Telematics, desalination, renewable energies and technologies to recover minerals attached to rocks are just a few of the innovations that have set Chilean mining ahead of the curve in terms of exports and process-linked innovations.
Chile is internationally renowned for its mining potential. In fact, our country produces 28% of the world’s copper. According to a recent Imagen de Chile survey, 25% of the people interviewed in twelve cities around the world acknowledged Chile for its copper and derivatives. Over the past decade, Chilean mining has transformed the way that it operates, through developments that include improved technology and sustainability.
According to Chile’s National Mining Policy, the goal is for half of the industry to be operating with renewable energies by 2030 and for other green mining projects to keep moving forward, such as the diversification of water sources for extractive processes. One of the biggest challenges for the Chilean mining industry is how to confront the water shortage. 70% of the water used currently comes from inland sources, while 30% comes from seawater. Its is expected that mining will use 53% inland water and 47% seawater by 2031.
Various desalination plants are taking Chile in this direction. Among them is the Escondida Mining Company’s Escondida Water Supply (EWS) desalination plant, located in Puerto Coloso, Antofagasta. Opened in 2018, it is the largest desalination plant in South America and one of the largest in the world by capacity (2,500 liters or 660 gallons per second).
According to Mining Council figures, the sector already operates with 50% renewable energy. Some companies even operate with 100% green energy. Others have also added electric vehicles to their fleet in order to reduce diesel emissions and the mining sector has become the second largest to use electric buses after the public transport sector.
The reutilization of mining waste is another area that is being explored. An example is Innovations in Mining, the first Chilean company specializing in rescuing the copper that remains attached to rocks using artificial intelligence. An intelligent scanner (similar to the size of a container) is used to identify rocks that still have copper and the mineral is removed using compressed air valves. Up to 40% of the mineral can be recovered using this process, equivalent to US$ 20 million.
Remote handling, telematics and information processing have also been at the center of mining innovation.
In December, the Radomiro Tomic Division of Codelco (the National Copper Corporation of Chile), located in the municipality of Calama, began the first 5G pilot program in the mining industry. The program allows the mine to be connected to the Strategic Integrated Operations Center (CIO-E) at the company headquarters in Santiago. The pilot project involves the installation of a high-definition camera in the Radomiro Tomic Division, which is connected to a 5G network. The camera transmits images that allow logistical data, such as the waiting and unloading times of materials, to be processed immediately, in order to analyze and optimize processes.
The public-private National Center for Piloting Technologies for Mining (CNP) tests technological prototypes and innovations, with support from Chile’s Economic Development Agency, CORFO. They are then used in mining operations once they have gained industry approval. The CNP has technical resources and infrastructure in the Metropolitan, O’Higgins and Antofagasta regions in order to conduct these tests.
Telematics is another area that is being explored. At the end of 2020, Gold Fields carried out the first telematic satellite tests for the Chilean mining industry, focused on its Salares Norte project in Diego de Almagro in the Atacama Region. The tests showed that it is possible to connect technologies located thousands of kilometers away, in isolated areas within satellite reach, through mobile equipment.
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