State of the Art Tailing Storage Facilities - Cyclone Engineering Projects

-Written by Robert Hoshowsky

Intro text:

An integral part of the mining process, Tailing Storage Facilities – TSFs, for short – are vital to containing products which result from mine processing and closure.


Although modern-day technologies have made the process more efficient and safer than in years past, a variety of chemicals, along with water and other process effluents are used in conjunction with mechanical processes to remove valuable minerals like gold and silver from mine ore. Once the desired minerals are removed, the unrecoverable process water, along with other materials, the remaining material is discharged, often in slurry form, as tailings. Considering the chemical properties involved in some instances, the proper handling of these tailings is critical to ensure safety to workers and the environment.


Across the planet, the issue of proper tailings storage is growing. While the substances can be stored in a variety of ways depending on the country and mine site and materials – as dry stacks on ground, or underground in voids – a popular method is on the ground and contained within a physical structure. As more and more materials are being mined and extracted, the need for state-of-the-art Tailing Storage Facilities continues to grow. In the wake of increasingly stringent environmental regulations, water management, and ever-increasing amounts of tailings being produced, many factors need to be considered when creating TSFs.


This is where Cyclone Engineering Projects (Pty) Ltd. comes in. The company was founded in 2007 in order to respond to increasing demand from South Africa’s mining industry to operate, and manage, cycloned and other TSFs, based on the ongoing development in this field.


Established by Managing Director Gerrit J van Ryssen in November of 2007, Cyclone Engineering Projects (Pty) Ltd was founded with the vision to be the leader in Tailings Storage Facility operations and technology development, and with the mission of operating TSFs safely and responsibly while providing professional advice to all clients. In less than seven years, the company has evolved from being a small operation to a team of approximately 220, which will continue to increase as new contracts are awarded and established, with an expected head count in the third quarter of 305 employees.


Built on Experience

Prior to becoming Managing Director of Cyclone Engineering, Mr. van Ryssen completed his Bachelor’s degree in Industrial Chemistry at the Potchefstroom University for CHE, soon after joining Armscor in the company’s research division. Later becoming a part of the mining industry, Mr. van Ryssen learned a great deal about tailings at Foskor, a large phosphate mine where he served as Production Superintendent at the 3.2 million tonne-per month facility. Later, his experience would have him oversee, as Project Manager, a new 1000ha tailings dam and the accompanying infrastructure, with most of the civil construction being done in-house.


In time, he became Operations Director, and in 1998 decided to start his own business specializing in the cycloned tailings deposition method. With considerable mining sector knowledge, Mr. van Ryssen’s experience in the mining sector includes work in residue disposal methods and successful cycloning on phosphate, copper, magnetite, gold, diamond (Kimberlite), chrome, platinum, fluorspar, and base mineral residue streams. Additionally, a major breakthrough was had through the patented (SA Patent No. 2011/03614) vacuum cycloning, which proved to be a very successful element, creating tremendous cost savings to the mining industry. His introduction of the very successful mine / contractor joint venture principle saw a major cost savings to mines achieved in the construction of new TSFs; in fact, up to 45 percent cost saving on budget was achieved on a major TSF construction during 2012.


Meeting Market Needs

“Due to a lack in expertise in the field of modern technology in tailings disposal, it was an obvious decision,” says Mr. van Ryssen of the need to create Cyclone Engineering Projects. “We had the results to show on many TSFs in Africa where the mining industry’s attention was drawn to, realising that Cyclone Engineering Projects – through its holding company, Cyclone Projects & Consulting – can deliver excellent results. By this, I mean that TSF safety is the most important consideration, followed by service and client relations.”


Among its clients, the company counts AngloGold Ashanti – the third largest gold producer in the world with operations in four continents – Xstrata Rhovan Alloys (a vanadium mine and part of the Xstrata Group), vanadium producer and part of the Evraz group Evraz Vametco Vanadium, and gold producer and part of Great Basin Gold, Southgold Exploration, for which Cyclone Engineering Projects operates the facility.


“All our clients are employing Cyclone Engineering Projects due to their expertise in the field of TSF cycloning, honest approach, non-arrogance towards our clients and duties, the cream of the crop managers, and the employees, who are the real contributors to the success of the company,” shares Mr. van Ryssen.


With 73.8 percent ownership by CP&C and the remaining 26.2 percent in the hands of black-owned company Landfill Consult cc, both Cyclone Projects & Consulting and Cyclone Engineering Projects strive to deliver the most professional services possible to their expanding client base. Working in an atmosphere of openness and trust with all clients, this is further enhanced by professional, supportive management and a trained labour force contributing to the company’s goals, mission and vision.


An accredited Broad-based Black Economic Empowerment BBBEE company, Cyclone Engineering Projects actively supports the advancement and economic participation of black people in the South African economy, increased skills development, increasing black ownership, management and employment equity, supporting government legislation, and encouraging stakeholders to comply with BBBEE policies.


Unparalleled Safety

With a professional approach, a dedicated team, and a skilled labour force, Cyclone Engineering Projects is growing, and regularly attracting new clients; in fact, the company grew by 100 percent last year, and is expected to do the same this year. One of the key factors behind Cyclone Engineering’s success, states Mr. van Ryssen, is safety. “Our track record in the safe operating of TSFs, as well as the success with the biggest operation in Africa, contributes to our unexpected growth,” he says. “We are very positive to be awarded more mega operations during the following 12 months.”


Interestingly, the company did not enter the marketplace due to its cyclone TSF construction technology, but was soon awarded contracts in the field by means of spigotting due to the services it offered the mining industry and, and very soon thereafter, adding paddock wall construction. Gold TSFs, explains Mr. van Ryssen, were constructed using the paddock method since 1904 (also known as the daywall method), and only one mega TSF was constructed by means of cycloning and operated by the mine. “Very little development had taken place until Cyclone Projects & Consulting introduced the method to many clients,” he says. “During this period, Cyclone Engineering Projects got involved in many small to medium-sized civil engineering contracts, as well as mechanical structures such as floating platforms and walkways (our design) for the TSFs. Many of our walkways are in operation all over Africa.”


Subcontracting mass earthworks to large civil engineering companies, Cyclone Engineering concentrates its efforts on critical works, such as drains and the decant system. Tailings are deposited by means of paddock wall TSFs, spigotting, and cycloning. In the case of gold and other mines, slurry is pumped to the TSFs, which are designed in such a manner that all seepage is intercepted by under drains. Facilities are operated as a closed system, and no water is allowed to be discharged into the environment; all water recovered from the TSF is pumped to the plant for re-use. “We receive the final residue (all minerals) after the minerals have been extracted,” says Mr. van Ryssen. “The tailings is a slurry (solids / water mixture). The slurry (or tailings) is then deposited in a safe manner, ensuring that rehabilitation of the facility can be done during the construction phase of the facility.”


With a training program in place to develop its employees in the operations of TSFs and other disciplines, the company also supports local education institutions. It is these skills that helped Cyclone Engineering Projects to be awarded the largest management and operating contract in South Africa. “Our expertise in TSF cycloning saved a TSF from possible overtopping due to the lack of expertise by the previous operator,” comments Mr. van Ryssen. “Cyclone Engineering Projects turned a possible disaster into a facility considered to be one of the best operated TSFs within three months.”


Continuing to grow and expand its client base, Cyclone Engineering Projects (Pty) Ltd is on a fast track, due to its expertise in modern tailings deposition methods and ongoing development into better and better systems. With a relatively small percentage of the tailings market at present, the company sees itself having a stake of no less than 30 percent within five years, with a longer-term vision of listing the company on the Johannesburg Stock Exchange.