Codelco tech revamp to make low-grade copper ore mining profitable

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Chilean state copper company Codelco expects a technological transformation project it is undergoing from 2010-14 to enable the company to produce copper from low-grade mineral that was previously not profitable to do so, Codelco CIO Marco Orellana told BNamericas.

Speaking in Santiago on the sidelines of an event organized by Chilean IT organization Acti, Orellana said that in the US, companies tend not to work with ore of grade lower than 0.6%, but that working with very low grade mineral could be a reality in Chile in the near future.

"With the technology we have today, you can't operate a deposit with grades of less than 0.2%. With the technology we are going to have, it will be possible," Orellana said.

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"Deposits with grades of 0.5%, of course, will be much more profitable - operational costs will fall. What you achieve [with the technology] is efficiency, lower cost and greater speed. The time needed from when you extract the mineral to when you have the finished product will be shorter, so the return on investment will be faster."

Codelco is undergoing a technological transformation in all of its divisions, implementing a range of technologies that allow automation, robotization and digitalization in different areas of operations. Orellana said the IT budget for this year is some US$25mn.

Besides greater efficiency, improvements will touch on safety by distancing personnel from dangerous areas. Trucks carrying mineral will be unmanned and able to operate in low-visibility conditions that were previously prohibitive through using anti-collision technology.

Special applications will be able to monitor life signs and the stability of areas being mined.

Codelco is working with companies like Microsoft (Nasdaq: MSFT), Cisco (Nasdaq: CSCO) and Oracle (Nasdaq: ORCL).

Japanese telecommunications company Nippon Telegraph and Telephone (NTT) is installing lighting and also a WiMax wireless communications network in all of the mines, which will enable workers to keep in constant contact with not only other colleagues, but also their families using social networks, Orellana said.

The WiMax network is partially deployed and due for completion in mid-2012, the executive said.

NTT and Codelco formed a technology joint venture in 2006 called MiCoMo, designed to build specific IT solutions for the mining sector.