarding asset integrity.

A range of similar work is happening in Africa and will be released shortly.

“[About] 2.2-billion litres of water are being saved by two mines and we are just getting started,” Mulqueeny comments, pointing out that if every mine saved one-billion litres of water, the resulting 200-billion litres of water would be enough to fill 88 000 Olympic-size swimming pools or supply 2.5-million South Africans with 237 litres of water a day for a year.

“There is always water on mines. Mines are either removing water or using it to reduce dust, move slurry or tailings or control fires. Pumps and wells are commonplace. Since mines know how to work with water, they can apply new water management principles and technologies more readily and reap the benefits more quickly.”

These can include recycling and reusing water; engineering closed loop systems; finding alternative sources of sustainable water supply; improving discharged water quality; maximising the use of abundant and legacy water sources; and applying appropriate water qualities for specific applications.

Inspired by United Nations Sustainable Development Goal 6, which is to ensure availability, and sustainable management, of water and sanitation for all, AECI Water is focused on taking the mining industry off the potable grid.

This directly links to this year’s Mining Indaba theme of 'Stability, Security and Supply’.

“The business develops integrated solutions for asset integrity, continuous improvement, process efficiency, product quality, reduced risk and regulatory compliance with a strong focus on minimising water usage and waste while achieving Zero Harm,” Mulqueeny says, adding that the business can also help mines give back to the community by repurposing groundwater for agricultural purposes or treating it to potable specifications for social responsibility and upliftment programmes.

AECI Water is currently displaying its water technologies at this week’s Mining Indaba, including decentralised surface and borehole water treatment skids; membrane Aerated Biofilm Reactor pilot plant for activated sludge process intensification and denitrification; smart ultrafiltration for process water treatment and recovery; solidification of aqueous waste; and thickener management.