New technology could turn mining wastewater to value for miners


A new cost-effective technology to treat mining wastewater and reduce sludge — called Virtual Curtain — has been introduced by Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO), providing Australian mining companies with a low-cost, high-performance solution to improve water management practices and be more sustainable.

The new treatment in progress to remove a range of metal contaminants. Image credit:
The new treatment in progress to remove a range of metal contaminants.
Image credit:

The technology has already been tested at a Queensland mine, where it safely discharged  the equivalent of around 20 Olympic swimming pools of rainwater-quality water and removed metal contaminants from the mine’s wastewater.

“Our treatment produced only a fraction of the sludge that a conventional lime-based method would have and allowed the mine water to be treated in a more environmentally sound way,” CSIRO scientist Dr Grant Douglas said.

“Reducing the amount of sludge is beneficial because the costly and timely steps involved to move and dispose it can be reduced.”

According to the media release by CSIRO, the Virtual Captain is a licensed technology, which utilises hydrotalcites — minerals sometimes found in stomach antacids — to simultaneously trap a variety of contaminants, including arsenic, cadmium and iron.

“By using contaminants already present in the wastewater, we have avoided the need for expensive infrastructure and complicated chemistry to treat the waste,” said Dr Douglas, who led the team that developed the technology.

“If required, the treated water can be purified much more efficiently via reverse osmosis and either released to the environment or recycled back into the plant, so it has huge benefits for mining operators in arid regions such as Australia and Chile.”

He said the mining industry — which generates hundreds of millions of tonnes of wastewater each year — could be the great beneficiary of the new technology.

“It is a more efficient and economic way to treat wastewater and is enabling the global mining industry to reduce its environmental footprint and extract wealth from waste.”

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