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Modelling The Water, Energy And Economic Nexus

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Published: September 17Project Number: c21033

Get ReportAuthor: Alan Woodley, Greg Keir, Estelle Roux, Damian Barrett, Jackson White, Sue Vink | The University of Queensland

The mining industry faces three long term strategic risks in relation to its water and energy use: 1) securing enough water and energy to meet increased production; 2) reducing water use, energy consumption and emissions due to social, environmental and economic pressures; and 3) understanding the links between water and energy, so that an improvement in one area does not create an adverse effect in another.

 

This project helps the industry analyse these risks by creating a hierarchical systems model (HSM) that represents the water and energy interactions on a sub-site, site and regional scales; which is coupled with a flexible risk framework. The HSM consists of: components that represent sources of water and energy; activities that use water and energy and off-site destinations of water and produced emissions. It can also represent more complex components on a site, with inbuilt examples including tailings dams and water treatment plants. The HSM also allows multiple sites and other infrastructure to be connected together to explore regional water and energy interactions.

 

By representing water and energy as a single interconnected system the HSM can explore tradeoffs and synergies. For example, on a synthetic case study, which represents a typical site, simulations suggested that while a synergy in terms of water use and energy use could be made when chemical additives were used to enhance dust suppression, there were trade-offs when either thickened tailings or dry processing were used. On a regional scale, the HSM was used to simulate various scenarios, including: mines only withdrawing water when needed; achieving economics-of-scale through use of a single centralised treatment plant rather than smaller decentralised treatment plants; and capturing of fugitive emissions for energy generation.

 

The HSM also includes an integrated risk framework for interpreting model output, so that onsite and off-site impacts of various water and energy management strategies can be compared in a managerial context. The case studies in this report explored company, social and environmental risks for scenarios of regional water scarcity, unregulated saline discharge, and the use of plantation forestry to offset carbon emissions. The HSM was able to represent the non-linear causal relationship at the regional scale, such as the forestry scheme offsetting a small percentage of carbon emissions but causing severe regional water shortages.

 

The HSM software developed in this project will be released as an open source tool to allow industry personnel to easily and inexpensively quantify and explore the links between water use, energy use, and carbon emissions. The tool can be easily adapted to represent specific sites or regions. Case studies conducted in this project highlighted the potential complexity of these links between water, energy, and carbon emissions, as well as the significance of the cumulative effects of these links over time. A deeper understanding of these links is vital for the mining industry in order to progress to more sustainable operations, and the HSM provides an accessible, robust framework for investigating these links.

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