There is no limit to the future of geosynthetics in mining. Right now almost fifty percent of geosynthetics are sold to mines. I predict the percentage will increase. Why?
The question, what is the future of geosynthetics in mining, was asked in a session that I attended today at the conference on heap leaching. There was no clear answer, so I venture here my reply, and a reason for believing that the use of geosynthetics in mining is every upwards.
Keep in mind that the issues of geosynthetics in mining are very different form the use of geosynthetics in civil construction for municipal and infrastructure use. In mining there are but two questions:
- Can the geosynthetic deal with the aggressive environment of the mine? Recall low and high pH solutions, chemicals of aggressive intent, steep slopes, crazy timeframes, remote locations, and the rest the make mines different from local roads.
- How long will the geosynthetic perform and what will happen to structures in the long term as the geosynthetic decays?
The answer to the first question is based, as always, in testing. If you think of using a geosynthetic in an aggressive mining environment, test the material. So simple, yet so complex. Issues arise of representativeness, variability, time frames for tests and practice, and minimum properties.
The answer to the second question is this: design and build the mining facility so that in the long term, as the geosynthetic decays, and closure works are put in place, the mine facility will perform properly, i.e., not negatively impact the environment.
These two answers challenge the makers, suppliers, installers, designers, and users of geosynthetics in a mining environment. Things are so different from a provincial road or a shopping center retaining wall.
Landfills give us some guidance. But not much. Landfills have nasty chemicals in them that may affect the geosynthetics. But nobody demands from landfills the high performance and certainty that the public demands of mine. And nobody thinks of the fate of landfills a 1,000 years hence—although they will be there as burnt-out remnants of their former self.
I chaired a session today at the Heap Leach conference. The most invigorating presentation was from Renzo Ayala of Anddes Asociado in Peru. With but five years experience, this young man showed a promise of future genius we can only await in anticipation to see blossom. He describes a case history where they looked at the variability of data collected while building a heap leach facility, and then decided to increase the stability of the facility by constructing berms to increase the stability both during operation and post closure.
Then there was Sam Clark West of Agru America who told of high quality, high strength geomembranes of amazing roughness. Can you really put his products on slopes as steep as 1.4:1.0? Feeling the roughness of his products, I am tempted to try on a project that is bedevilling me right now. It is great to see geomembranes being made in the USA and beating out poor-quality stuff from China.
Jim Goddard dealt with an issue that has always been a problem for me: the selection of plastic pipes that will have to resist the high pressures and adverse conditions of big, high heap leach pads. A simple conclusion: consult him if this an issue at your mine. His company is JimGoddard3.
I was honored to meet Chris Athanassopoulos of CETCO. I had previously communicated with him an a problem I have on a mine to which I consult. His email responses indicated a man of high intelligence and innovative perspective. His presentation today proved my initial assessment correct. Get his input if you are seeking to use GCLs.
Thus on the basis of these and many other conversations, I conclude the future of geosynthetics in mining will include at least the following:
- Greater use.
- New and innovative solutions.
- Reduced costs.
- Greater stability and better post closure performance.
- Stronger, rougher, more extensible fabrics.
- New materials for new uses that we cannot even dream of now.
- Young geniuses who will arise to solve problems we cannot.
Then there is the trivial aspect: next year, about this time, InfoMine Conferences will put on a conference on Geosynthetics in Mining. I will be involved. So if you want to help me make this an event that contributes to greater, better, and more cost-effective use of geosynthetics in mining, please contact me and help me, and let us succeed together.
And with a bit of luck the course I have just written for EduMine on Geosynthetics in Mining will be up and live and we can learn more to make it even better.