A thermal imaging methodology to study evaporation kinetics in mine tailings
Predicting why, how, and when mine tailings disposal sites become prone to dust scattering events is often hampered by our limited understanding of the factors that affect the drying rates from their surface layers. As a case study, thermal imaging is demonstrated here to be a valuable tool to study the evaporation mechanisms and rates from bauxite residues as a function of their thickness and physicochemical properties, as well as environmental conditions. These investigations reveal that their late stage drying rates are limited by gas phase diffusion through the interstitial air within their internal microporosity. The smallness of the effective diffusion coefficient indicates that water adsorption on bauxite residues surfaces is the dominant phenomenon responsible for their slow water vapour transport kinetics, a phenomenon that ultimately controls their late stage drying rates, that is when dust scattering is most likely to occur. As such, application of this thermal imaging methodology in the field may also contribute to improve the accuracy of risk assessment protocols, support intervention and mitigation strategies, underpin optimization efforts for mining residues management, and improve forecasting of fugitive dust emissions from mine tailings by enabling more accurate predictions of the evolution in their surface drying state.