Consolidation and undrained shear strength of slurried coal tailings

Emerging technologies


Timothy Vangsness


The University of Queensland

The flooding of open strip coal mines in the Bowen Basin and Hunter Valley Coalfields of Eastern Australia has the potential to soften the spoil and floor materials to produce “mud”. This mud can act as a slip plane or weak zone when spoil is dumped into it, resulting in geotechnical instabilities. Once mud has formed, typical handling techniques include its costly removal by mechanical means, or its isolation and capping.

There are little data available on the moisture state and shear strength of the capped mud. To investigate the effectiveness of isolation and capping, research has been conducted using a large slurry consolidometer (150 mm in diameter by up to 410 mm in height) to simulate capping in situ. Once consolidated, the mud was subjected to shear strength testing in a direct shear box measuring 60 mm by 60 mm by about 20 mm high. The shear strength of the consolidated mud was compared to that of competent, fresh spoil, a mixture of spoil and mud, and to completely degraded spoil (mud alone).

These results have been used as inputs in stability calculations using the commercial computer program Slide 7.0, which demonstrates the strong influence of consolidation of the mud on overall low wall slope stability. The results provide insight into the design and construction of capping to isolate in-pit mud.

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