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AN EFFECTIVE STRESS APPROACH TO

MINE BACKFILL
Andy Fourie, Australian Centre for Geomechanics, together with Professor Martin Fahey, The University of Western Australia
and Matthew Helinski, PhD candidate, The University of Western Australia, commenced this new research project in early
2007.

The use of backfill in underground mining


is increasing due to the need for regional or
local support, increased extraction and the
environmental benefits that accrue from reduced
volumes of tailings stored on surface.

Martin Fahey Matthew Helinski In the past, mine backfill has generally been
rockfill or (classified tailings based) high density
hydraulic fill. Recent advancements have made the preparation, transport and placement of
full plant tailings possible. This has required that the material be transported at a relatively
Project Leader high solids content to prevent segregation and separation, which has led to the adoption of
Andy Fourie the term pastefill to describe such backfill.
Pastefill is being increasingly used within the mining industry, although there remain a
number of impediments to its widespread adoption. Gaps in the technology of placing fill and mining adjacent to filled
stopes means the geotechnical risks cannot currently be adequately quantified. Whereas pastefill overcomes many of
the problems associated with previously used fill types, concerns remain regarding a number of issues relating to safety
(particularly quantification of loads on barricades), production (maximum safe fill rates) and costs (primarily binder and
additives). It is believed that many of the geotechnical risks stem from a lack of understanding of the development of
effective stresses within a fine-grained cementing fill mass, and can be eliminated or controlled by developing a framework
based on effective stress theory. Development of such an understanding would enable issues such as time-dependent
barricade loads, strength gain with time and the impact of moisture movement within a filled mass to be quantified for the
first time.

In order to provide the mining industry with the necessary tools to evaluate the potential
viability and minimise risks associated with using a paste fill system, it is essential that
fundamental issues of effective stress development within a filled mass be understood.
This project will include:
>> Experimental evaluation of the fundamental behavior of cementing tailings.
>> Development of models capable of representing the fundamental behavior.
>> The rigorous combination of these models into a fully coupled numerical model that
is capable of representing the filling process over a full range of filling rates and
material properties.
>> In situ evaluation of the fully coupled models ability to represent the deposition and
post deposition fill response.
>> With the fully verified model as the basis, practical solutions will be developed to
address areas of uncertainty such as:
>> Assessing barricade loads including useful fill management strategies.
>> Development of curing techniques that suitably represent in situ conditions.
>> Development of appropriate models to represent the performance of a fill mass
during exposure.

Australian Centre for Geomechanics T +61 8 6488 3300


PO Box 3296 - Broadway F +61 8 6488 1130
NEDLANDS WA 6009 acg@acg.uwa.edu.au
AUSTRALIA acg.uwa.edu.au
Specifically, the project proposes to:
1. Develop an approach to understanding the placement mechanics of backfill that enables the development of
a rigorous method for calculating barricade loads.

2. Develop an approach to exposure stability based on the principles of effective stress. This work will cover both
strength determination and stability evaluation. A procedure for sample preparation and curing that reflects the
in situ conditions as well as a testing procedure that captures effective strength material parameters will be
developed. The framework of understanding developed in the barricade load section will be used to investigate
the post-filling development of effective stress within the fill mass. These two tasks may then be combined to
provide a rigorous approach to exposure stability.

Postgraduate Studentships
in the Field of Mining Backfill
The ACG, in collaboration with the School of Civil & Resource
Engineering at The University of Western Australia, has
secured industry sponsorship for a research programme on
the geomechanics of underground backfilling. The project will
focus on the application of effective stress theory to minimise
the geotechnical risks associated with backfilling procedures,
and the optimisation of the backfilling process in order to
reduce costs. It will require laboratory testing (including the
use of a geotechnical centrifuge), numerical modelling and
some field work.
Entitlements include a tax-free stipend of A$35,000 for
up to 3.5 years, as well as all travel, computer and study Photo courtesy of AMC Consultants Pty Ltd
materials.
The position will suit a civil, resource or mining engineering graduate. The research project is in a completely
new field within the mining industry and will provide successful candidates with a niche qualification in a rapidly
expanding field. The research programme will include collaboration with researchers in Canada and there may be
opportunities for exchange visits.
Australian citizens and permanent residents are considered priority applicants, although international students
may also apply. For more information, please contact the ACG.

PROJECT SPONSORS

AUSTRALIAN CENTRE FOR GEOMECHANICS


PO Box 3296 - Broadway
Nedlands, Western Australia
Australia 6009
Phone: +61 8 6488 3300
Fax: +61 8 6488 1130
acg@acg.uwa.edu.au
www.acg.uwa.edu.au