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Journal of Cleaner Production 14 (2006) 1168e1175 www.elsevier.


Geotechnical considerations in mine backlling in Australia

N. Sivakugan a,*, R.M. Rankine b, K.J. Rankine a, K.S. Rankine a
a b

School of Engineering, James Cook University, Townsville 4811, Australia Cannington Mine, BHP Billiton, P.O. Box 5874, Townsville 4810, Australia

Received 1 March 2004; received in revised form 2 June 2004; accepted 3 June 2004 Available online 26 April 2005

Abstract Mine backlling can play a signicant role in the overall operation of a mine operation. In the Australian mining industry, where safety is a prime consideration, hydraulic systems are the most common backlls deployed. Many accidents reported at hydraulic ll mines worldwide have mainly been attributed to a lack of understanding of their behaviour and barricade bricks. This paper describes the ndings from an extensive laboratory test programme carried out in Australia on more than 20 dierent hydraulic lls and several barricade bricks. A limited description of paste backlls is also provided, and the usefulness of numerical modelling as an investigative tool is highlighted. 2005 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.
Keywords: Hydraulic lls; Mining; Backlls; Paste lls; Geotechnical

1. Introduction In the mining industry, when underground ore bodies are extracted, very large voids are created, which must be backlled. The backlling strategies deployed often make use of the waste rock or tailings that are considered by-products of the mining operation. This is an eective means of tailing disposal because it negates the need for constructing large tailing dams at the surface. The backlling of underground voids also improves local and regional stability, enabling safer and more ecient mining of the surrounding areas. The need for backlling is a major issue in Australia, where 10 million cubic metres of underground voids are generated annually as a result of mining [1]. There are two basic types of backlling strategies. The rst, uncemented backlling, does not make use of binding agents such as cement, and their characteristics

* Corresponding author. Fax: C61 7 47751184. E-mail address: (N. Sivakugan). 0959-6526/$ - see front matter 2005 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved. doi:10.1016/j.jclepro.2004.06.007

can be studied using soil mechanics theories. A typical example of uncemented backlling is the use of hydraulic lls that are placed in the form of slurry into the underground voids. The second category, cemented backlling, makes use of a small percentage of binder such as Portland cement or a blend of Portland cement with another pozzolan such as y ash, gypsum or blast furnace slag. The purpose of this paper is to analyse the ndings from an extensive laboratory test programme carried out in Australia on hydraulic lls and several barricade bricks. Hydraulic lls are uncemented techniques, and are one of the most widely used backlling strategies in Australia. More than 20 dierent hydraulic lls, representing a wide range of mines in Australia, were studied at James Cook University (JCU). The grain size distributions for all of these lls lie within a narrow band as shown in Fig. 1. Along with them, the grain size distribution curves for a paste ll and a cemented hydraulic ll are also shown. It can be seen that the cemented hydraulic ll falls within the same band as the hydraulic ll. The addition of a very small percentage of

N. Sivakugan et al. / Journal of Cleaner Production 14 (2006) 1168e1175

100 90
Cemented hydraulic fill


water, and also serve as drains when the hydraulic ll rises in the stope.

Percent finer by weight

80 70 60 50 40 30 20 10 0 0.1 1 10 100 1000 10000

Paste fill Australian hydraulic fills

2.1. Drainage considerations Drainage is the most important issue that must be considered when designing hydraulic ll stopes. There have been several accidents (namely, trapped miners and machinery) worldwide caused by wet hydraulic ll rushing through horizontal access drives (Fig. 2). Several reasons, including poor quality barricade bricks, liquefaction, and piping within the hydraulic ll are attributed to such failures [2]. Therefore, permeability of the hydraulic ll in the stope is a critical parameter in the design; continuous eort is made during mining to ensure that it is kept above a threshold limit in the vicinity of 100 mm/h [3]. Larger permeability leads to quicker removal of water from the stope, thus improving the stability of the ll contained within the stope. Permeability tests for mine lls and barricade bricks are discussed by Rankine et al. [4]. The constant head and falling head permeability tests carried out on the hydraulic ll samples give permeability values in the range of 7e35 mm/h. In spite of having permeability values much less than the 100 mm threshold suggested by Herget and De Korompay [3], each of these hydraulic
Slurry enters stope

Grain size (m)

Fig. 1. Typical grain size distribution curves for hydraulic lls, cemented hydraulic lls and paste lls.

cement has a limited eect on grain size distribution. Paste lls generally have a much larger ne fraction than hydraulic lls or cemented hydraulic lls, but have negligible colloidal fraction ner than 2 mm.

