Kaolin mining efforts around the world must provide enough supply to support numerous industries. The large-scale project means the environmental impact of kaolin mining cannot be understated. Aside from the typical hazard risks, kaolin mining projects present significant impact toward the surrounding ecology.
Brief Overview of Kaolin Mining
The Kaolin mining process usually involves an opencast or open-pit method to extract the clay. This method is usually reserved for mineral deposits that are close enough to the soil surface. Open-pit method involves using heavy machinery to dig one or several wide pits, with the incline side called “batter” and the flat side called “bench”.
Kaolin clay cannot be extracted by digging or simply picking it up like solid objects. To liberate the clay from surrounding ground elements, the mine workers will use powerful water jet machines. This powerful dousing process creates a slurry, which consists of a mixture of kaolin clay and other components, including mica, quartz, 和 长石.
After the liberation process using water jet machines, the clay goes through several stages. This stage consists of several treatments such as grinding, bleaching, blending, and drying. The result is pure white kaolin that is ready to be used in various industries.
Considering the way kaolin is extracted, the environmental impact of kaolin mining should not be dismissed.
Impacts of Open Pit Kaolin Mining
Open pit mining is regarded as more destructive toward the environment. Compared to underground mining, it can release eight to ten times the amount of waste. In kaolin mining, the company creates large mounds of pale materials dug from the ground, which they will wash to create a slurry. This is the part where a lot of environmental problems happen.
Here are some environmental impacts of kaolin mining to expect from such mining effort:
- Soil Pollution and Destruction
In open pit mining, miners must destroy the top soil and vegetation to reach the layer where kaolin deposit is available. This means destroying the local ecosystem and increasing the risk of erosion.
- Water Contamination
Water contamination is one of the most notable effects of kaolin mining. The materials washed in slurry can spread to the nearby water supply. Over time, it can cause material build up in and on the surface of the water. The result is contamination and danger toward the surrounding ecosystem.
In cases of kaolin mining, you can tell of ongoing pollution from the white substances in the nearby river or lake. One of the notable cases of river pollution like this is the St. Austell River in Cornwall, which was known by locals as “the white river” due to the clay waste pollution that happened there.
- Danger from Dust
Kaolin mining produces a lot of dust and other small particles. When they fly, they can endanger nearby people and animals. Kaolin dust can enter the lungs and irritate the eyes. Dust that floats in the sky can also cause light pollution over the years because the particles block the sunlight.
- Noise Pollution
You can expect noises coming from mining activities, but that does not make the impact lighter. Noise pollution can cause prolonged stress on people and frighten surrounding wildlife.
Possible Solution for Kaolin Mining Waste
With the rising demand for kaolin by various industries, managing the waste from kaolin mining can be a challenge. However, studies have been conducted to find the best solutions for managing the waste. One of them is the possibility of using kaolin waste to produce geopolymers.
A 2022 study published in the Case Studies in Construction Materials volume 16 suggested that kaolin waste has ideal properties to create geopolymers. These materials are touted as cement or concrete alternatives. Geopolymers are also known as good replacements for Portland cement. However, this is not their only benefit.
Geopolymers have lower thermal conductivity and density than regular concrete. They also have potential to be used in the making of insulation layers, regenerable catalysts, and even special storage materials to store toxic products.
Finally, there is also a possible innovation of turning kaolin waste into antibacterial zeolites. The final products can be used in the stages of water treatment. A study conducted near the kaolin processing plant in Brazil showed the possibility of turning clay waste balls into antibacterial zeolites. They were shown to be able to reduce the activities of dangerous bacteria, like E. coli 和 Salmonella.
Is Kaolin Still Good for Future Investment?
While kaolin mining does invite some concerns, there have been solutions and studies aimed to reduce its impact. Kaolin also sees a future rise in demand, especially in major industries such as paper-based packaging, 建设, textile, and any projects that need 3D printing. You can still plan to invest in kaolin and send your supplies to various industries for future profits.
Yukami is one of the best kaolin suppliers you can partner with for kaolin investment. Based in Indonesia, Yukami has acquired decades of experience, supplying kaolin for clients in various countries. Get your 高岭土粉 or pellets from Yukami and start investing in one of the most sought-out materials!
The environmental impact of kaolin mining is worth considering, but with the improving waste management technology, you can think of investing in kaolin and reach future profits.