Tag Archives: Centinela

Antofagasta’s automation and electrification journey bearing fruit

Antofagasta’s purpose of ‘Developing Mining for a Better Future’ has seen the Chile-based copper producer lead from the front in terms of the adoption of both automation and electrification.

The company launched a digital roadmap all the way back in 2017, which, over the following years, has seen it advance projects to automate blasthole drills and haulage trucks, leverage remote operation centres and integrate advanced data analytics into its decision-making process.

Backed by a digitally-literate talent pool and underwritten by a series of roadmap and plans, Antofagasta is setting itself up for the long term.

When it comes to electrification, the company has played a key role in furthering research on the use of hydrogen fuel cells in haulage applications on mine site conditions. It has also signed up as a patron in the Charge On Innovation Challenge, being one of 19 companies looking to accelerate commercialisation of interoperable solutions that can safely deliver electricity to large battery-electric off-road haul trucks.

Outside of consortium projects, it has announced plans to also study and test the development of battery-powered trucks at its Antucoya operation and has outlined plans for a trolley assist pilot project at the Los Pelambres copper mine in Chile.

And, in April 2022, the company reached the goal of all its mines operating on fully renewable power.

Alan Muchnik, VP Strategy & Innovation for Antofagasta, says all of these developments epitomise the company’s overarching aims.

“The objective we have is to develop the next generation of mining practices to enable growth and reduce our company’s environmental footprint,” he told IM.

In addition to the digital roadmap the company outlined five years ago, Antofagasta has been carrying out all its electrification projects under the guise of an Electromobility Plan – part of its wider climate change strategy.

Following the achievement of its previous emissions reduction target of cutting both its Scope 1 and Scope 2 carbon dioxide emissions by 300,000 tonnes of CO2e between 2018 and 2022 – a goal it achieved two years early – the company set a more ambitious target in 2021. This is looking to achieve carbon neutrality by 2050 – in line with Chile’s national commitment – and reduce emissions by 30% by 2025, relative to 2020 performance. One element of the company’s efforts to reduce emissions has, as mentioned, seen its operations run solely from renewable energy as of April this year.

According to Antofagasta’s own calculations, in 2020, two-thirds of its greenhouse gas emissions from diesel combustion were attributable to its mine haulage trucks.

Komatsu 980E-5 trucks at Esperanza Sur (part of Centinela)

“In this respect, Antofagasta is actively participating in initiatives that seek to replace the diesel used by mining haulage trucks,” Muchnik said.

“As part of that electromobility roadmap, we have considered our participation in early-adoption projects with a view to pilot and scale promising technologies.”

With the HYDRA Consortium – which includes Antofagasta, ENGIE, Mining3, CSIRO Chile, Liebherr and Mitsui & Co – specifically, the company has been one of the driving forces of hydrogen haulage adoption on mine site conditions.

It has confirmed that it will test a fuel cell and battery powertrain propulsion system at its Centinela mine, with the first HYDRA prototype expected to start functional testing shortly. This will allow Antofagasta to assess the powertrain’s behaviour and performance under real mine conditions, including at high altitude with suspended dust. It will also help establish technical and safety protocols for hydrogen use at scale in mining, which will be vital for the fuel’s successful deployment across the industry.

The trolley assist project at Los Pelambres under study, meanwhile, consists of implementing a trolley system on, first, uphill ramps. This will consist of one lane of a two-lane ramp, which will allow for trucks coming behind to leave the trolley and overtake a stopped truck still on the line.

“Some of these projects may bring an early opportunity to transform specific sites as we transition towards the longer-term prevailing solution to implement at our sites and help reduce our Scope 1 footprint,” Muchnik said.

“Each mine has their unique characteristics and different technologies may become more attractive depending on those characteristics or may become complementary in enabling that diesel replacement.”

Of course, automating the haulage and blasthole drilling processes will help the company reduce its Scope 1 emissions through more efficient operations. It will also help offset some of the higher costs of inputs and inflation that come with operating in Chile.

