We have just finished the InfoMine Geosynthetics Mining Solutions 2014 Conference. I believe it was a success although I had better await the evaluation forms before coming to definitive conclusions.
The proceedings will be available through the InfoMine e-Store at this link. In my opinion, this is a magnificent collection of papers on a topic that has long cried for detailed, focused attention.
For the use of geosynthetics in mining is different to the use of geosynthetics in landfills and other civil engineering applications. The mining projects that involve the use of geosynthetics are orders of magnitude larger than any other category of projects. The challenges are greater: there are few precedents; there are no substantive regulations; and the consequences of use and misuse are greater.
Bob Bachus reminded us that the failure of an ash tailings impoundment caused a sea change in methods of disposal: extensive use of geosynthetics and the placement of solid, not fluid, wastes.
Maybe the mining industry right now faces the same sea change. Maybe from now on the only acceptable forms of mining will involve heap leaching—which involves extensive use of geosynthetics—or the placement of filter-pressed tailings in conjunction with geosynthetic liners, covers, and leak detection systems. Maybe mining will have to go the way that solid waste landfill and ash disposal has been forced to go as a result of failures. Whatever, we believe that the innovative use of geosynthetics in mining is going to explode.
It will be a difficult market for the manufacturers, suppliers, and installers of geosynthetics. Mines and mining employees seldom choose or buy the geosynthetics. It is the consultants who control the choice of geosynthetics and it is the contractors who control the purchase of geosynthetics in mining. Quite different from landfill and civil projects. Much adjustment is needed and those who make the adjustment will succeed.
There are an abundance of geosynthetics products on the market. Most are good and many are amazingly innovative. The challenge for engineers is to understand the potential, choose the appropriate products, and construct mining structures that are cost-effective because of the intelligent incorporation of geosynthetics. Read the papers of this conference as a start, and then march to success on the basis of knowledge, calculations, and judgment.
I must thank the manufacturers, suppliers, and installers of geosynthetics whose support made this conference possible. I must thank the keynote speakers who gave of their valuable time to inform us. And I must thank those who wrote papers and presented the papers to our edification and delight. I am confident in saying this was a first and valuable gathering of people who can make mining better and more cost-effective in the future, and whose products and work can make mining possible while protecting the environment. What more could one ask?
I am assured that all the manufacturers, suppliers, and installers of geosynthetics at mines are listed in the InfoMine database at this link. Please consult and contact these folk if you intend to use geosynthetics at your mine.
Obviously at the conference the failures at Mt. Polley and in Brazil were topics of discussion at the coffee breaks and over lunch and dinner. Opinions differed, but all concurred that the failures point to the need for a new way of managing mine waste. And many of the new ways involve smarter use of geosynthetics.
Thus a challenge to the engineers, consultants, manufacturers, suppliers, and installers of geosynthetics: Make continued mining possible, responsible, and profitable by coming up with good ways to use geosynthetics in mining. I am confident it can be done. I know it will not be easy; it will not be immediate; it will involve much argument; and it may involve failures. But we must proceed. We must innovate. And we must succeed, for that is the way to make our current lifestyles sustainable.
This is grand language and grand thought. It is grand ambition and grand challenge. And it is premised on human ingenuity and plastics. Yet I am confident it can be done: Use geosynthetics in mining to make mining responsible and sustainable at reasonable cost. What fun and fanfare await us as we finger a plastic sheet, push a pencil into a geomembrane, pull a geotextile, gaze in awe at a triaxial geogrid, and shuffle through innumerable brochures of pretty pictures. But the aims are honorable, the result admirable, and the benefits immense.