The Mine Waste Transformation through Characterisation (MIWATCH) group, which is based at SMI's WH Bryan Mining and Geology Research Centre, uses chemical, mineralogical, mineral chemistry, physical and metallurgical testing tools to determine the properties of mine waste and assess how it should be best managed to reduce environmental risks.
Dr Anita Parbhakar-Fox, leader of MIWATCH, said that the group has developed integrated toolkits for use at the start of a mining project and also for where mine waste already exists.
She explained: "The difference with this research is that for new mining projects we are able to understand the geoenvironmental anatomy of a future deposit in more detail using a combination of established industry tools and new technologies. For existing waste, our approach enables us to identify reuse options based on measured waste properties, for example the extraction of critical metals for new technologies.
"We seek to fundamentally understand the mineralogical properties and evaluate the heterogeneity of the existing or future waste. Through this process we can deliver to industry new information to help them reduce future environmental liabilities and transform mine waste into something usable."
The MIWATCH group has several major projects in progress, including a four-year project funded by the Queensland state government that is focused on secondary prospectivity in the state's mine waste.
Dr Parbhakar-Fox said the group has already characterised 15 sites across the state as part of its ‘first pass' characterisation programme and has plans to start drilling a site for more detailed sampling and analysis at another later this year.
She added: "Another three major projects are about to come online concentrating on secondary prospectivity more broadly across Australia, so the team are certainly getting out to the field for mine waste mapping and sampling. Our other research theme is focused on the early geometallurgical characterisation of future mine waste and we have projects underway to deliver new methods by which to use early exploration phase data to forecast geoenvironmental properties of future waste materials."
The MIWATCH group members come from a range of mining-related disciplines, including exploration geology, geochemistry and hydrogeology. Dr Parbhakar-Fox said: "The main driver when assimilating the group was to identify scientists with a deep passion for continued environmental improvement in the mining sector.
"We are not working on this challenge in isolation; we have strong collaborative links across SMI and UQ which helps us deliver the most effective outcomes and solutions for the industry."