2. Hydraulic backlls Hydraulic lls are simply silty sands or sandy silts without clay fraction, and are classied as ML or SM under the Unied Soil Classication System. The clay fraction is removed through a process known as desliming, whereby the entire ll material is circulated through hydrocyclones and the ne fraction is removed and then sent to the tailings dam. The remaining hydraulic ll fraction is reticulated in the form of slurry through pipelines to underground voids. Over the past decade there has been a steady increase in the solid content of the hydraulic ll slurry placed in mines in an attempt to reduce the quantity of water that must be drained and increase the proportion of solids. The challenge posed by a high solid content is that it becomes dicult to transport the slurry through the pipelines due to rheological considerations. Currently, solid contents of 75e80% are common, although even at 75% solid content, assuming a specic gravity of 3.00 for the solid grains, 50% of slurry volume is water. Therefore, there is opportunity for a substantial amount of water to be drained from the hydraulic ll stope. To contain the ll, the horizontal access drives created during mining are generally blocked by barricades constructed from specially made porous bricks (Fig. 2). The access drives, which are made large enough to permit the entry of machinery during mining, are blocked by the barricades during lling. The drives are often located at more than one level. Initially, the drives located at upper levels act as exit points for the decanted

Horizontal access drive

Decant water

Hydraulic fill

Porous barricade brick wall

Horizontal access drive

Fig. 2. An idealised stope with two sublevel drains.


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Densest possible state 100

Relative Density, Dr ( )

lls has performed satisfactorily. Anecdotal evidences and back calculations using the measured ow in the mine stopes suggest that the permeability of the hydraulic ll in the mine is often larger than what is measured in the laboratory under controlled conditions. Kuganathan [5] and Brady and Brown [6] proposed permeability values in the range of 30e50 mm/h, which are signicantly larger than those measured in the laboratory for similar lls. These values are much less than the threshold limit prescribed by Herget and De Korompay [3], suggesting that it is a conservative recommendation. 2.2. Stability considerations The stability of the hydraulic ll stope during and after the drainage period depends on several parameters that determine the strength and the stiness of the hydraulic ll mass. These parameters can be measured in the laboratory using reconstituted samples or in the mine using in situ testing devices. Due to the diculties and high costs associated with carrying the in situ testing rigs into the underground openings, laboratory tests are the preferred alternatives. Strength and stiness are directly related to the relative density of the ll. When the hydraulic ll is denser, the relative density and friction angle are higher, and thus the ll is more stable. In geotechnical engineering, there are several empirical correlations relating relative density to the Youngs modulus and friction angle of a granular soil. 2.2.1. Maximum and minimum dry density tests A larger void ratio does not always mean a looser granular soil. Relative density is a good measure of the density of the grain packing, and depends on the maximum and minimum possible void ratios for the soil whilst still maintaining intergranular contact. The minimum void ratio is generally determined by pouring the dry tailings from a xed height so that the grains are placed at a very loose state [7]. The maximum void ratio is generally achieved by saturating the tailings and vibrating them to attain dense packing [8]. These two extreme void ratios provide the lower and upper bound for the void ratios, and, depending on where the current void ratio of the hydraulic ll is, the relative density is dened as: Dr Z emax ecurrent !100% emax emin 1

50 Hydraulic fills in mines

emaximum Void ratio, e


Loosest possible state

Fig. 3. Relative density of the hydraulic lls sedimented in the laboratory.

density values ranging from 44 to 66% at four dierent mines. The laboratory exercise also showed that the hydraulic ll slurry settles to a dry density (g/cm3) of 0.6 times the specic gravity (Gs) for a wide range of tailings with specic gravity values ranging from 2.8 to 4.4. Dry density (rd) and void ratio (e) are related by: rd Z Gs rw 1Ce 2

This implies that all the hydraulic lls settle to a void ratio of 0.67 and porosity of 40%. The laboratory sedimentation exercise veries this. 2.2.2. Oedometer tests Oedometer tests are carried out on hydraulic lls to determine the constitutive modelling parameters for the Cam Clay model e one of the constitutive models that can be adapted for hydraulic lls when analysed using numerical modelling packages such as FLAC, FLAC3D or ABAQUS. In addition, oedometer tests are useful in determining the constrained modulus (D) from which, Youngs modulus (E ) can be estimated for an assumed value of Poissons ratio using the following equation. EZ 1Cy1 2y D 1 y 3

Laboratory sedimentation exercises at JCU laboratories, during which hydraulic lling processes were simulated, showed consistently that when slurry settles under its self-weight, the relative density of the ll is in the range of 40e70% (Fig. 3). Similar observations were made by Pettibone and Kealy [9] at selected mines in the United States. The in situ measurements showed relative