Similarly, all of Antofagasta’s sites have strong data analytics teams to identify opportunities for efficiency gains and continuous improvement.

Reflecting on the gradual rollout of automation across the company’s operations, Muchnik referred to the overarching roadmap the company outlined in 2017.

“This roadmap considered different strategic programs with rollout options that improve productivity and safety, with automation being a relevant dimension,” he said. “It was built on the concept of knowledge transfer to enable other companies of the group to benefit and learn from the experiences at specific sites.”

That has worked from the looks of it, going from Epiroc Pit Viper autonomous drill deployments at Los Pelambres to the rollout of the technology at Esperanza Sur (part of Centinela).

A fleet of 11 autonomous electric drive Komatsu 980E-5 trucks have also gone live at Esperanza Sur over this time frame.

“Another good part of that is the Integrated Remote Operating Centres (IROC) we have setup to support these operations,” Muchnik said. “We recently opened an IROC for Centinela in the city of Antofagasta and, following the same transfer process, Los Pelambres is expected to go live with their IROC here in Santiago, in the second half of 2022.”

Integrated Remote Operations Centre for Centinela, based in the city of Antofagasta

Muchnik says one of the many benefits of the IROCs is the ability to attract and retain talent for Antofagasta’s operations.

“It is not just about bringing in new talent but working with our people to be allow them to move with this transformation and become digitally literate to help us prepare for an autonomous and remotely-operated future,” he said.

An in-house digital academy that Muchnik and his colleagues launched in 2020 has been vital in this process.

“It has enabled a different mindset within our workforce, preparing them for the transition through training and learning.

“This has ensured all of our employees go through the journey with us.”

Antofagasta readies primary sulphide leaching technology options

The ability to leach primary copper sulphides has, on many occasions, proved a hurdle too much, with conceptual work in the laboratory or pilot scale falling down on sub-economic or volatile recovery rates when working out in the field.

This problem tends to result in one of two things: new capital-intensive concentrators are brought into process these sulphides, or brownfield oxide operations are drafted up that prolong existing leaching operations for a few more years when – hopefully – copper prices are higher.

Antofagasta has come up with an alternative option that leverages chloride-based reagents and 20-years of knowledge leaching secondary sulphides.

Called Cuprochlor®-T, the proprietary process has undergone five years of intense development leading to the point that the company is now open to talking about its potential.

It leverages off the first iteration of leaching technology Antofagasta devised for secondary sulphides – Cuprochlor.

Cuprochlor, which is now working at the Michilla mine in Chile (which Antofagasta sold in 2016), effectively binds together the particles of mineral – particularly fine in the case of Michilla – into a porous but manageable material that can then be heap leached. The agglomeration is achieved by mixing the mineral and leach solution with chloride salts and sulphuric acid, which react to form a plaster-like paste.

Over the years, the process has been refined, going on to consistently deliver recovery rates of around 90%.

Sitting on an expansive base of primary sulphide resources – mainly chalcopyrite – and the success of Cuprochlor, Antofagasta, around five years ago, began a series of tests, adjusting variables such as temperature, reagent concentrations and particle size to see if the chloride leaching process could be adapted for the treatment of primary sulphides.

Temperature proved to be one of the keys, with tests showing that by elevating the temperature of the heap to around 30°C, Cuprochlor-T was able to stimulate the required chemical reaction for recovering copper from primary sulphides such as chalcopyrite.

Another key differentiator between the two chloride leaching technologies is the “reagent recipe” and particle size distribution (PSD), Alan Muchnik, VP Strategy & Innovation for Antofagasta, told IM.

“Providing a constant temperature throughout the process is very important, but the real innovation is the approach we have used,” he said. “It involves a combination of factors, including, among others, the recipe for reagent concentrations and the required PSD.”

While not wanting to reveal the ‘secret sauce’, Muchnik said the PSD consideration goes beyond the usual P80 industry reference point.

It is this balance that has landed the company with recoveries of over 70% after approximately 200 days of leaching on the heap in test work.

