Funding source: International Aluminium Institute, UWA-UQ Bilateral Research Collaboration Award

Minimising the impact of mineral extraction processes and their waste is essential for the mining industry to sustain its $200 billion contribution to the Australian economy without causing irreparable damage to the environment.

A major challenge for the industry – in Australia and overseas – is to find an efficient balance between production methods that extract value now and remediation strategies that will return mined land to productive ecosystems again as soon as possible.

Strategies for accelerating soil formation and in situ remediation combine chemical, physical, and biological treatments to shift the extreme properties of wastes towards values more commonly observed in natural systems. However, without targeted remediation efforts, mine wastes and tailings require long timeframes before they can support microbial and plant life, and be returned to a safe, productive land use.

Research efforts to date have involved field work and laboratory experiments to examine the factors controlling remediation progress in mine waste and tailings storage facilities.

UQ researcher Dr Talitha Santini and her colleagues are determined to identify novel methods for accelerating the remediation with less residual risk to surrounding environments over the long term.

“The harsh chemical and physical processing of mineral extraction generates enormous volumes of mine wastes and tailings with unusual properties compared to common soil materials,” explains Dr Santini.

“We propose that by accelerating in situ remediation, and therefore reducing the timeframe required to close mine wastes and tailings storage facilities, the overall environmental impact will decrease and the land can be developed for an alternative use much sooner.”