Industrial Water Usage

Invoking the power of collaboration to drive sustainable change

by Dr Hubert Fleming

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Industrial water usage continues to be a hot topic, as people, countries and companies around the world seek to address the challenge facing global water security. It is predicted that by 2025, at least two thirds of the world’s population will face ‘water stress’1; defined as when the demand for water exceeds its availability or poor water quality limits its use.

While the future of water security in this sense may seem bleak, it is not foregone and industrial companies are working toward a more sustainable future for the resource.

Water is of critical importance to mining in particular; most mining operations are located in water scare areas and without it, these operations would not be possible. Faced with the conundrum of the need to both use and conserve this precious resource, the responsible management of water by mining companies is more critical than ever. The mining industry is increasingly driving forward to achieve sustainable change and is helping to address the challenge of water shortages faced around the world. Collaboration and investment in innovative technology is key to making a real difference in conserving a source so vital to the world.

Anglo American has long been a leader in water sustainability and is a champion of making its mining operations as environmentally friendly as possible. Since 2012, the company has achieved water savings equivalent to 54,200 Olympic size swimming pools or the annual consumption of drinking water for around 148 million people.2 As demonstrated in previous reports and its recent 16th annual Sustainability Report, “Delivering Change, Building Resilience, Working in Partnership”, Anglo American’s strong sustainability strategy continues this year as the company embraces innovation to ensure its operations are less water-dependent, as well as safer and more energy-efficient.

The power of collaboration

As part of its ambitious sustainability strategy and its drive towards innovative mining, Anglo American is developing partnerships with a number of groups and is seeking to deliver real value and a positive impact to local communities and stakeholders through working together. With 75% of Anglo American’s mining operations located in high water-risk regions3, the provision of water-related infrastructure that directly benefits communities is a priority at several of its operations where water scarcity is a prevalent challenge. This also presents Anglo American with an opportunity to play a leadership role in its water catchments, as demonstrated by its recent partnership with the International Council of Mining and Metals (ICMM).

In 2014, the ICMM developed a new water stewardship framework to create a new catchment-based strategy to mitigate shared water challenges. Collaboration and engagement with all relevant stakeholders was at the heart of this approach. President of the ICMM R Anthony Hodge has highlighted the power of working together: “Through collaborating or partnering with others to mitigate shared risks, address shared impacts and effect the responsible management of water resources, the industry has an opportunity to play a leadership role in local water catchments where operations are located.”

In 2015, the ICMM selected Anglo American’s Brazilian operation, Minas Rio, to collaborate with them in the first application of this guidance and the project was brought to life in 2016.

The pilot of this project has led Anglo American to develop a new water management standard and water management guidelines in alignment with global best practice and the ICMM water reporting guidelines. A cornerstone of the new standard is a more focused and structured approach to managing catchment-wide water risks in partnership with regional stakeholders. The standard requires that every site identify or appoint a water coordinator to oversee the implementation of the standards, leading each business to develop and implement its own water plan and in certain high-risk regions, draft regional water plans. The development of these regional water plans means the immediate priorities involve making sure that local needs are not compromised, whilst ensuring that mining operations have access to adequate supplies of water.

“immediate priorities involve making sure that local needs are not compromised, whilst ensuring that mining operations have access to adequate supplies of water”

This collaboration with ICMM is just one example of how Anglo American is working to ensure its mining operations are sustainable. In fact, Anglo American participates in several important water-related fora, such as the Strategic Water Partners Network (SWPN) programme, which is aimed at addressing South Africa’s water shortages. Also in South Africa, the company participated in a consortium that assesses acid mine drainage in the Olifants driver catchment in Mpumalanga, including the feasibility of applying mineimpacted water for irrigation purposes. It also recently participated in the Olifants River Catchment Management Forum, established with other mining companies. In Peru, the Quellaveco copper project engages local communities in monitoring its water management practices, and is examining options for providing water from its dams.

“Kumba’s Kolomela and Sishen operations pump groundwater, in excess of operational needs, to Sedibeng Water to supply neighbouring communities”

Anglo American is also working with local governments to build resilience in host communities through the provision of water and associated infrastructure linked to its mining activities, ensuring the mines leave a positive and lasting impact. Two examples of this are Kumba’s Kolomela and Sishen operations, which pump groundwater, in excess of operational needs, to Sedibeng Water to supply neighbouring communities. The business also provides potable water to communities in drought-stricken areas, including at Mogalakwena platinum mine in South Africa.

Ambitious water saving targets

As part of its commitment to mining sustainably, Anglo American has an ambition to eliminate fresh water from its mining processes where possible, especially in the separation and transportation of ore and waste (tailings). Water sent to a tailings disposal often represents the largest water loss at a mine as fine particle slurries are difficult and costly to dewater. Anglo American is examining whether it can reduce the cost of dewatering while looking at the physical and chemical properties of the fine ore particles to understand why they cling so resolutely to water. If successful, it has the potential to significantly limit how much fresh water its operations draw, while also gaining access to ore bodies in water stressed areas that are critical to supplying the world’s ongoing demand for metals and minerals.

