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Journey to the centre of a tailings storage facility

Image: Erizon.

How can dust suppression activities be conducted safely at an accident-prone site like a tailings dam? Australian Mining learns the art from Erizon operations manager Tom Corkhill.

The rehabilitation and dust suppression experts at Erizon can go to places where others can’t.

This includes driving directly on to the surface of a tailings storage facility. Some could liken such an activity to a near, if not complete impossibility.

The uneven, unstable and often volatile tailings storage facility surface is composed of tailings, ash and water that have compacted over time. A walking human may exert a ground pressure of around 11.5 pounds per square inch (psi), which sits above the safe bearing capacity limits for ultra-low bearing capacity tailings storage facilities.

With equipment often weighing more than 26 tonnes, Erizon, which has completed multiple dust suppression and revegetation works Australia-wide for large mining and civil companies including Rio Tinto, Hillgrove Resources, Newcrest Mining and AGL Energy, has been able to spread its vehicle’s weight equally and reach below 5.8 psi.

The vehicle has been built using technologies adapted from the agricultural sector and is fitted with a track system that enables Erizon to drive directly on a tailings dam or other low-bearing capacity surfaces.

The HydroTruck track system comprises custom rubber tracks that increase stability, while reducing surface pressure up to 850 per cent.

Fabricated in-house, the system can be added or removed from the HydroTrucks according to the ongoing needs of dust suppression and rehabilitation operations.

This is complemented by the use of drones, forward-looking infrared (FLIR) cameras and surface pressure testing to identify the safety of the ground for the HydroTrucks.

“Safety is our number one priority. We have seen first hand or heard stories of vehicles get bogged or collapse below ground while working on tailing storage facilities,” Corkhill tells Australian Mining.

“Our ongoing research and development department has engineered a system that can deliver a psi as little as 0.87 which, with additional safety requirements allows us to safely, quickly and efficiently apply any substrate.

“As well as using our HydroTrucks that can spray 80 to 100 metres away, we utilise aerial application when the ground is too unsafe. With multiple application methods and a strong understanding of the substrate materials, we now take complete ownership of our clients’ dust suppression requirements.”
Erizon proves that dust suppression, an activity that’s considered essential at mine sites and power stations, doesn’t have to pose danger to the humans around it when managed correctly.
The scenario offered by Erizon is a long way from the collapse of diggers or excavators that could cost companies a hefty fine and threaten the health and wellbeing of employees.

“We’ve been working on tailings storage facilities since we were registered as a company. We know that with such a hazardous environment, experience of the substrate is key to understanding all safety elements,” Corkhill says.

“We developed the track system to increase safety in a cost-effective manner that adds benefits to our partners.”

Its low-bearing capacity HydroTrucks also deliver another benefit: they won’t compact the soil like other heavy equipment do, and therefore help maintain an ideal environment for revegetation or dust suppression in the soil.

“If you’re trying to grow vegetations, it requires an ideal substrate where root systems can establish. Standard equipment can cause compaction in the soil, providing another barrier for establishment,” Corkhill explains.

“If you’re driving heavy equipment over the land, you’re compacting the soil and making it a less than ideal environment.”

Indeed, Erizon has risen up to the challenge of working in a tailings storage facility safely. Erizon’s innovative approach extends to its engineered dust suppression product, FibreLoc.

It is a superior dust suppression product that is scientifically engineered for the harshest of conditions, where polymer solutions aren’t suitable and sustainable longevity is required.
FibreLoc uses interlocking organic wood fibres to form a flexible and stable blanket, suitable for uneven substrate terrains such as tailings storage facilities.

“Our solutions have a functional longevity of up to 24 months when standard polymer can only last up to 12 months at maximum. Our supply, apply guarantee is something that’s unique to us within our industry,” Corkhill concludes.

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