Gideon Steyl, Principal Engineer

Gideon Steyl, Principal Engineer

Gideon joined the Brisbane office in 2019, bringing a skillset of project management and technical analysis for water and waste management. With diverse technical skills that include mine hydrogeology, geochemistry, water treatment, environmental engineering, and data analytics, he specialises in implementing practical project solutions and solving complex issues.

Hi Gideon, you have a diverse background that started as an academic?

Yes, my career began in South Africa as an Associate Professor at The University of the Free State, where I obtained my PhD in Geohydrology. I guided a research team at the Institute of Groundwater Studies and completed numerous consulting projects. With my background in applied mathematics, hydrogeology, and chemistry, I would say I am a generalist with a particular interest in mine water and waste management.

Over my career, I have found that the fundamental value of chemistry is not fully appreciated as it relates to structural consideration and is a point of difference in the work I do. What makes me tick is providing high-level technical input that protects the environment and gives sustainable outcomes.

Why is understanding chemistry important to water and waste design?

Much of the engineering work we undertake requires a background in chemistry, especially considering erosion, corrosion, clogging and long-term stability. We have to consider what happens when water reacts with waste and construction materials. That is something we find clients don’t always consider at the outset in siting a waste facility.

Chemistry is an essential element of effective closure as it directly impacts air and water quality. There are critical risk and environmental impact considerations to be made when assessing what is feasible in the short and long term. All design work needs to hold up under extreme conditions.

The recent IPCC Climate Change Report brings attention to what is above the earth’s surface, which is essential. However, as engineers, we are very aware of what is happening under the surface, such as seismicity and hydrogeology. We need to plan for 1 in 5,000 or 1 in 10,000-year earthquake events and the potential interaction between groundwater and seepage in foundations.

How are clients adapting to the shift to long term thinking?

I believe clients are taking these changes very seriously. Mining clients, in particular, are considering what happens downstream from the mine in terms of longevity and social responsibilities. The eventual closure of the mine is something they want to get right, and that starts at the beginning.

We are seeing that ‘The Global Industry Standard on Tailings Management’ (GISTM) released in 2020 is positively impacting the way clients approach long-term planning. There are now key principles that very clearly explain the local and international standards. The mining principles set by the International Council on Mining and Metals (ICMM) is another benchmark. These two codes have fundamentally the same aim. I enjoy working in the mining arena, so it is rewarding to be witnessing this alignment and change.

How does Australia differ from South Africa in these approaches?

South Africa is more unified and has firm regulatory boundaries that apply to the entire country. In contrast, Australia has different State mandates and guidelines. There are areas in Australia with very poor water quality by default, and extensive studies are required to set regulatory objectives. In South Africa, benchmarks are simpler to achieve, but there can be issues in obtaining the required standards if the water quality is poor to begin with. In both countries, zero discharge of water is always the critical benchmark to measure the success of a site.

How do you find the variety of work in Australia?

The work in Australia is breathtaking in variety! In Queensland, I work on projects that move from water treatment to tailings chemistry to capping design. It is a vast field of work, and I enjoy the opportunity to contribute across these disciplines. ATC Williams is a dynamic working environment with the opportunity to work with the full extent of engineering and science disciplines in a project.

I prefer the collegial environment at ATC Williams. Projects are approached as a team with input from experts in each field, but we all share in finding the right solutions for our clients. At all times, we are considering safety and the impact of our design work on the environment and communities. Families are a very important part of the ATC Williams’ culture. We understand that everyone needs a safe place to work and go home to at the end of the day. Our work needs to achieve that goal for areas where we deliver projects.

Speaking of family, tell us a bit about your life away from work.

Liza, my wife, is a laboratory manager and a chemist, and we arrived in Australia in 2012. We have three children and another one on the way! My mum lives with us too to make up our extended family. After hours I like to make furniture, and I also tinker with 3D printing and metalwork. I volunteer for the Redlands Museum as a traditional blacksmith and enjoy learning the craft. It’s a very messy labour of love at times. We restore artifacts and make items like metal ANZAC poppies to sell in the gift shop. If you are ever visiting, drop by the workshop and say hello.

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