The Tailings Center
An Industry/University Cooperative Research Center (I/UCRC)
Sustainable management of mine waste requires an experienced and multidisciplinary team of trained engineers to design, construct, operate, and monitor Tailings Storage Facilities (TSF) from conceptualization through closure. Historically, these ‘tailings engineers’ have been geotechnical, mining, or geological engineers, who receive specialized on-the-job training in mine waste management on the job site. Anticipated changes to regulations and industry guidance documents are expected to be issued that formalize and focus on identifying specifically qualified engineers who are required for proper design, construction, operation, and closure of these complex facilities. The regulations are expected to describe certain qualifications and training requirements, but it is for the industry and regulators to define the training and qualifications to be provided. There is a critical need to build capacity in tailings engineering education to meet the mining industries dramatically increased demand for specialized tailings engineers. Training and education programs need to include both professional development education to help practicing engineers develop specialized skill sets, and focused graduate-level education in tailings engineering.
Who We Are
The Tailings Center is an Industry/University Cooperative Research Center (I/UCRC) formed as a collaboration by the Colorado School of Mines, Colorado State University, and the University of Arizona. The Center will provide the training for specialized tailings engineers in order to improve the mining industry and increase the social and environmental license of the industry to operate.
What We Do
Mine wastes include tailings and waste rock. Mine tailings are the waste solid residuum after separation of valuable minerals from economically worthless minerals (gangue). After extraction and beneficiation, the residuals from mineral recovery are normally discharged as a hydraulic fill (aka slurry) composed of finely ground gangue (sub-micrometer to sand-sized particles), chemicals, and process water into a TSF impoundment where solids slowly consolidate, releasing water much of which is returned to the processing circuits. Although termed tailings ‘storage’ facilities, these facilities are not temporary, and cannot be discarded at the end of useful mine life. Thus, the aim of a TSF is to ensure that deposited materials achieve and maintain both physical and chemical stability in the long-term. Closure of TSFs requires ensuring acceptably low risks to communities and the environment for hundreds or thousands of years. There are at least 15,000 active and inactive TSFs globally.
In order to meet the needs of the industry and provide engineers specially trained to design and manage the engineered disposal of tailings, it is the Center’s goal to provide courses and workshops, both in person and online, that the industry requires to raise the skill sets of new engineers. The Center provides a nexus for the advancement and dissemination of the best practices and industry bench-marking. The Center also operates recruiting and outreach programs for the public and for undergraduate and graduate students, illuminating the challenges and opportunities in mine waste management.
The primary goals of The Tailings Center include both research and education. The Center will educate engineers in the research needed to responsibly manage waste and ensure the sustainable future of mining. Our graduates will advance the best-available practices for the management of mine waste through applied science and engineering research. The Tailings Center will be responsive to the needs of the Mining Industry, and facilitate focused research projects which will address those needs and provide solutions that are able to be implemented in the industry. The Center’s research programs will operate to provide a sustained research effort, transforming the industry by pro-actively transferring methodological and technological advances to the mining industry of the future.
Why We are Needed
The need for mining has never been greater: sustainable mining and industry expansion are fundamental to global technology (e.g., telework infrastructure) and sustainability initiatives (e.g., efforts to decrease our reliance of fossil fuels require tremendous quantities of new materials for solar panels, wind turbines, electric cars). Recent failures and the consequent changes in regulatory and industry guidance have dramatically increased the demand for specialized tailings engineers; there is a substantial shortfall between identified needs and available engineers and knowledge. This shortfall combined with the diverse skill set needed to meet the complex issues related to tailings cannot be met by a single university working in isolation, and the Center partners constitute a dream team: Colorado School of Mines, Colorado State University and the University of Arizona.
Proposed Strategy Forward
The Tailings Center is developed as a fee-based membership of industry partners, with the member fees supplemented with additional funding to support research and educational projects. The first activities will be to (i) develop and offer key online and in-person workshops and professional development opportunities, and (ii) engage all industry sectors (including mining companies, consultants and service providers, regulators, and the public) in research agenda-making. The research and educational agendae will be driven by the needs of the industry. The Center will leverage existing courses and develop new courses to provide certificate, MS and PhD academic training, allowing students to select specific courses (on campus or online) from any of the partner universities to advance their skills, experience and training in tailings engineering.