Consolidation and shear strength of coal tailings slurries

Emerging technologies

Shriful Islam

The University of Queensland

Worldwide production of black coal amounts to about 8 billion tonnes. Perhaps 20% of this annual production is washed to improve its quality, generating perhaps 250 million tonnes of coal tailings annually, generally in the form of a slurry. The coal tailings slurry is typically thickened to about 25% solids by mass prior to disposal to a tailings storage facility (TSF), and hence comprise mostly water (about 85% by volume), plus sand, silt and clay-sized mineral particles and carbonaceous material. While the tailings settle and consolidate on deposition in the storage facility, their high moisture content makes them prone to run-out should the tailings dam fail, and makes rehabilitation of the tailings difficult. Hence, it is important to understand the consolidation and shear strength of coal tailings. Laboratory consolidation testing of coal tailings from a slurry to a soil-like state has been carried out in a purpose-built, large-scale, slurry consolidometer, instrumented with load cells and pore water pressure (PWP) transducers. Laboratory vane shear testing of coal tailings produced at different gravimetric moisture contents has also been carried out. The test results have allowed a regression model to be developed relating the peak vane shear strength of the coal tailings to their gravimetric moisture content.

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