The Erzgebirge is set to become a model region for the forward-looking treatment of residual materials from the mining industry.
|The Davidschacht tailing contains the residues of the beneficiation of lead, zinc and copper ores in Freiberg. Image source ©HZDR|
Up to €15 million will be made available from the funding program WIR! (Wandel durch Innovationen in der Region [We: Innovation for change in the region]) under the auspices of the project rECOmine( Ressourcenorientierte Umwelttechnologien für das 21. Jahrhundert [rECOmine: Resource-oriented environmental technologies for the 21st century]) set up by the German Federal Ministry of Education and Research.
The aim of the program is to promote new methods within the region – and subsequently for the world market – where tailings and metal-rich water from the mining industry can be sustainably reclaimed, and valuable residual materials economically extracted.
The project is coordinated by the Helmholtz Institute Freiberg for Resource Technology (HIF), which is part of Helmholtz-Zentrum Dresden-Rossendorf (HZDR); and is run by TU Bergakademie Freiberg and SAXONIA Standortentwicklungs-und verwaltungsgesellschaft.
The rECOmine project offers companies and institutions on either side of the German-Czech border in the Erzgebirge region a platform for networking with each other, pooling expertise across industries and developing innovative technologies for sustainable remediation and extraction of raw materials from the waste generated by industrial mining.
“To accomplish this, we want to combine the expertise in the environmental and resource sector that exists in our region with the available know-how in the fields of automation and digitisation,” says HIF Director and Project Coordinator Dr Jens Gutzmer.
“There are two sides to residues from mining,” explained Dr Gutzmer.
“They have a negative impact on the environment, yet still contain finely distributed raw materials in low concentration.
“To some extent, these are already recycled, but only in rare cases is this also associated with remediation. That’s our starting point.”
In the past few months, various experts have discussed novel concepts for dealing with contaminated sites, in which the extraction of valuable materials goes hand in hand with the elimination of pollutants. More than 60 partners from industry, the service sector, science, research, academia and professional associations have already signed up to the network. Following a successful presentation in Berlin, the participants can now apply for funding on the rECOmine platform which functions as the relevant awarding system.
The focus is on three common types of residues from mining and subsequent mineral processing: tailings from mining and beneficiation, slag and ashes from the metallurgical industry and water from mines and tailings.
All three variants originate from both the historical and modern-day activities of the raw material extraction industry in the Erzgebirge.
“That’s a big advantage for our association,” says Professor Urs Peuker, Prorector for Structural Development at TU Bergakademie Freiberg.
“It means that innovative technologies can be tested under practical conditions. Several industrial operators and owners of suitable residual materials have expressed their willingness to make their sites available for pilot tests with real tailings, slag and water. This not only offers our scientists unique opportunities for working in new and exciting fields of research but at the same time facilitates the practical training of our students in matters relevant to the future.”
Within five years, the partners aim to develop marketable technologies that can be deployed in the Erzgebirge and will also prove attractive in the international arena.
Foremost among the plans are smaller decentralised plants that will allow the economically efficient extraction of low-concentration raw materials. Many applications are conceivable, from the processing of hitherto unremediated tailings to the separation of valuable metals from mine water.
Another aim of the new network is to contribute to improving the economic structure of the Erzgebirge region as well as retaining and attracting specialists in the raw materials sector. Furthermore, the coordinators want to involve the general public by raising awareness of the issues surrounding raw materials and to improve cross-border cooperation with companies from the Czech Republic.
On a global scale, the potential for the local sourcing of raw materials and for environmental technologies is enormous.
According to research by the rECOmine consortium, for example, there are tens of thousands of active and historic mining and metallurgical sites worldwide where the concepts and technologies currently developed could be successfully applied.
*Article published in the July-September 2019 issue of The Asia Miner