Application of a life cycle assessment to compare environmental performance in coal mine tailings management.
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This study compares coal mine tailings management strategies using life cycle assessment (LCA) and land-use area metrics methods. Hybrid methods (the Australian indicator set and the ReCiPe method) were used to assess the environmental impacts of tailings management strategies. Several strategies were considered: belt filter press (OPT 1), tailings paste (OPT 2), thickened tailings (OPT 3), and variations of OPT 1 using combinations of technology improvement and renewable energy sources (OPT 1A-D). Electrical energy was found to contribute more than 90% of the environmental impacts. The magnitude of land-use impacts associated with OPT 3 (thickened tailings) were 2.3 and 1.55 times higher than OPT 1 (tailings cake) and OPT 2 (tailings paste) respectively, while OPT 1B (tailings belt filter press with technology improvement and solar energy) and 1D (tailings belt press filter with technology improvement and wind energy) had the lowest ratio of environmental impact to land-use. Further analysis of an economic cost model and reuse opportunities is required to aid decision making on sustainable tailings management and industrial symbiosis.
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