Brine Challenge
Brine Challenge

Innovative ideas from around the world

In order to find sustainable solutions to current challenges, innovations are indispensable. Crowdsourcing is a good method in this context because it uses the "wisdom of the many". K+S recently used it to find new ideas and innovative proposals for dealing with tailings water.

Brine Challenge: Innovative solutions for reducing tailings pile water

Halde Hattorf
Experiment to cover the Hattorf tailings pile at the Werra plant

Saltwater - or "brine" - occurs when rainwater meets tailings piles: the precipitation washes salts out of these potash piles. K+S is working intensively to minimize the build-up of tailings piles and all associated environmental impacts. In autumn 2018, we started the "Brine Challenge": We invited scientists and institutes as well as private individuals to present us with their ideas for sustainable solutions. Over 40 proposals from 16 countries were submitted.

A jury of external and K+S experts selected two winners: a US chemical engineer and an Australian scientist. Because of their ideas, they were each awarded 20,000 euros.

The wisdon of the many

Gewinner USA Kevin Joback
Kevin Joback (left) receives the winner's check of the Brine Challenge.

The American Kevin Joback from Bedford (New Hampshire) suggests using special water-storing polymers to reduce the formation of tailings pile water. These could store the rainwater and later release it into the air. This would prevent salts from entering the groundwater.

Thomas Baumgartl from Churchill, Victoria, Australia, had the idea of applying a water-repellent surface to the salt residues. This coating is also intended to prevent residues from being absorbed by rainwater.

Gewinner Australien Thomas Baumgartl
Thomas Baumgartl (left) accepts the winner's check of the Brine Challenge.

K+S has been working on covering tailings piles for a long time. Our experts have developed promising processes in recent years. The ideas that have now won awards do not involve any new covering techniques, but do provide approaches for possibly improving existing processes at K+S.

Award-winning proposals are now being tested

In the next step, we will subject the two award-winning proposals to further analyses and practical tests. One of the two ideas will soon be tested as part of an ongoing project using the thin-film process developed by K+S to cover tailings piles. We will initially subject the second proposal to a more detailed technical and economic analysis in order to check its feasibility.

We are extremely satisfied with the results of the "Brine Challenge". We will continue to use this and other collaborative formats in the future in order to increase the innovative strength of K+S. At the same time, we are seeking dialogue with people who would like to work together with us on sustainable solutions.

You can see a summary of the Brine Challenge and information about the two winners in this video:

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K+S Aktiengesellschaft Communications & Brands
Michael Wudonig
Spokesman for corporate topics
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