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Vale halts tailings disposal at Brucutu dam as it outlines dry stacking investments

Vale says it has taken the decision to temporarily suspend the disposal of tailings at the Laranjeiras dam, part of the Brucutu iron ore mine, in Minas Gerais, Brazil, while assessing the dam’s geotechnical characteristics.

During the shutdown, the dam will have the Level 1 emergency protocol adopted, Vale said. This does not require the evacuation of the downstream population, according to the National Mining Agency.

The Laranjeiras dam had its Statement of Condition of Stability issued on September 30, 2019, which remains valid, Vale clarified.

During the suspension period – estimated at 1-2 months – the Brucutu plant will operate with around 40% of its capacity through wet processing with tailings filtration and dry stacking, Vale said. This will reduce output by some 1.5 Mt/mth of iron ore.

The temporary stoppage does not lead to changes in Vale’s iron ore and pellet sales guidance, which remains, in 2019 and in the December quarter, at 307-312 Mt and 83-88 Mt, respectively.

For the March quarter 2020, production and sales are expected to range between 68-73 Mt, due to weather-related seasonality, the gradual and safe return of operations and in line with the margin over volume strategy, it said.

Despite this setback, Vale executives reiterated its ambitious ‘dry processing’ tailings plan at its Vale Day event in New York, yesterday.

The company said, in its Northern System, 81% of iron ore production was already through the dry processing route, while the Minas Gerais division had 32% of production through such means. Vale plans to convert 70% of its output to dry processing by 2023, compared with 60% today.

The company is investing $1.8 billion between 2020 and 2024 to help with this dry stacking aim, with the main sites operating converting to this solution being the Cauê, Conceição and Brucutu operations.

In addition to this, Vale executives said the company plans to produce the world’s first industrial-scale dry magnetic fines concentrate through the dry concentration innovations it acquired with New Steel in 2018. Vale plans to spend $100 million for 1.5 Mt/y of dry product, with start-up planned in 2022, according to the executives.

In addition to this, Vale said it had moved up its renewable energy plans at its operations and now intended to power its Brazil mines by only renewable means by 2025, compared with its previous 2030 goal. It would go global with 100% renewables by 2030, it added.