Is There Money to Be Made in Wastewater Treatment?
The mining industry is no stranger to the devastating effects of mine wastewater. Pollution in rivers and streams and countless deaths among aquatic life have put companies under immense pressure to properly maintain, control and dispose of contaminants from their operations.
Historically, recovering metals in wastewater has been categorized as a business cost for mining companies. It meant a substantial upfront investment in infrastructure coupled with higher energy and chemical costs which equated to one thing: more money. But is it worth it?
“[Mining firms] are pretty much stuck with treating the wastewater whether it’s economic or not,” says Adrian Brown, a wastewater consultant. “So suddenly any metal recovery is beneficial in the sense that it has the ability to either reduce your project costs or, at the very least, to dispose of the extracted material from your project at zero or no cost.”
In recent years, advances in metal-removal technology have shown there’s money to be made.
“In the large majority of mining waste, the metals of value are mixed in a cocktail that contains basically the whole periodic table of elements. A lot of these elements have no value and some of them [won’t] be removed because they are not toxic,” said David Kratochvil, interim chief executive at BioteQ Environmental Technologies.
“The trick is to be able to select the metals of value from this cocktail.”
The most frequent method for treating mine wastewater is lime neutralization. It removes the acidity but the downfall is it also makes it very difficult to extract individual metals.
One of the newest technological options for miners is sulphide precipitation. This transforms the metals in wastewater into high-grade solid metal sulphides that can be sold or disposed of. Swiss mining companies Glencore is one of the first to employ this tool to treat mine drainage.
Along with newer technologies, Kratochvil believes policymakers can (and should) play a pivotal role in metal recovery.
“It’s remarkable how perceptions of environmental liability have changed [but] our struggle is finding the incentives for mining companies to really innovate,” he says.
Axora launches global challenge for digital technology
Axora is launching the world’s first international competition to discover new cost-saving digital technology for industrial companies, which can produce rapid benefits within a year.
The Metals & Mining and Oil & Gas sectors have recently experienced budget cuts of 20% on average, driven by a variety of factors including the global pandemic, slump in demand and price wars. The Axora Cost-Saving Technology Challenge aims to transform these industries by discovering innovative, digital solutions that reduce cost fast and pay for themselves, whilst achieving the same or improved productivity, health and safety and sustainability standards.
“While digital solutions can help to get work done quicker and more cost-effectively, they typically require a three-year ROI, and if there’s no flexibility in the budget, a full budget planning cycle is needed to get things moving”, said Dr. Nick Mayhew, Chief Commercial Officer, Axora.
“Yet, extra financial cost is often incurred in delaying digital projects, so customers have asked us to highlight solutions that can have an ‘in year payback’ whereby the cost spent on the solution and deployment will be more than recovered within the budget year - this accelerates the timeline and drives positive business impact, quickly.”
The Axora Cost-Saving Technology Challenge
Axora is keen to learn of any digital cost-saving innovation which: meets the 12-month payback timeframe; can be deployed in any part of the value chain including upstream, downstream or midstream oil and gas, metals processing or mining; and is ready for market. The Axora Cost-Saving Technology Challenge is open to entrepreneurs, start-ups, academics and sector leaders across the world. The competition will be judged by a panel of leading industry experts.
“We’re passionate about supporting our industries and customers through all forms of digital transformation and the cost-saving solutions we are searching for could also provide a lifeline to many mining and metals and oil and gas companies in the current economic climate,” added Dr. Mayhew.
Improving productivity, safety and sustainability
Up to ten finalists will be chosen to pitch their solutions at a digital pitch day later this year, after which Axora will validate the ROI models and vet the solutions. The winner will receive the ‘Axora Market Accelerator’ sales and marketing package worth £10,000. This includes a two-hour workshop, promotion through Axora’s thought leadership content and inclusion into its digital demand engines, providing the opportunity for the winning solution to benefit thousands of industrial companies. Entries are open until May 31. Full details of the competition including terms and conditions can be found here.
To learn more about the Axora B2B digital solutions marketplace read our feature in the latest issue of Mining Global magazine.