Youngs modulus is a crucial parameter in deformation calculations using most constitutive models. The oedometer tests on the hydraulic lls showed signicant

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Fig. 4. Scanning electron micrograph of a hydraulic ll sample.

creep settlements that took place on the completion of consolidation settlements. This has yet to be veried quantitatively and on a full-scale stope. 2.2.3. Direct shear test Direct shear tests are carried out to determine the peak and residual friction angle of the hydraulic ll. The tests are carried out on reconstituted hydraulic lls representing the in situ grain packing in the stope, which can be at relative densities of 40e70%. Since there is no clay fraction, cohesion is zero. Direct shear tests conducted at JCU reveal that the friction angles determined from direct shear tests are signicantly higher than those determined for common granular soils. This can be attributed to the very angular grains that result from crushing the rock waste, which interlock more than the common granular soils. The angular grains can be seen in the scanning electron micrographs of the hydraulic ll samples (Fig. 4).

2.2.4. Placement property test A placement property test for hydraulic lls was proposed by Clark [10]. This is essentially a compaction test, where the compactive eort is applied through 5 min of vibration on a vibrating table. Porosity at the end of vibration is plotted against the water content. Alternatively, dry density can be plotted against water content, as shown in Fig. 5. Here a is the air content, and the contours of a Z 0, 3, 10, 20 and 30% are shown in the gure. The shaded region is where the hydraulic ll can exist whilst maintaining intergranular contact. The slurry follows a saturation line when settling under its self-weight, with the density increasing with some vibratory loading. One of the main applications of the placement property test, as in a compaction test, is to determine optimum water content. In Fig. 5, the optimum water content of the ll is 14%, with the maximum dry density of 2.42 t/m3. This water content can also be estimated from a maximum dry density test and the saturation line as 12%. These curves are useful in assessing the contractive or dilative behaviour of hydraulic lls at various water contents. For example, when the ll in Fig. 5 is subjected to vibratory loading (e.g., due to blasting) at 14% water content and a dry density of 2.0 t/ m3, it will densify, whilst the same ll at 8% water content and dry density of 2.2 t/m3 will become looser. 3. Barricade bricks for hydraulic ll mines Barricade failure in underground mining operations is a primary safety concern because of the potential consequences of failure. Between 1980 and 1997, 11 barricade failures were recorded at Mount Isa Mines in both hydraulic and cemented hydraulic lls [5]. In 2000, a barricade failure at the Normandy Bronzewing Mine in Western Australia resulted in a triple fatality, and two

3 2.8 2.6
Maximum dry density

Dry density (t/m3)

2.4 2.2 2 1.8

5 min vibration < 5 min vibration No vibration (free settling under self weight) Minimum dry density

1.6 1.4 1.2 1 0

Intergranular contact exists







Fig. 5. Placement property curve of a hydraulic ll sample.


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permeable brick failures were reported later that same year as a result of hydraulic ll containment at the Osborne Mine in Queensland [1]. The specialized barricade bricks often used for the containment of hydraulic ll in underground mines are generally constructed of a mortar composed of mixture of gravel, sand, cement and water at the approximate ratio of 40:40:5:1, respectively. Fig. 6 shows a photograph of (a), a barricade brick and (b), an underground containment wall constructed from bricks. Traditionally, the walls have been constructed in a vertical plane, but the recent industry trend has been to increase wall strength by constructing them in a curved manner, with the convex toward the hydraulic ll as shown in Fig. 6b. Although it is known within the mining industry that the porous bricks used in underground barricade construction are prone to variability in strength properties [5], the manufacturers often guarantee a minimum

value for uniaxial compressive strength for the bricks in the order of 10 MPa [11]. Kuganathan [5] and Dueld et al. [11] have reported uniaxial compressive strength values from 5 MPa to over 26 MPa. A series of uniaxial compressive strength tests undertaken on a large sample of brick cores have demonstrated the scatter of results, but more importantly, have highlighted a distinct variation in brick performance when saturated, as it would occur in the mines. Two identical cylindrical cores were cut from 29 porous barricade bricks. One of the brick cores from each of the individual bricks was tested dry, and the other core was tested after having been saturated for either 7 or 90 days. The strength and deformation parameters (namely, the uniaxial strength, Youngs modulus, and the axial failure strain) for the wet and dry cores are shown in Figs. 7e9. Firstly, the extreme scatter between all results reiterates the signicant deviation in brick quality. Fig. 7 shows the average uniaxial compressive strength of dry bricks to fall between 6 and 10 MPa, when the brick manufacturers guarantee minimum of 10 MPa. It can also be seen from this gure that there is a distinct loss of compressive strength as a result of wetting the brick. There was no signicant dierence between 7 and 90 days soaking, implying that the strength loss occurs immediately upon wetting. This loss appears to be in the order of approximately 25%, which is notable considering that bricks are generally exposed to saturated conditions when placed underground, and all manufacturer strength specications are based on bricks that are tested dry. The stiness also appears to be reduced by wetting (Fig. 8). The Youngs modulus of the dry cores ranged between 1 and 3.5 MPa. The length of time the bricks were wetted did not have a signicant impact on the magnitude of the reduction in stiness. The peak failure axial strain was not reduced by wetting (Fig. 9). The cores in general failed under an axial strain of less than 1%. The porous bricks are designed to be free draining and therefore, their permeability is at least an order of magnitude greater than that of hydraulic ll. The

