The brainchild of Simon Hille, VP of metallurgy and process, and Mike Jacobs, director of water and tailings at Goldcorp, EcoTails is a new way of thinking about mine waste management and water conservation. It blends filtered tailings with waste rock in transit – creating a geotechnically stable product called GeoWaste, and eliminates the need to keep conventional slurry tailings contained in a dam and submerged in water.
In the GeoWaste, tailings fill the void spaces between waste-rock particles, reducing the opportunity for oxygen flow. When the coarse waste-rock particles and the finer, filtered tailings particles co-mingle, the overall product has improved shear strength and better physical stability, which facilitates mine reclamation.
The results include the elimination of a tailings dam, lower fresh water use, reduced acid rock-drainage, a smaller mine footprint, and less overall risk.
“Co-mingling has been around for a while,” explained Hille. “However, the traditional way of mixing is labour intensive and complex, using multiple mobile machines. Now we’re blending on a conveyance system to harness efficiency of mass material movement. EcoTails sets us up to fundamentally change how we operate in the future, not just for Goldcorp, but for all large-scale operations.”
EcoTails could also offer lower overall costs. Goldcorp envisions scaling-up the technology to make it cost-competitive against the industry standard and at high volumes. Doing so will require processing equipment that is up to 375% larger than what is currently on the market to lower operating costs and streamline maintenance.
Hille is currently overseeing a proof-of-concept study at the Peñasquito mine that will be completed this summer. A full-scale prototype is next, and depending on the results, the possible deployment at the mine.