A new study out of Université de Genève (UNIGE) and the University of Queensland's Sustainable Minerals Institute (SMI) in Australia suggests a novel solution to one of the world’s largest waste streams—waste leftover from mineral processing. In fact, according to the researchers, this novel solution could simultaneously reduce mineral-processing waste and the over-exploitation of global sand reserves, a practice that tends to occur in areas, such as shorelines, that are best left undisturbed.
So, less waste and more sand? How is it possible?
The researchers’ findings, released this month in the report, Ore-sand: A potential new solution to the mine tailings and global sand sustainability crises FINAL REPORT, refer to left-over waste from mining extraction that has been crushed and from which potentially harmful substances have been removed. The team coined the term, ore-sand, to describe this by-product and its suitability as a sand replacement in the cement industry, for instance.
The research team examined tailings produced from iron ore mining in Brazil. After looking at chemical properties and refining operations, they could show that some of the waste stream destined to be mining residues could replace sand in construction and industry, in a manner similar to that of recycled concrete and steel slag.
Follow-up will require collaboration with aggregate producers and other industry players to demonstrate ore-sand's ease-of-use, performance, and sourcing process. Other factors to be examined could be CO2 emissions from transporting the material, additional revenue value to ore producers, local demand and so on.
With global sand usage at billions of tons annually, due primarily to demand from urban development, “ore-sand” production could significantly impact the environment by lowering the global need for sand mining and by turning harmful ore mining residues into industrial products, thus contributing to a more circular and sustainable economy.