Uniaxial compressive strength of wet core (MPa)

14 12 10 8 6 4 2 0 0

7 days 90 days




Uniaxial compressive strength of dry core (MPa)

Fig. 6. Porous brick barricade. (a) A brick, (b) brick barricade under construction in a mine. Fig. 7. Uniaxial strength of dry and wet bricks.

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Young's modulus of wet core (GPa)

4 3.5 3 2.5 2 1.5 1 0.5 0 0

A Measure of Strength

7 days 90 days

1 0.9 0.8 0.7 0.6 0.5 0.4 0.3 0.2 0.1 0 0.3

SLURRY (segregates)

PASTE (non-segregating)

CAKE (non-pumpable)







A Measure of Concentration
0.5 1 1.5 2 2.5 3 3.5 4

Fig. 10. Thickened tailings continuum [13].

Young's modulus of dry core (GPa)

Fig. 8. Youngs modulus of dry and wet bricks.

barricade bricks have proven, over time, to satisfy the free-draining situation, and the reduction of permeability through mitigation of nes has not been recorded. Rankine et al. [4] carried out constant head and falling head permeability tests on several barricade bricks and reported permeability values in the order of 3500 mm/h, three orders of magnitude greater than the permeability of the tailings.

4. Paste ll Like hydraulic ll, paste ll falls into the category of thickened tailings. A conceptual framework to describe thickened tailings in terms of concentration and strength is shown in Fig. 10 [12,13]. Paste ll is comprised of full mill tailings with a typical eective grain size of 5 mm, mixed with a small percentage of binder, in the order of 3e6% by weight, and water. It is the densest form of backll in the spectrum of thickened tailings placed underground as a backll material. The acceptance of paste backll as a viable alternative to hydraulic slurry and rock ll did not truly occur until the mid- to late1990s with the construction and successful operation of several paste backll systems in Canada and the BHP Billiton Cannington Mine in Australia.
1.2 1 0.8 0.6 0.4 0.2 0 0 0.2 0.4 0.6 0.8 1 1.2

7 days 90 days

Fig. 9. Axial failure strains of dry and wet bricks.

Since a desliming of the tailings is not undertaken, there is a substantial ne content in paste lls (Fig. 1). A generic rule of thumb for the grain size distribution is for a minimum of 15% of the material to be ner than 20 mm, which ensures that the surface area of the grains is large enough to provide adequate surface tension to ensure that the water is held to the solid particles and to provide a very thin, permanent lubricating lm. Paste ll typically shows non-NewtonianeBingham plastic ow characteristics, resulting in plug ow (batches ow in solid slugs) characteristics of the paste. As most of the early research performed on paste lls was on the transportation and deposition of the paste, the majority of the denitions of the paste are based on its rheological characteristics. Table 1 summarises some common characteristics of the thickened tailings continuum shown in Fig. 10 [14]. Hydraulic lls fall into the thickened tailings prole. A signicant dierence to note is that the water content in paste ll is retained on placement, through the large surface area of the grains, eliminating the need for the design of drainage of the ll or barricades. The design requirements for paste lled stopes are then reduced to static and dynamic stability requirements. By designing the ll masses with sucient strength to ensure the vertical faces of the back lled stopes remain stable throughout the mining of the adjacent stopes, the static stability requirements are satised. If the paste becomes unstable, the adjacent faces may relax and displace into the open stope, causing high levels of dilution and loss of mining economies. The required strength of the backlls is typically calculated using analytical solution techniques [15e17]. More recently, numerical modelling solutions [18,19] have been used to determine backll stability throughout the entire mining sequence. The dynamic stability of the paste ll stopes is addressed by designing the backll mass to resist liquefaction or other seismic activities. Due to the increased residual moisture content of paste, there is an increased liquefaction potential risk for the paste. Clough et al. [20] showed that cemented sand with a uniaxial compressive strength of 100 kPa was capable of resisting


