Queen River, Tasmania

A new $10 million research initiative at Flinders University’s College of Science and Engineering is investigating improved methods for the treatment and disposal of mine waste materials. 

The five year project will focus on acid mine drainage assessment and remediation, water and ecosystem decontamination, better use of natural microbial biodegradation and other methods to improve both mine site closures and mining’s impact on the landscape.

Flinders University Senior Research Fellow in Chemical Mineralogy Dr Gujie Qian, left, Newmont Mining’s Mr Hugh Davies and Professor Sarah Harmer at Flinders University.

Flinders University Senior Research Fellow in Chemical Mineralogy Dr Gujie Qian, left, Newmont Mining’s Mr Hugh Davies and Professor Sarah Harmer at Flinders University.

The project is part of the Cooperative Research Centre for Transformation in Mining Economics program, and will focus on examining how climate, geochemistry, microbiology and other factors affect mine waste materials.

Director of Flinders Microscopy and Microanalysis and Deputy Director of the Flinders Institute for Nanoscale Science and Technology, Professor Sarah Harmer, who is leading the project, said that the lab-based research aims to put better remediation practices into place.

“Our new lab will handle tonnes of mine waste rock and tailings to find better ways for industry partners to assess and manage acid mine drainage for mine closure planning,” Prof Harmer said. 

“We will look at improving acid-base testing, better waste disposal planning and neutralisation of acid mine waste to help restore environments for future uses.”

Managing acid and metalliferous drainage (AMD) costs up to $650 million a year, and tens of billions for mining companies worldwide. When mining activities have ceased in the past, poor quality water from the production of AMD may continue to damage the environment, human health and livelihoods for decades or even centuries.

In July 2023, senior executives from global resources company Newmont visited the Flinders lab during a tour of their Australia mine sites.

“Over the past year, we have identified various geological materials at mine sites in Australia and North America that we would like to learn more about through detailed geochemical characterisation,” Mr Davies said.

“Bulk samples were collected and shipped here to Flinders University for ongoing meso-scale long-term rock weathering experiments.

“In the next three years we hope the project will enable us to demonstrate and test operational interventions to reduce the long-term post-closure risks to water, ecosystems and people, and deliver fit-for-purpose post-mining land use.

“Improved understanding of the environmental behaviour of these materials will be integrated into our mine rock stockpile design and closure planning processes.”

For a full list of project partners, visit Flinders University’s website

Featured image: The Queen River in Tasmania. Image credit: Flinders University.

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