Muchnik expanded on this: “The Cuprochlor-T process, in simple terms, involves leaching in a chloride environment – where there are no passivation layer bonds. This allows for the copper, iron and chloride ions to react, which, at a controlled temperature, results in the economic production of copper.”

This is through three stages:

  • First up is an agglomeration stage where the necessary reagents are added and are left to rest at a constant aeration and temperature;
  • Second, the ore is irrigated intermittently with continued aeration, also maintained at a constant temperature; and
  • Finally, after 200 days, the ore completes the leaching cycle and allows the company to obtain recoveries of 70% copper or more.

What started with laboratory testing and progressed to pilot testing and a “semi-industrial” test on several different heaps at Centinela has recently concluded with an industrial test of over 40,000 t of primary sulphide material averaging 0.4% Cu – containing more than 90% chalcopyrite – that, using the same process outlined by Muchnik, showed consistent recoveries of over 70%, he said.

Alan Muchnik, VP Strategy & Innovation for Antofagasta

Asked if the company is eyeing even higher recoveries that can compete with the levels Cuprochlor is achieving on secondary sulphides, Muchnik said it was all about an economic tradeoff.

“It may be possible to hit such a percentage [as Cuprochlor], but that is not the aim or expectation with the kinetics we are currently seeing in Cuprochlor-T,” he said. “There is always a tradeoff between the length of irrigation time, the PSD and the recoveries, all of which are related to capital costs, operating costs and the payback associated with the process.”

The Antofagasta planning and operations teams have now got their hands on the Cuprochlor-T ‘licence’ and will be busy outlining potential deployments for consideration in the company’s annual planning cycles.

There are some obvious places to start.

The Zaldívar open-pit, heap-leach copper mine, 175 km southeast of Antofagasta, is currently in the process of transitioning to chloride leaching operations with Cuprochlor.

The project, which includes an upgrade of the SX plant and the construction of new reagent facilities and additional washing ponds for controlling chlorine levels, was completed in January 2022 and is now being commissioned. It is set to boost copper recoveries by approximately 10 percentage points, increasing production at Zaldívar by around 10,000–15,000 t/y over the remaining life of mine.

“In addition to transitioning to chloride leaching with Cuprochlor for secondary sulphides, we are currently progressing studies for the primary sulphide orebody that currently lies below the Zaldívar reserves to prove if Cuprochlor-T leaching can work,” Muchnik said. “Within our resource base, there are approximately 460 Mt of primary sulphide resources declared here.”

Both Centinela and Antucoya have primary sulphide resources and existing heap leach and SX-EW facilities that would fit the Cuprochlor-T blueprint too.

Muchnik said: “One of the technology attractions of Cuprochlor-T is the ability to use otherwise idle leach pad and SX-EW capacity. That it is the scale limitation at our current operations, but the technology can be gradually deployed within a plant that is already adapted for chloride leaching, phasing this in during the life of mine to fit requirements.

“It provides an ongoing adoption process option rather than an immediate infrastructure project that sees an operation shift from oxide leaching to a different kind of heap leaching in one go.”

The advent of Cuprochlor-T does not mean the company will completely drop potential concentration projects, Muchnik clarified, highlighting the second concentrator project currently subject to a feasibility study at Centinela.

In addition to the capital and operating cost benefits that would come with Cuprochlor-T over the concentration route, there is likely to be a sustainability benefit.

“It’s only an indicative reference as each case is different, but you would expect the energy consumption associated with Cuprochlor-T leaching and SX-EW treatment to be less than half of the normal route of copper concentration and SX-EW,” Muchnik said.

In this respect, it is a favourable consideration for Antofagasta’s long-term carbon-neutral goals.

While each potential Cuprochlor-T implementation will have to go through corresponding project studies, Muchnik was confident in predicting that new copper from Cuprochlor-T would be produced this decade.

With five years of substantial testing under its belt, not many metallurgists would bet against him.