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Table 1 Material properties for thickened tailings continuum [14] Material property Particle size Slurry Coarse fraction only. No particles less than 20 mm. Segregation during transportation and or placement is dependent only on the coarse fraction Thickened tailings Some nes included (typically !15%), nes content tends to modify behaviour from slurry e i.e. rheological characteristics more similar to paste, however does segregate when bought to rest. Segregation during transportation and or placement is dependent only on the coarse fraction 70e78 Critical ow velocity. To maintain ow must have turbulent ow (vel O 2 m/s). If vel ! 2 m/s partial settling occurs Newtonian ow No minimum yield stress Cyclone end elutriation Slight/partial Partial/limited Medium/high Some Insignicant Immediate Low Paste Additional/most nes (typically 15% (min) O 20 mm

Pulp density (%) Flow regimes/line velocities

Yield stress Preparation Segregation in stope Drainage from Stope Final density Supernatant water Post placement shrinkage Rehabilitation Permeability

60e72 Critical ow velocity. To maintain ow must have turbulent ow (vel O 2 m/s). If vel ! 2 m/s settling occurs Newtonian ow No minimum yield stress Cyclone Yes/high Yes Low High High Delayed Medium/low

78e82 No critical pipeline ow velocity, i.e. no settling in pipe Laminar/plug ow Minimum yield Stress Filter/centrifuge None None/insignicant High None Insignicant Immediate Very low

a seismic activity measuring 7.5 on the Richter scale. This gure has been adopted by the mining industry as the minimum design strength ll for any ll mass. The strength of the paste satisfying the static stability requirements are generally in excess of dynamic strength requirements. Barricades are designed as underground retaining walls. The structural design and construction of the walls may vary slightly to those designed for hydraulic lls, due to the absence of drainage capabilities. The barricades are designed as temporary structures in paste ll stopes. The walls must be designed to retain the liquid mass of the ll, until such time as it has cured suciently to act as a plug at the base of the stope, thus preventing the additional deposited paste from entering the mine workings.

ll and paste ll stopes, studying the developments of stresses and drainage within the ll [19,21]. The intention of this paper has not been to detail the ndings from these simulations but rather to highlight the potential these modelling tools have to dramatically increase the condence with which stope predictions may be made, ultimately leading to optimised mine operation and safety. 6. Conclusions Cemented backlling and uncemented backlling are the two strategies used in mine backlling in Australia. Hydraulic lls and paste lls are examples of uncemented and cemented backlls, respectively. A series of laboratory tests carried out at James Cook University on more than 20 dierent hydraulic ll samples suggest the following:  The hydraulic ll, placed in the form of slurry, settles to relative densities of 40e70%, comparing well with the eld measurements.  Specic gravity of the hydraulic ll grains range from 2.8 to 4.4.  All of the reconstituted hydraulic ll samples sedimented in the laboratory, simulating the slurry placement in the mine, settled to a void ratio of 0.67, and porosity of 40%.  From constant head and falling head permeability tests carried out on the hydraulic ll samples, the permeability was measured to be in the range of 7e35 mm/h.

5. Numerical modelling In large-scale underground mining operations, where in situ monitoring of stresses, strains, displacements and pore pressures is often very dicult, expensive or not feasible at all, the use of numerical modelling techniques becomes extremely valuable in understanding and predicting the behaviours of both the materials and the systems being modelled. FLAC and FLAC3D are explicit, nite dierence software packages specically designed for solving geotechnical and mining problems in two and three dimensions, respectively. The research group at JCU has used FLAC3D in simulating the lling operations in a hydraulic

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There is signicant scatter in the uniaxial strength and Youngs modulus of porous barricade bricks measured in the laboratory. Uniaxial strength decreases by about 25% as a result of wetting the brick. Since these bricks are always subjected to wet conditions within the mine, the strength and Youngs modulus values of wet bricks should be used in the design of barricade walls. Paste ll contains at least 15% of grains ner than 20 mm, and the eective grain size (D10) is in the order of 5 mm. The 3e6% binder improves the strength and thus stability signicantly. The large ne content within the paste ll enables most of the water to be held to the surface of the grains, and therefore drainage is not a concern in paste backlling. Acknowledgements Several mines have contributed cash and in-kind to the research discussed in this paper. Their support is gratefully acknowledged. Senior Technical Ocers Mr. Warren ODonnell and Mr. Stuart Petersen assisted in most of the laboratory test work carried out on the bricks and hydraulic lls. Our regular discussions with Mr. Richard Cowling of Cowling Associates were very valuable throughout our mining research. References
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