As well as water conservation, water efficiency is rising as a key priority through onsite water recycling and reuse programmes. Anglo American’s Los Bronces copper mine continues to mitigate water supply challenges by implementing technical solutions that promote water efficiency and water resilience. When water supply challenges in 2015 limited production at Los Bronces copper mine in Chile, this provided an extra impetus to reduce fresh water consumption. To overcome this issue, water is now transported to the operation via a 56-kilometre pipeline from the Las Tortolas tailings dam using a special water-recycling system. The site now currently recycles more than 66% of available water.

Anglo American continues to work towards more ambitious water savings targets for 2020. This involves reducing its absolute freshwater intake by 20% and recycling/re-using water for 75% of its water requirements. The company’s 2016 sustainability report recognises the progress the company has made so far, with total new-water consumption decreasing by 14% in 2016 compared to 2015. This decrease was as a result of the divestment of water-intensive operations and efficiency measures. Of Anglo American’s total operational water requirements, 66% was met by recycling/re-using water, an improvement on 64% achieved in 2015. Water saving projects, including more effective dust suppression, dewatering of tailings and more efficient ore separation, contributed to the water saving of approximately 23 million cubic metres in 2016.

“water saving projects contributed to the water saving of approximately 23 million cubic metres in 2016”

An innovative approach

Central to its drive to use innovative technologies to conserve water is FutureSmart MiningTM, Anglo American’s wider response to the global drive for a more productive and sustainable approach to mining, where its operations have a reduced and sustainable environmental footprint for current and future generations. This is part of the company’s wider vision of a world where its mines are integrated and automated, carbon-neutral and water-neutral. Collaboration is fundamental to this approach. Engagement with host governments, industry associations, local authorities, communities, NGOs, businesses, suppliers and other stakeholders on water related issues is an integral part of the company’s water journey and sustainability strategy. Partnering with these groups is hugely important in helping Anglo American find solutions to mining’s most critical challenges in the areas of safety, productivity, energy and water. One of the pillars of FutureSmart MiningTM is the aspiration of a waterless mine, which would eliminate all water usage in favour of dry separation and non-aqueous processing techniques. Another goal is a closed loop water system, which is already helping Anglo American to tackle its water challenges by drastically reducing its water consumption during mineral processing. By focusing on the two areas of evaporation and dry tailings disposal (dewatering), it minimises water losses and enables the same water to be used numerous times.

“a waterless mine would eliminate all water usage in favour of dry separation and nonaqueous processing techniques”

Conclusion

Collaboration and innovation are critical for the mining industry as it strives to address the challenge of water shortages and effective conservation. Through opening conversations with local governments and stakeholders beyond mining companies, real tangible benefits can be achieved, as demonstrated by Anglo American’s partnership with the ICMM. Through working with a variety of organisations and local communities, Anglo American is able to deliver real value by creating a more holistic framework for managing regional water usage. At the same time, new and innovative solutions to water management are central to developing technologies which will make water usage as sustainable as possible. Water management is and will remain a critical issue for the mining industry, but through dedicated partnerships and collaborative approaches to innovative technologies, the future can be bright.

Case Study: Anglo American and ICMM partnership

The recent partnership with the ICMM presented an opportunity for Anglo American to assess and improve water security at Minas-Rio, as well as becoming conversant with the social implications created by the water catchment and the potential business risks associated with meeting legal, social and regulatory requirements. These challenges were being made more serious by the water crisis Brazil was experiencing, in which rainfall had been well below average since 2012 as a result of the weather phenomenon known as El Niño. The issues regarding a mine’s water-basin management are complex and involve a vast range of aspects – technical, environmental, societal, and reputational. This initiative was an opportunity to run a robust analysis associated with those multi-disciplinary perspectives.

As a result of the inclusive nature of this initiative, Anglo American and the ICMM brought together members of the local communities, municipalities, water basin committees and civil society organisations to better understand and manage shared water risks in the San Antonio water catchment. This in turn enabled Anglo American to increase its understanding of stakeholder concerns and aspirations related to the use of water in Minas-Rio. It also allowed them to identify major water issues and risks in the catchment and across mine life cycle, and build a response strategy to address water risks. At the same time, the pilot gave the ICMM a real opportunity to road-test the approach at a water-intense operation and, based on the findings, ensure it was practicably applicable for other members of the joint industry organisation.

“the issues regarding a mine’s water-basin management are complex and involve a vast range of aspects – technical, environmental, societal, and reputational”

“this initiative was an opportunity to run a robust analysis associated with those multidisciplinary perspectives”

The process followed the steps outlined in the ICMM guidance, which involved reviewing the importance of water in a mining context and then establishing why water is important for the Minas-Rio operation specifically. The next step was then to evaluate stakeholder perceptions, draft a baseline report and hold a multi-stakeholder workshop to discuss the findings, from which future actions were agreed.

Applying the ICMM guidance demonstrated that water-related risks are often seen from very diverse perspectives across Minas-Rio, and that management of such risks can fall under separate systems and processes. The approach has helped Anglo American consolidate these risks so that they can be managed using a holistic framework, addressing the concerns of all stakeholders.

Author Details

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Dr Hubert Fleming

Dr. Hubert Fleming is head of water management at Anglo American, based in London, England. He holds MS and PhD degrees in Chemical Engineering from Cornell University and is a graduate of Harvard’s Executive Management Program in International Finance.