Centinela becomes first Antofagasta mine to gain Copper Mark credentials

Centinela, in Chile, has become the first of the Antofagasta’s mines to obtain the international Copper Mark, an assurance framework that certifies the company operates under strict internationally recognised sustainable production standards, the copper miner says.

Zaldívar (owned 50:50 by Antofagasta and Barrick Gold) expects to obtain the Copper Mark next month and the group’s other two mining operations, Los Pelambres and Antucoya, will shortly begin their own certification processes, Antofagasta said.

Iván Arriagada, Chief Executive Officer of Antofagasta plc, said: “The importance of obtaining this certification lies in Antofagasta’s commitment to modern and sustainable mining, which transparently incorporates the best practices of the global mining industry.”

Inspired by the UN Sustainable Development Goals, the Copper Mark takes a comprehensive approach to sustainability and includes the verification of activities at the sites where copper is produced, the miner said. To this end, it requires compliance with 32 criteria in five categories: business and human rights, community, labour and working conditions, environment and governance.

Copper Mark follows up its original certification with a further review within one year, and then every three years thereafter to certify ongoing compliance with the criteria. In this way, Copper Mark offers workers, investors, copper end-users and communities a simple and credible way to verify sustainable practices, the company said.

Carlos Espinoza, General Manager of Centinela, said: “After a rigorous process, involving self-assessment and an independent audit, we are very proud to be the first mining operation in the company to obtain the Copper Mark, which certifies that our operating and other processes are carried out in accordance with the best sustainability practices in the industry.”

Renewable power on its way to Antofagasta’s Centinela mine

Antofagasta has signed a new power purchase agreement (PPA) with ENGIE Energía Chile SA that will see 100% of the power supplied to its Centinela copper operation, in Chile, come from renewable sources.

The contract, from 2022 until 2033, will replace two existing PPAs Antofagasta had in place that expire in 2026 and 2027. It will also see the company sell its indirect 40% interest in the Hornitos thermal power station to ENGIE, resulting in an attributable post-tax write down of some $43 million, it said.

After the write down, this new renewable energy contract will be value accretive as power costs will be significantly reduced in stages from 2020 onwards, Antofagasta noted.

Antofagasta’s CEO, Iván Arriagada, said: “With the completion of this agreement, from 2022, all our mining division’s power will be from renewable sources, and at a lower cost as well. This is an important step in achieving our target to reduce our carbon emissions by 300,000 t by 2022.”

Wenco fleet management solution to monitor, control production at Antofagasta’s Centinela

Thiess has chosen the Wenco Mine Performance Suite to run its operations at Antofagasta’s Centinela copper mine in northern Chile.

Centinela sits 1,350 km north of Santiago in the Antofagasta Region of Chile. Antofagasta Minerals has contracted Thiess, the world’s largest mining contractor, to develop the Encuentro Oxides pit, which will contribute to the mine’s production of 50,000 t/y of copper cathode for a planned lifespan of 15 years.

To monitor and control this production, Thiess is leveraging the Wencomine fleet management system. The system will optimise productivity and efficiency across the pit’s 56 active units, including 12 high-precision loading units and five high-precision drill rigs, according to Wenco.

Wenco’s data solutions are designed to boost productivity, decrease operating costs, extend equipment life, and give mining companies actionable insights into their operations. Its Mine Performance Suite consists of systems for fleet management, high-precision machine guidance, predictive maintenance, collision avoidance, and mining business intelligence.

Unlike other solution providers, Wenco, a Hitachi Group Company since 2009, has designed its systems with an “open systems philosophy” that, it says, “empowers customers to freely integrate systems to support their unique business processes, data requirements, and reporting needs”.

Thiess chose Wenco for its reputation in delivering strong production functionality and a streamlined implementation process with minimal impact on day-to-day mine operations, it said.

Wenco said: “Expanding the business relationship with Thiess in South America is strategically important for Wenco as well. Contractor-operated sites are common throughout the region and they stand as a significant growth market for the company. Likewise, contractor partnerships form a key part of the open and interoperable ecosystem of partners pushed by Wenco and its parent company, Hitachi Construction Machinery.”

