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Performance testing before specifying a tailings dam case study

Paper title: Research and Analysis of Geosynthetics For a Tailings Storage Application

Authors - Marc Amtsberg, John Buckley and Chris Lane


This paper describes the benefits of using performance based geosynthetic testing for a copper and gold tailings storage operation in South Australia.  This particular location requires strict environmental controls in a sensitive environment.  Consultation between the designer and Geofabrics occurred early during the approvals process to provide geosynthetic design guidance on the tailings storage facility site and design.  The regulatory requirements had two aims  

1. To provide a primary under-drainage collection system via a tri-planar geocomposite drainage system and
2. To provide a low permeability barrier in the form of a clay liner or geomembrane.

In the preliminary design stage of this tailings storage facility, technical issues were addressed through a number of options.  Refinement of the options and selection of the final design required project specific testing to demonstrate its effectiveness. 

The selected option comprised of a double HDPE geomembrane with a tri-planar drainage geonet as a leak detection system.  The over-drainage on the top liner comprised of another tri-planar drainage geonet overlain by a geotextile in order to meet flow requirements.

A tri-planar HDPE geonet was used to enable in-plane flow rate to be maintained at high compressive loads. A thorough laboratory evaluation of the proposed tailings storage under-drainage and lining system was carried out by the Geosynthetic Centre of Excellence laboratory to establish equivalent or superior performance of the chosen materials compared to the original design options.  

The use of geosynthetics in primary tailings drainage systems must be a design-for-function process as index specifications do not address the range of performance criteria found onsite. Geotextiles must consider clogging potential for each tailings medium as segregation risk and precipitation properties may have an unwanted influence on filter performance.

Geosynthetic performance testing should be considered early in the project design stage. A robust testing regime can be a key part of the approvals process providing the client with design alternatives that consider and control engineering risk and project economics. 

For more information on performance testing of geosynthetics in tailings dams, please contact Marc Amtsberg on
07 5594 8600 or at This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it

I would like more info.

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