The shift to clean energy is spiking global demand for commodities including copper, lithium, nickel, cobalt, and other essential minerals and rare earth elements. Mining companies know there is no energy transition without the future-facing commodities and that mining them depends on cost-effective, environmentally sustainable, and socially acceptable water stewardship. Hence there is renewed focus on water across the industry. The following outlines two targets, one on the supply side, the other on the usage side, to help miners maximize their water resilience.
Target: Developing Alternative Supplies
Mining companies are accustomed to operating in extremely arid regions and water-stressed communities. Nonetheless, for a host of reasons, they may expect the water scarcity issue to become more acute in the coming decades, driving the need to create a diverse portfolio of sources.
The practice of water reuse is in a golden age. Advances in treatment equipment, smarter monitoring and control, and better economics have come together to make it a viable solution to improve water supply reliability when the availability of existing sources is inconsistent. Beyond those benefits, reuse can help companies reduce their energy consumption associated with conveying fresh water to the mine site and mitigate pollution concerns by reducing discharges.
As a pioneer and leader in water resource reclamation and recycling, Black & Veatch delivers research, conceptual, planning, design and operations solutions that make reuse a workable choice for miners. Our experience involving industrial water recycling facilities spans more than 40 years. We know how to implement best-fit advanced treatment technologies to create a predictable supply, decreasing reliance and strain on local and regional surface and groundwater resources while preserving water for communities and other commercial and industrial enterprises.
Adoption of desalination as a fresh water supply alternative is on the rise in coastal regions. The obvious case is Chile, which is expected to vastly increase its use of seawater desalination by 2030 to fuel record mining production in the country, while use of continental water is being restricted. With advances in technology, the cost of seawater desalination is often comparable to other sources that require conveyance over long distances. While seawater desalination provides essentially unlimited supply, desalination of saline ground water and reuse of process wastewater provides additional supply, often at lower cost. Meanwhile, Black & Veatch is evaluating new technologies to recover water from hypersaline wastewater from facilities such as tailings storage impoundments and deep bore-hole water
Our desal experience includes the Escondida Water Supply Project for BHP Billiton in Chile, winner of the Industrial Desalination Plant of the Year in the 2017 Global Water Awards. Throughout almost five decades of desalting work, we have designed desalination facilities with a total capacity of more than 1,200 million gallons a day, or about 52,500 liters per second, for potable, industrial and irrigation applications. Our approach considers all design impacts – variable salinities, energy recovery systems, high-recovery membranes, challenging site locations, and more – to engineer desal solutions that deliver the supply needed yet fit seamlessly into existing systems and are flexible for the future.
Target: Doing More with Less Risk
Another target is operations. Systems-focused solutions that can help miners bolster their water resilience include the following.
Miners need to neutralize acidity; address specific constituents such as sulphates, nitrates, salinity, heavy metals, selenium, etc., scale formation, corrosion, and organics; remove regulated elements such as metals and metalloids; and control toxicity. Supporting the specialized treatment processes miners need, Black & Veatch offers expertise in passive and active biological treatment, precipitation, adsorption onto solids, crystallization, evaporation, ion exchange, and reverse osmosis/nano-filtration. We also specialize in water loss management and complete stormwater management solutions, including diversion, conveyance, pumping stations, and storage.
An accurately calibrated water balance model can help miners approach water supply, treatment, recirculation, and disposal processes in an integrated way, creating efficiencies and enhancing productivity. It does so by accounting for process-related water components including inputs, consumption, and outputs. Black & Veatch can develop water balance models to help miners explore their specific scenarios, produce statistical probabilities, and address their water use from a quantity and quality perspective.
Black & Veatch can help companies optimize their operations to minimize water usage. One way is through process intensification. It involves using advanced technologies to increase treatment capacity, improve resource recovery and achieve desired water quality while using less energy and fewer chemicals. We can also help miners reduce their water, energy, and chemical consumption by implementing risk-management practices including hazard-and-operability review (HAZOP) as well as failure modes, effects, and criticality analysis (FMECA).
Data and analytics solutions can realize improvements in capital efficiency, process optimization and cybersecurity via tools including instrumentation, automation, advanced reporting, AI, digital twins and more. The solutions are beneficial to understanding and controlling the entire water portfolio: source water management, leakage mitigation, water resource recovery, water reclamation and purification facility operation, and storage. Through the integration of data gathering, monitoring, and analytics, Black & Veatch can help miners advance their digital water implementation to gain critical insights that enable rapid and confident decision-making.
The need for resilient and sustainable water management solutions is central to the world’s transition to clean energy. Black & Veatch is poised to deliver these solutions with a clear focus on miners’ water resources and systems.