Mining corporations extract ore from the Earth and then separate its valuable products, such as iron, copper or gold, from the tailings. Tailings are an environmentally hazardous by-product of mineral processing. They initially take the form of slurry, a mix of various miniature particles (basically dirt and water), that settle out into tailings ponds. Tailings must be handled responsibly to prevent seepage of toxic chemicals into the environment. Currently, mining companies are responsible for monitoring the integrity of their tailings ponds in order to collect information and share it with environmental regulators. This is performed by the Tailings Management Facility (TMF). There are practical and economic drawbacks associated with surveillance of tailings ponds. For example, it requires an extensive amount of time due to the enormous size of a tailings pond. It is also an unpleasant and potentially hazardous ordeal for field workers. An opportunity exists to develop a better method of collecting data and overseeing the reclamation process. The province of Alberta defines reclamation as “the process of converting disturbed land to its former or other productive use”. With regards to tailings ponds, they are usually reclaimed into forests and wetlands.
The main expected learning outcome is for students to practice design synthesis. It is intended that the case study be open-ended, where students will need to move through the engineering design process, and conceptualize adequate solutions based on their identified requirements.