Codelco and contractor Aguas Horizonte look ahead to desal plant ramp-up

A field visit to the place where the first Codelco desalination plant will be located was carried out this week by representatives of the state mining company; along with Aguas Horizonte, the company developing the project – made up of Marubeni and Transelec; as well as regional authorities and representatives from the local community.

The desalination plant work began last May. It will located 14 km south of Tocopilla, and will cross the communes of Tocopilla, María Elena and Calama. It will supply water to the Codelco operations of the Northern District (Chuquicamata, Radomiro Tomic and Ministro Hales) in Calama and will operate by reverse osmosis, with an initial capacity of 840 litres per second (l/s) but with the potential to expand to 1,956 l/s. The construction of the plant includes maritime works and an underground pipeline with pumping system that will travel more than 160 km towards the mountains.

Seawater will be collected 700 m from the coast and, after the desalination process, the brine will be returned 500 m from the coast, which Codelco says will guarantee a minimal impact on the marine ecosystem. In addition, Codelco’s use of continental water will be reduced by 27%, in an area of ​​water scarcity.

The President of the Codelco board of directors, Máximo Pacheco, affirmed that “in view of the global climate emergency, it is urgent for Chile that large-scale copper mining stop using the 3% of continental water that it requires for its processes, of which Codelco uses approximately half.”

For his part, the General Manager of Aguas Horizonte, Alex Miquel, highlighted that, as Aguas Horizonte, they are proud to have started the construction phase of the project. “Our efforts are focused on carrying out the construction phase from here until the end of 2025 without accidents, and always taking care of the relationship with our neighbours in the Tocopilla commune. We have already taken the first steps by including more than 15 Tocopilla supplier companies and service providers in our value chain, and incorporating the first 25 Tocopilla workers into our workforce. These objectives, together with our commitment to care for the environment, are a fundamental part of our charter of values,” he emphasised.

Arturo Le Blanc, General Manager of Transelec, stressed that, through Aguas Horizonte, “we are developing our company’s first business in the non-electrical sector, which will allow us to diversify our portfolio and participate with more investments in other sectors of the economy , through the construction of linear infrastructure for mining and/or industrial clients.”

Yoshiaki Yokota, CEO of Marubeni Corporation’s Energy & Infrastructure Solution Group, commented: “Having a vision of pioneering ‘green’ business for a sustainable future, we will ensure the successful execution and completion of this important desalination project by making the most of our capacity and global experiences acquired since the mid-1990s, involving plants with a total desalination capacity of 2.5 million cubic metres per day, equivalent to approximately 28,000 litres per second worldwide.”

With a focus on local development, the project, whose construction is expected to start operating in the first quarter of 2026, will employ around 2,700 people at its peak of activity, including its own staff and subcontractors, and priority will be given to the hiring of suppliers and labor of work in the region for its implementation. The working life of the project is almost 30 years.