Environmental Research Partnerships

Iluka collaborates with a range of research institutions to address knowledge gaps and promote industry best practice, particularly in protecting and enhancing biodiversity and improving land rehabilitation practices.

Iluka seeks to share research outcomes, in particular, with the scientific community and mining sector to assist rehabilitation activities within the resources industry.

Examples of Iluka’s research partnerships include:

The University Of Western Australia

In 2013, Iluka entered a five year partnership with the University of Western Australia to study and rehabilitate Kwongan heathland at Iluka’s Eneabba mine in Western Australia. Iluka sponsors a Chair in Vegetation Science and Biogeography which in conjunction with Iluka, conducts research at Eneabba, an area which lies within one of Australia’s fifteen biodiversity “hotspots”.

During 2014, four research students completed studies on rehabilitating Kwongan vegetation and two doctoral students commenced research projects. In addition to the university conducted research, applied research at Eneabba was initiated, which including trialling various rehabilitation methods and monitoring of Kwongan recovery after fire incidents.

Botanic Gardens and Parks Authority, Western Australia

Iluka has partnered with the Botanic Gardens and Parks Authority in Western Australia to provide support on two biodiversity research projects.

One project involves research into the propagation of threatened flora with the other investigating conservation genetics. As part of the conservation genetics study, Iluka will host a transplant site at its Eneabba operations for Banksia menziesii. The transplant site aims to determine phenotypically any site advantage and climatic adaptation of this species. The company has also allocated funds towards the logistical set up of the trial.

During 2014, local areas at Eneabba were combed for Banksia menziesii seed collection, with the trial to be established in 2015. This is expected to provide greater understanding of the interplay of species’ ecology and genetics, which in turn, may facilitate improved rehabilitation practices using scientifically justified methods.

University of Adelaide, South Australia

Iluka's Jacinth-Ambrosia mining operation in South Australia is in a sensitive arid environment. The mine is located where three different habitat types converge: the chenopod habitat of the Nullabor; the Myall woodlands of the Eyre Peninsula; and the mallee dune systems.

Very little scientific information exists about the germination requirements of many of this arid land flora species. There is also limited information on how these species cope with environmental stresses, including drought, salinity and fire.

To overcome the challenges associated with environmental management and rehabilitation in such a fragile environment, Iluka has taken an active and collaborative research based approach to rehabilitation research.

In 2014, a project entitled Root distribution and salinity and soil water dynamics in a chenopod shrub land: implications for restoration technology was undertaken in partnership with the University of Adelaide, and jointly funded by Iluka and the Australian Research Council.  The project investigates the dynamics of water and roots in soils in arid lands to inform re-vegetation practices to reconstruct soils and establish vegetation after mineral extraction. As part of the research at Jacinth-Ambrosia, a trial was established which involved planting native vegetation to the site in soil containing mined by-products.

After initial watering and establishment the vegetation continues to grow without assistance.

Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University, Blacksburg United States

Local landowners and farmers of prime farmland in Virginia, United States, were interested in the effects of soil disturbance from mineral sands mining on crop yields after mining ceased and rehabilitation occurred. The most significant reclamation challenges associated with soils after mining include heavy compaction and lack of organic matter, which together may restrict root growth and water holding.

Iluka established a partnership with researchers from Virginia Polytechnic Institute and the State University in Blacksburg, Virginia, to measure reclamation outcomes by comparing post mining crop yields with crop yields in adjacent undisturbed farmlands, and average crop yields in the surrounding region.

The experimental work began in 2004 with the establishment of a five hectare post mining plot, divided into four soil reclamation alternatives, including soil ripping treatments, biosolids as soil enhancements and re-application of topsoil. The land was managed intensively with cropping typical of the area and compared to a nearby undisturbed plot of prime farmland using identical cropping management techniques. The research has monitored results between 2004 and 2014, with the most results published in 2014.

Crop yields in the experimental plots have generally exceeded the local county average by at least 25 per cent although the plots had the benefit of irrigation and the county average includes irrigated and non irrigated land. The plot yields were typically reduced by 25 to 40 per cent when compared to the undisturbed plot of prime farmland of very high productivity. The research programme has demonstrated over the period, a return to pre mining cropping productivity levels of at least 90 per cent may be possible.