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Seawater in Chile's mines: a pumping issue

Bnamericas Published: Wednesday, June 01, 2016
Seawater in Chile's mines: a pumping issue

Chile's mining industry is increasingly turning to the use of seawater for operations. According to the most recent report on the issue by state copper commission Cochilco , the use of seawater - both desalinated and used untreated - is expected to quadruple by 2026 to 10.7m3/s from the 2.5m3/s recorded in 2015.

Given Chile's particular geography, one key aspect of using seawater is to pump it from the coast to the high altitudes of the Andes, where the majority of mining facilities are located.

One of the companies looking into this is GE, which recently presented a new system comprised of a high-performance pump and medium-velocity diesel-powered engine, which increases the efficiency of the overall pumping system.

To learn more about this, BNamericas talked to Ignacio Goic, senior mining application engineer at GE Energy.

BNamericas: What are the main challenges that mining facilities face when operating with seawater?

Goic: The seawater pumping projects have really become energy projects, given the need for power to pump seawater to the mines. Therefore, the biggest challenge is to have a reliable system with low operating costs that will allow the costs of a key mining supply, water, to be reduced.

BNamericas: What's the situation in Chile's mining industry on this issue?

Goic: The current situation is a complex one. The mining projects require water at the lowest cost possible, but given the current prices of commodities and key supplies, like water and energy, several projects have been postponed.

BNamericas: What is GE Mining's proposal for water pumps for the mining industry?

Goic: For water pumping projects, both desalinated and non-desalinated water, we identified a niche of projects in which we can maximize our portfolio, providing an integrated and complete solution to our clients. This solution includes the integration of all of the pump's basic components (motor and pump), as well the auxiliary systems to make the operation safe and efficient.

Given that pump projects include other equipment that is usually tendered separately (like civil works, pipelines and other structures), we deliver the entire pumping skid to be installed by the construction firm on top of the station foundations. Our proposal also includes start-up and training for operations.

BNamericas: Is it possible to install these water pumps in areas with no electricity?

Goic: Of course, and we've delivered a pumping solution for an off-the-grid project. For this type of project it's necessary to first do an analysis of the minimum distance from where the grid is supposed to be so that the project can be profitable. Once that is done, we configure the pumping system and then we integrate it with a medium-speed diesel engine (1000rpm) to increase the overall efficiency of the system (more so than using a standard 1,500rpm engine).

BNamericas: Is this technology unique to GE or do you have competition? What differentiates you from the competition?

Goic: The technology is not unique; in fact these systems have been used for many years in the oil and gas industry. The difference is that GE owns all of the components to deliver as a single solution [for the client's needs].

BNamericas: How do you see the Chilean market regarding the use of these pumps? Have you seen an increase in demand or interest?

Goic: The Chilean market is gradually realizing the importance of operating costs in pumping systems for the operation of mining projects. Therefore, to look at a pumping project solely from the point of view of the initial investment is not correct, you need to evaluate it together with its operating costs over the entire time horizon of a mining project (15, 20 or 30 years).

BNamericas: Is the technology being used at any operation?

Goic: We're currently installing it at two mining projects that are currently under construction, one of which is expected to be in operation by mid-2017.

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