Pumping solutions for tailings management

In the mining industry, efficient tailings management is essential. Tailings—the by-products of mineral processing—present challenges such as abrasive materials, high viscosity, and diverse particle sizes alongside the need for energy efficiency. This guide presents various pumping solutions to address these challenges, including centrifugal, positive displacement, submersible, and diaphragm pumps. Each pump type is designed for specific tailings management needs, focusing on slurry compatibility, capacity requirements, and reducing environmental impact.

At APT Water, we understand these challenges and offer a range of pumps designed to meet the industry’s needs, ensuring operational efficiency and adherence to environmental standards.

Challenges in tailings management 

Tailings management encompasses handling the by-products of mineral processing, which poses several challenges:

Handling of abrasive materials 

Tailings contain abrasive particles that lead to wear and tear on pump components. This results in the need for frequent maintenance and replacements, impacting operational efficiency and costs.

High viscosity and varying particle sizes 

The viscosity of the slurry and the range of particle sizes can significantly affect pump performance. This demands specialised pump designs to accommodate the diverse characteristics of tailings.

Environmental and safety considerations 

Leak and spill prevention is crucial for environmental protection and compliance with regulatory standards. Pumps used in tailings management must be reliable and efficient to mitigate these risks.

Energy efficiency 

The process of pumping tailings, especially over long distances or to high elevations, requires substantial energy. Therefore, energy efficiency becomes a critical factor in pump selection to manage operational costs and reduce environmental impact.

Types of pumps used in tailings management 

Several types of pumps are used in tailings management, each suited to different aspects of the process:

Centrifugal pumps 

Centrifugal pumps are essential in tailings management, valued for their efficiency in moving large fluid volumes. Operating on the principle of centrifugal force, they transform motor rotational energy into fluid movement. Key components such as the impeller, casing, shaft, and motor work together to accelerate fluid velocity, converting it effectively into flow. This mechanism allows for the effective handling of tailings.

Centrifugal pumps are known for their ability to move large volumes of tailings efficiently over long distances, making them ideal for extensive mining operations. Their high flow rates, coupled with cost-effectiveness in installation and maintenance, set them apart from other pump types. Additionally, their versatility allows them to handle various fluid viscosities and solid contents, though their performance might lessen with very viscous fluids or high solid concentrations.

Positive displacement pumps 

Positive displacement pumps play a crucial role in managing tailings, especially useful for thick, high-viscosity slurries. These pumps deliver a consistent volume of fluid per cycle, ensuring a steady flow rate even when discharge pressures fluctuate. This characteristic is vital for tasks needing precise flow control, like reagent dosing or processes with varying pressure conditions, setting them apart from centrifugal pumps.

These pumps are characterised by their ability to maintain efficiency across a wide range of viscosities and are less affected by fluctuations in pressure, making them ideal for pumping viscous tailings or slurries with a high solid content. However, the precise nature of positive displacement pumps means they can be more susceptible to wear and damage from solid particles if not properly maintained or if the pump design is not suitable for abrasive materials.

Submersible pumps 

Submersible pumps are specifically designed to operate while submerged in the tailings pond. Their design allows them to be placed directly in the tailings, reducing the need for complex suction-side pipework and enabling efficient recirculation of water and management of tailings levels within containment areas.

Submersible pumps are highly effective for extracting water from tailings ponds for treatment and reuse in mining, lessening environmental impact. Their key strength lies in versatility, handling different submerged conditions and abrasive or corrosive materials well. The need for strong sealing mechanisms to protect the motor from fluid ingress is a critical aspect of their design, ensuring they operate reliably without failure.

Diaphragm pumps 

Diaphragm pumps excel in transferring sludges and slurries with high solid content. Their reciprocating diaphragm creates a vacuum to draw in and expel slurry under pressure, reducing wear on components when pumping abrasive materials.

Diaphragm pumps stand out for their durability and capacity to manage tough pumping conditions, such as viscous fluids and slurries with large solids. Designed for durability in abrasive environments, they ensure long-term reliability. While they may be less efficient and require more maintenance than other pumps, their robust construction offers dependable performance in demanding situations.

Considerations for selecting the right pump 

Choosing the appropriate pump for tailings management requires careful consideration of several factors:

Material compatibility 

The pump materials must endure the abrasiveness and chemical nature of tailings slurry. High-grade stainless steel or specialised alloys are often necessary to ensure longevity and prevent failure.

Capacity and discharge requirements 

A pump’s capacity should align with the volume and flow rate of tailings, plus the required discharge pressure to efficiently transport the slurry. Correct sizing is essential to avoid operational inefficiencies or failure to meet processing demands.

Energy efficiency 

Energy-efficient pumps reduce operational costs significantly, especially in large-scale operations. Technologies like variable speed drives can optimise energy use, adjusting pump performance to meet varying demands.

Maintenance and reliability 

Ease of maintenance and reliability are crucial to minimise downtime and operational costs. Pumps should be chosen for their durable design and ease of access to worn components for quick replacement.

Environmental impact 

Pumps should have leak prevention features to avoid environmental contamination and be energy-efficient to reduce the mining operation’s carbon footprint. Ensuring environmental safety and sustainability is paramount.


Effective tailings management is essential for the mining industry to operate sustainably and comply with environmental regulations. The selection of the right pumping solution, whether it be centrifugal, positive displacement, submersible, or diaphragm pumps, plays a pivotal role in addressing the unique challenges posed by tailings.

At APT Water, we are committed to providing solutions that meet these challenges head-on, ensuring that our clients can achieve both operational efficiency and environmental compliance. Get in touch with our team today to discover how we can support your tailings management needs and improve your operational performance.

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