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BHP Billiton inaugurates new desalination plant for Minera Escondida mine

Published 09 April 2018

BHP Billiton has inaugurated a 2,500-l/s desalination plant to supply to meet the needs of Minera Escondida mine.

The new plant is in addition to the company’s 525-l/s plant, which has been in operation for twelve years.

The new plant is at the heart of the company’s water strategy, which consists in increasing the use of desalinated water and recovering more water from its processes as a means of gradually reducing withdrawals from aquifers.

Construction of the plant required an investment of $3,430m. This included two 42” pipelines to transport the water to 3,200 metres above sea level, four high-pressure pumping stations, a reservoir at the mine and high-voltage electricity infrastructure to operate the system.

In order to ensure the electricity for pumping the water, BHP awarded a long-term contract for the development of the Kelar Power Plant, which was originally designed to use coal but was converted into a combined-cycle natural gas plant in order to have energy from a cleaner source.

Minera Escondida president Mauro Neves said: “The plant we are inaugurating today required 45 million man-hours of work, a challenge that was notable for an outstanding performance on safety, our most prized value.

“At present, we are operating three concentrators simultaneously, an unprecedented situation in the mining world, giving us a greater processing capacity with which to maintain our copper output. In this, the new desalination plant plays a crucial role.”  

BHP Minerals Americas President Daniel Malchuk said: “this plant reflects our deeply held belief that it is possible to practice sustainable mining, which is both an ethical imperative and a fundamental condition for the business.

“In Chile, we aspire to cease using fresh water altogether as from 2030. We have progressed in this transition and will continue to do so gradually over the next ten years.”    

Minera Escondida is a mine located 170 km southeast of Antofagasta, at 3,100 metres above sea level. Its owners are BHP Billiton (57.5%), Rio Tinto (30%), JECO Corporation (10%) and JECO 2 (2.5%). It is operated by BHP Billiton.

Source: Company Press Release