When people look at the towering piles of rock, the rubbish of the mining industry, most would be surprised to discover those waste rock piles are actually highly engineered constructions.

Dr Anita Parbhakar-Fox
Photo: University of Queensland

One person who has assisted the mining industry in cleaning up its act is Dr Anita Parbhakar-Fox. She is a Senior Research Fellow at the University of Queensland’s Sustainable Minerals Institute and specialises in mine waste characterisation.

Dr Parbhakar-Fox examines mine waste and can determine what will happen to those towering rock piles over time. The most common problem is sulphide in the rocks being exposed to air which causes it to oxidise and turn into sulphuric acid.

Proper design and construction of waste rock piles can prevent this from happening and Dr Parbhakar-Fox has provided mining companies with the data they need to build piles that aren’t a danger to the environment.

“Modern mines work quite hard to minimise acid mine drainage formations and minimise the opportunity for sulphuric acid generation as much as they can,” Dr Parbhakar-Fox said.

Dr Parbhakar-Fox started to wonder if there was a way to provide primary data to mining companies which used existing data sets and would help to establish better protocols for testing.

She partnered with two fellow researchers, Chris Brough at Petrolab Ltd in the United Kingdom and Professor Sue Harrison at the University of Cape Town to devise a platform that would draw data from a variety of sources into a single location. Their platform which would be able to produce predictive results for mining companies before expensive tests were undertaken.

“One area of my research is always looking at existing data that [the mining companies] already have and how we can leverage of those data sets for waste classification,” she said.

A grant from the Global Connections fund allowed them to work together collaboratively and conduct experiments to provide data for their platform.

“The idea was that we each did a component of this work using our expertise and our test work and then we’d bring this all together,” she said.

“We’d collate this data and that would be the product that we would deliver to people to say ‘right if you’re going to do kinetic testing, you need to do this, you need to do this, you need to do this’ and generate these numbers and then the numbers need to go into a spreadsheet and the spreadsheet is going to tell you some predictive information’.”

The next step for the team is to get their platform included into global guidelines which are used by mining companies. A pitch has been made to the international association that manages the guidelines and Dr Parbhaker-Fox is hopeful they will be included in the next revision.

Profile of Dr Parbhaker-Fox written for the Australian Academy of Technology and Engineering as part of a review of their Global Connections Grant.