March 11, 2015
PENETRON Helps Bring in the Copper at Sierra Gorda
The seawater transportation system for the Sierra Gorda mine in Chile, one of the largest mines in the world, is now fully operational. Crucial for eliminating dust and helping to process copper ore in a region with no water, the pipelines and seawater storage structures remain intact and durable thanks to PENETRON technology.
The Sierra Gorda mine site is located in the Atacama Desert in Chile. This open-pit mine produces copper, molybdenum, and gold ore. It is estimated to be the world’s seventh largest copper development and, at full capacity, will process about 110,000 tons of ore every day and produce 120,000 tons of copper annually. It is also one of the largest molybdenum (used in steel alloys, such as stainless steel) producers in the world, averaging about 50 million pounds a year.
Seawater for the Mine
To ensure a secure water source in the extremely arid Atacama region, the Sierra Gorda mine uses seawater captured from the cooling systems of the Mejillones thermal electrical power plant, located on the coast of Chile. Instead of being discharged into the ocean, the seawater is transported inland to the mine through a 142km (95-mile) seawater pipeline.
At full production levels, the Sierra Gorda mine will use over 250 million liters (66 million gallons) of water daily, or about 92 billion liters (24 billion gallons) per year –more if the mine operations are expanded in the future.
“The Sierra Gorda mine is in one of the driest deserts in the world, where water is virtually non-existent. Securing a reliable water supply was a top priority,” adds Jozef Van Beeck, Director for International Sales & Marketing of the PENETRON Group.
Meeting Air Quality Standards
For both the mining team and the nearby Sierra Gorda village, controlling the level of dust emissions from the mine is crucial to comply with air quality standards. Sierra Gorda has implemented various measures (including seawater) to control dust emissions during production. Dust suppression sprays, covered stockpiles, and bagging technologies help maintain air quality while the ore is processed.
Sierra Gorda is a zero discharge facility, and the seawater and process solutions are fully contained and recycled on site; the environment and groundwater are not affected.
Looking for a Concrete Solution
Fluor, the general contractor also responsible for the project engineering, analyzed the mining technology – including galvanic protectors and corrosion inhibitors – to find a reliable construction solution with so much seawater.
PENETRON Chile worked with Fluor on the optimal concrete mix for the pipeline, seawater storage tanks and seawater processing structures. PENETRON ADMIX was added to over 60,000 m3 of concrete and PENETRON was applied to 6,000 m2 of concrete for the pipelines.
“Even with the challenge of large quantities of seawater, the PENETRON system proved to be an ideal solution for this project,” adds Mr. Van Beeck. “Our success at the Sierra Gorda mine confirms the effectiveness of PENETRON’s permeability-reducing technology, even in demanding production environments.”