Wenco Regional Manager — Latin America, José Eugenio Saravia, said: “We’re very pleased to implement the Wenco Mine Performance Suite at the Encuentro Oxides development.

“Wenco has worked with Thiess at various mining developments around the world and our solutions are ideal for the productivity improvements and ease of deployment they require. We’re looking forward to a long and profitable business together.”

This sale is another boon to Wenco in the region, following recent sales to Chinchillas and Pucamarca mines and a new partnership with Brazil mining solutions provider Tecwise.

“Contractors like Thiess are a major growth area for Wenco and the industry as a whole. We’re seeing a great many more opportunities of this sort throughout Latin America,” Saravia says.

“As well, we’re seeing more and more customers excited to partner with a Hitachi-owned company like Wenco, who can deliver the reliability and support only available from a major OEM and global mining leader.”

Antofagasta backing ‘digital transformation’ of operations

Antofagasta, in its 2018 financial results, has promoted its innovation focus, saying it is critical to creating long-term value and being “a key enabler of safe, sustainable competitiveness and growth”.

One of the ways the company is seeking innovative solutions is through the increased use of data and technology, which it calls “the digitalisation of operations”.

Antofagasta said it is investing significantly in this area, which has an implementation budget of $40 million, to strengthen its technological platform, including critical operating systems and connectivity.

The company has also applied advanced data analytics at its processing plants to better understand and improve their performance.

In the meantime, it said work was underway on the design of a Remote Centre that will allow integrated operations management at its Centinela operation in Chile. Service provider Wood is currently preparing a prefeasibility study for this technologically-advanced integrated operations centre, which includes cloud data storage and information management for its operations, easily accessible from anywhere in the world.

Antofagasta continued: “It’s not just at the operating level that there are benefits of improved data.

“Los Pelambres constantly monitors its tailings deposits and, as part of the Programa Tranque project, expects to start releasing the monitoring results online early next year. This will provide the community with real time information, helping to build trust between ourselves and our neighbours,” the company said.

Programa Tranque contemplates the development of an online monitoring system of tailing deposits to transmit, process and broadcast, in a user-friendly way, updated physical and chemical indicators of the deposits.

It incorporates the best available technologies and innovative mechanisms for the measurement of critical parameters and variables, as well as an information management platform to communicate information to authorities, mining companies, and the community, allowing an early warning system to be activated ahead of potential emergency situations.

In addition to Antofagasta, BHP and Codelco are partnering on this five-year programme that seeks to position Chile as the leading country in information transparency related to the performance of its tailing deposits.

Thiess builds on South America first with Antofagasta contract extension in Chile

CIMIC Group’s global mining services provider, Thiess, has been awarded a A$420 million ($303 million) contract extension by Antofagasta Minerals (AMSA) to continue operations at the Encuentro open pit in northern Chile.

Thiess will continue to provide mining services for another four years as part of the contract with a scope of works comprised of drilling, load and haul, mobile equipment maintenance and mine services.

The original 2015 contract with AMSA was Thiess’ first in South America.

Douglas Thompson, CIMIC Group Executive Mining and Mineral Processing and Thiess Managing Director, said: “Since commencing operations in 2015, we have moved over 70 million cubic metres, a first for Thiess in South America. This has been possible through the team’s focus on efficiency and productivity and working collaboratively with our client.”

Planned future improvements at the mine include investment in maintenance infrastructure, a fleet management system and transfer to Thiess of short-term mine planning responsibilities, CIMIC said.

Earlier this month, the Thiess Centinela operation was announced as winners of the ‘National Geology and Mining Service Award’ for safety performance by the Chilean government.

The Encuentro Oxides deposit came into production at AMSA’s Centinela mine in the last quarter of 2017. It is expected to produce an average of approximately 43,000 t/y of copper cathode over an eight-year period, using the existing capacity at Centinela’s SX-EW plant.