Tag Archives: BHP Tailings Challenge

SMI-ICE-Chile projects taking on BHP Tailings Challenge

Two proposals supported by the Sustainable Minerals Institute’s International Centre of Excellence in Chile (SMI-ICE-Chile) are advancing to the second round of the BHP Tailings Challenge.

A global competition that aims to fundamentally change how the industry manages copper tailings, the BHP Tailings Challenge announced in January that 10 companies and consortia had been selected to advance to the laboratory test stage of the program. The challenge is seeking solutions and new business models to reuse copper tailings.

The SMI-ICE-Chile-supported proposals advancing to the proof-of-concept stage include one from the Solar Tailings Transformation (STT) Consortium, which SMI-ICE-Chile leads. This consortium is proposing a solution that integrates several solar thermal energy-powered processes to convert tailings material into a stable multi-purpose pellet and high-quality water.

SMI-ICE-Chile is also the local coordinator of the Recomine proposal, which is led by the Helmholtz-Institute Freiberg for Resource Technology and is focused on the development and integration of a series of modular processes to separate out valuable products from the tailings.

The BHP Tailings Challenge, supported by Fundación Chile through its Expande program, aims to promote and deliver new technological solutions and business models for reusing copper tailings, and will provide $10 million in grants to successful developers.

The teams advancing to the proof-of-concept stage are given a $50,000 grant and sample of tailings with which to validate their solutions at a laboratory level before demonstrating its technical and economic feasibility in a demo day in August 2021.

SMI-ICE-Chile Sustainability Leader, Dr Douglas Aitken, said both proposals are innovative solutions that have the potential to drive positive change in tailings management practices and generate considerable value to industry and society.

“The social and environmental issues associated with tailings represent a major challenge for the industry, but by replacing the traditional disposal-based approach with new and innovative value recovery solutions, we aim to eliminate the negative aspects of tailings and instead create social and economic benefits,” he said.

The BHP Tailings Challenge provides an opportunity to develop and test exciting new ideas that could result in the tailings management process becoming safer and an industry asset instead of a burden, SMI-ICE-Chile added.

Dr Felipe Saavedra, the STT project lead for the SMI-ICE-Chile team, explained the proposed concept and the expected benefits.

“The STT consortium is a multi-disciplinary group comprised of researchers from SMI-ICE-Chile, SMI, IMDEA Energy, SEENSO, and Aiguasol Latam,” he said. “The proposed concept aims to repurpose over 50% of operational tailings production using solar thermal energy to dewater the tailings and produce a stable and flexible end-product.

“It is a sustainable approach that takes a complex and difficult-to-handle mine waste and transforms it into a material that can be used by numerous local industries, such as construction, road building and agriculture. We expect that the recovered water will also have considerable value for local water users, its availability should offset freshwater extraction from natural resources, thereby protecting local ecosystems.”

Dr Saavedra concluded: “We hope that the solution will generate wide-spread social and economic development and we’re looking forward to testing the technologies with our partners in the coming months.”

BHP Tailings Challenge progresses to lab testing phase

Ten companies and consortia have been selected to advance to the laboratory test stage of the ‘BHP Tailings Challenge’, which is seeking solutions and new business models to reuse copper tailings.

The company’s call was launched on June 16, 2020, with a total of 154 applications from 19 countries received.

The challenge, conducted with the support of Fundación Chile through the open innovation program in mining, Expande, will make $10 million in grants available to developers.

The companies and consortia were announced last week in a virtual demo day, in which they presented their proposals to convert tailings into technologies or commercial products with a focus on: construction materials, fertilisers and artificial soils; generation of green hydrogen; development of “mineral paper”; low emission fibreglass and cement production; and the use of solar energy to concentrate minerals, among others.

The selected teams include:

  • Americas Tailings Inc (USA);
  • Auxilium Technology Group LLC (USA);
  • Brimstone Energy Inc (USA);
  • Circular Mine Consortium (Australia);
  • Helmholtz Institute Freiberg for Resource Technology (Germany);
  • Minera Valle Central SA (Chile);
  • Pontificia Universidad Católica de Chile (Chile);
  • Sustainable Minerals Institute International Centre of Excellence (Australia);
  • The University of New South Wales (Australia); and
  • Universidad de Valparaíso (Chile).

Selected companies and/or consortia will have a period of six months to validate their solutions at the laboratory level after receiving the tailings samples along with a $50,000 grant. Their results will be shown in a demo day in August 2021, demonstrating the technical and economic feasibility of their proposals, Expande said.

A maximum of three of the 10 teams will go through to a pilot test in a controlled environment. At this stage, it is expected that they will be able to prove their processes operate in an “integrated manner, are feasible at an industrial level, and their value proposition is commercially viable”.

Finally, there will be a demo day in March 2023, in which the winner(s) that have reached a feasible tailings reuse solution from a technical and investment point of view will be announced.

Carlos Ávila, Asset President Joint Ventures of BHP, said: “The selection process for this stage focused on identifying initiatives with a clear value proposition, a strong scientific and technological base and the potential to develop an accelerated scaling strategy. We hope that after 24 months it will be possible to move from idea to implementation of a sustainable business model for repurposing fresh tailings.”

Marcos Kulka, CEO of Fundación Chile, said the BHP Tailings Challenge methodology had allowed the company to capture the best solutions worldwide to solve a disruptive problem and leverage private capital for its development, mitigating innovation risks.

Kulka added: “We see that this can be replicated in transformational challenges in other industries. In this case, we had 154 applications from 19 countries, which is a clear demonstration that the innovation ecosystem responds to these challenges. It is important to note that a third of the applications and those selected for the proof of concept are Chilean teams which shows that there is well positioned local capability, able to compete on a global scale.”

Andrés Mitnik, Expande’s Business Director, said the 10 selected teams can demonstrate their ability to develop a new industry that allows significant progress in the sustainability of mining.

“This is a demonstration of how our methodology allows us to tackle disruptive challenges,” Mitnik said.