Christopher Howell
Vice-President of Mining & Primary Metals
View from the Top

Water Treatment Options Are Overflowing for Mines

Wed, 10/21/2015 - 16:44

Q: What are the solutions that Veolia offers for mining and metallurgical processes?

A: Veolia’s primary products and solutions for mining have been centered on water supply and water treatment, and in very isolated cases, processing equipment such as clarification filters for the Merrill-Crowe Process. Historically, we provide solutions for desalination, water supply, and any number of water technologies that provide water treatment for re-use, or for the discharge of water into the environment. We also provide a full turnkey solution combining our products with operations, maintenance, and occasionally financing. We have long history of providing environmental and industrial services to the mining industry thanks to a considerable footprint with Rio Tinto in Australia. These industrial services, which we also offer in Europe, the US, and in Mexico, include the cleaning of heat exchangers and process equipment, and the managing of both hazardous and non-hazardous waste. In Mexico, we have about a dozen contracts where we help mining companies to manage some of the waste generated at mining sites through our group that specifically manages hazardous and non-hazardous waste, which is a big part of our portfolio offering. We also want to provide solutions for the management of energy infrastructure as it relates to mining industry. In order to ensure long-term sustainability, we help mining companies attain and then maintain their social license to operate. Sustainability is not only about being environmentally conscious, it is also being able to continually operate a mine in a responsible manner. Without such a social license, the mine will most likely cease to exist after a period of time. We help our clients to maintain this license through solutions that are fully developed in order to ensure environmental compliance, whether that be air, water, or solid waste leaving the facility. A big part of helping to maintain a social license to operate for mining companies is ensuring that environmental compliance is being kept in the most cost-effective and responsible manner possible

. Q: How can Veolia help mining companies to keep the water resources surrounding the mine clean?

A: We have developed a tool called the Water Impact Index, which helps us to look at a number of different criteria in order to help mining companies and local communities fully assess the impact that water would have on the surrounding location. In addition to that, we have another tool called the True Cost of Water, which tries to provide a complete and accurate picture of the costs associated with water use. For instance, it seeks to answer precise questions such as what impact would the contamination of a water supply as a result of mining activities have on a community, from a cost perspective. It is very difficult to measure this, but understanding the costs associated with water, whether direct or indirect, is essential for mining companies. It is very easy to put a price on piping and water treatment systems. But what happens if water runs out and a company cannot mine? What happens if there is a tailings dam breach? All of these aspects have precise costs associated to them that mining companies may or may not focus on during the development of a project. Most recently, Veolia has combined its True Cost of Water tool with the IFC’s sustainability risk tool to assess, measure, and look at the sustainability risks associated with a mining project. Veolia has developed all these value added tools to specifically provide technologies and services for specific mine sites. These might need a treatment solution to help remove and treat arsenic, cyanide, or other heavy metals that may be in the water. Other mines might require a water system that not only provides drinkable water to the mine site and the residential camp, but also provides water and jobs to local communities.

Q: What type of solutions would you suggest to optimize the use of water at mining sites in northern Mexico?

A: Optimization is a big part of what we do, a lot of our resources are geared toward water re-use, and being as efficient as possible with every drop of water in the process. These solutions can range from membrane solutions to thermal evaporation solutions, while we also have a specialty chemical treatment product line called Hydrex. Mobile resources are of particular use in Mexico. We have mobile solution systems that can be mobilized from one location to another to meet emergency or temporary needs. For instance, we have membrane systems in trailers, as well as clarification systems and ion exchange systems. We are putting a significant investment focus on the Americas, and Mexico in particular, for the deployment of even more solutions like these.