SANTIAGO (Reuters) - Anglo American, one of the world’s top miners, says productivity could jump by as much as a third at its Chilean copper mines within three years as it rolls out new technologies, the head of the company’s copper division said in an interview.
Copper chief Hennie Faul said Anglo American was re-tooling its smaller, lower output El Soldado mine in central Chile this year for use as an experimental technology center, allowing it to conduct full-scale testing of new products and ideas in real-time.
“This is not just incremental. It can have increases in productivity of between 20 to 30 percent,” he said, adding the technologies were still in the testing stage and that their effectiveness would vary by deposit.
The project lends itself to potentially game-changing productivity improvements at Anglo American’s main copper interests in Chile: Los Bronces and Collahuasi. Both are among the world’s top-producing copper mines.
Miners across the world are scrambling to incorporate high tech fixes and efficiencies into their operations, from artificial intelligence to machine learning, to boost efficiency as their use of water, land and energy are increasingly scrutinized.
Faul said the combination of coarse particle recovery and dry stacking, two techniques used to boost efficiency and reduce processing waste, could also lead to 50 percent savings in water use.
“That will give us further organic growth just from our existing operations. We’ve got the scale and volume to do that,” he told Reuters ahead of a major copper conference in Santiago.
The company in December filed for an environmental permit at Collahuasi, a joint venture with Glencore and one of the world’s largest copper mines, to extend the life of the deposit with an estimated $3.2 billion investment.
Faul said the company would also seek to expand Los Bronces but had yet to file for permits.
The brownfield expansions would not come at the expense of new exploration, he said, adding the company was currently exploring in Chile, Brazil, Ecuador, Australia, Finland and Zambia.
“In Brazil, we’ve staked out 37,000 kilometers. We did that fairly quickly in the last 18 months,” he said, noting it was still early but that “there could be significant potential there.”
Anglo clinched hundreds of permits last June to explore for copper in a remote part of northern Brazil.
Faul said the Vale tailings dam disaster in Brazil marked a turning point for the industry, but said neither Chilean nor Peruvian authorities had asked Anglo American to boost safeguards at tailings dams at new or existing mines.
He noted that upstream tailings dams, the riskiest kind, have been banned in Chile since 1960. “We didn’t have to put any additional measures in place,” he said.
Anglo’s plans for both brownfield and greenfield expansion would be underpinned by a steady copper price, which Faul said he expects to stay stable through the next 18 months.
“I don’t foresee a wave of sudden demand with supply falling short, but I do see gradual copper demand to be strong for the longer term,” he said.
Reporting by Dave Sherwood and Fabian Cambero; Editing by Chizu Nomiyama