Brazilian mining giant BHP has teamed up with Anglo-Australian mining firm Rio Tinto to advance the development of new technology to increase water recovery from mine tailings.

The technology is also expected to reduce potential safety risks and environmental impact related to tailings storage facilities.

Rio Tinto said in a statement: “Removing more water from tailings would reduce potential risks associated with moisture in storage facilities, reduce the footprint required by such facilities, and create opportunities to productively re-use tailings, for example, as raw material for glass, construction or agriculture industries.”

Under the partnership agreement, the two parties will initially test the large-volume filter unit’s application at a BHP -owned copper mine in Chile.

The unit is expected to remove up to 80% of the water in the tailings stream prior to its deposit in a storage facility.

With the filter unit being manufactured, the pilot construction is planned to start in early 2023. Operations are anticipated to start in early 2024.

The pilot will assess the scalability and cost-effectiveness of a large-scale tailings filter unit for global mining operations.

The two mining companies will collaborate with other technology and equipment providers, technical experts, research groups and the academic sector.

BHP chief technical officer Laura Tyler said: “The world will need more critical minerals in the decades to come to support economic development and decarbonisation pathways.

“It is important that we keep working together across the global mining sector to raise standards and make sure our operations are as safe and sustainable as they can be. Responsible management of tailings and improved water use is a big part of that.”