Category: Prensa

Project ‘Design and Construction of Future Scenarios’ for Codelco, El Teniente Division

The context in which the Chilean mining industry operates is quickly changing due to a multitude of economic, social and environmental factors; three of the operational aspects that are most affected are water resources, tailings management and the relationship with communities. The Sustainable Minerals Institute (SMI) from The University of Queensland, and the International Centre of Excellence in Chile (SMI-ICE-Chile), along with El Teniente Division of Codelco recently worked on the development of a roadmap of programs and projects for the operation focused on addressing the current and future challenges associated with water, tailings and social performance management to support the division’s drive towards a more sustainable future.

The process involved four stages which allowed learning in depth about the existing context and dynamics, an analysis of the trends and the relevant best practices, the construction of possible future scenarios and their characteristics, and the development of a vision and plan of action. All processes were highly interactive and included frequent meetings and workshops to ensure the participation and input from Codelco’s team and a deep collaboration with the SMI specialists. The work was successfully completed with a series of reports, a roadmap and a video of the project. The roadmap document and the video are available in the following links.

The full document of the Roadmap is HERE (in Spanish)

You can see the project video in YouTube:


SMI-ICE-Chile proposal advances to the second stage of the BHP Tailings Challenge

Two proposals supported by the Sustainable Minerals Institute’s International Centre of Excellence in Chile (SMI-ICE-Chile) are advancing to the second round of a global competition that aims to fundamentally change how the industry manages copper tailings.

The two proposals are advancing to the proof-of-concept stage of the BHP Tailings Challenge after securing the approval of a specialist panel.

The proposal by the Solar Tailings Transformation (STT) Consortium, which SMI-ICE-Chile leads, proposes a solution that integrates several solar thermal energy-powered processes to convert the tailings material into a stable multi-purpose pellet and high-quality water.

SMI-ICE-Chile is also the local coordinator of the Recomine proposal, which is led by the Helmholtz-Institute Freiberg for Resource Technology, and is focussed on the development and integration of a series of modular processes to separate out valuable products from the tailings.

The Challenge, which is supported by Fundación Chile through its Expande program, aims to promote and deliver new technological solutions and business models for reusing copper tailings, and will provide $US10 million ($14.3 million) in grants to successful developers.

The teams advancing to the proof-of-concept stage are given a US$50,000 grant and sample of tailings with which to validate their solutions at a laboratory level before demonstrating its technical and economic feasibility in a demo day in August 2021.

SMI-ICE-Chile Sustainability Leader Dr Douglas Aitken said both proposals are innovative solutions that have the potential to drive positive change in tailings management practices and generate considerable value to industry and society.

“The social and environmental issues associated with tailings represent a major challenge for the industry, but by replacing the traditional disposal-based approach with new and innovative value recovery solutions, we aim to eliminate the negative aspects of tailings and instead create social and economic benefits, he said.

The BHP Tailings Challenge provides an excellent opportunity to develop and test exciting new ideas that we hope will result in the tailings management process becoming safer and an industry asset instead of a burden.

Dr Felipe Saavedra, the STT project lead for the SMI-ICE-Chile team, explained the proposed concept and the expected benefits.

“The STT consortium is a multi-disciplinary group comprised of researchers from SMI-ICE-Chile, SMI, IMDEA Energy, SEENSO, and Aiguasol Latam. The proposed concept aims to repurpose over 50% of operational tailings production using solar thermal energy to dewater the tailings and produce a stable and flexible end-product.

“It is a sustainable approach that takes a complex and difficult-to-handle mine waste and transforms it into a material that can be used by numerous local industries, such as construction, road building and agriculture. We expect that the recovered water will also have considerable value for local water users, its availability should offset freshwater extraction from natural resources, thereby protecting local ecosystems.

“We hope that the solution will generate wide-spread social and economic development and we’re looking forward to testing the technologies with our partners in the coming months.”


For more information about the projects, contact Dr Douglas Aitken

University of Queensland Partners with Industry to Tackle Water Supply Concerns in Chile

The Sustainable Minerals Institute’s International Centre of Excellence in Chile (SMI-ICE-Chile) is partnering with Mitsubishi Corporation subsidiary M.C. Inversiones Limitada (MCI) to provide Chilean industries and society with sustainable water supply system planning tools.

top left: Mr Yasuharu Tanaka, Senior Vice President, M.C.Inversiones Limitada, Dr Doug Aitken, Sustainability Project Leader, SMI-ICE-Chile, Dr David Mulligan, Executive Director, SMI-ICE-Chile and Mr Tadashi Mizuno, CEO, M.C.Inversiones Limitada

The smart tools will assist in designing optimised water supply systems that minimise economic costs and environmental impacts by taking into account local contexts and conditions. Water consumption across most sectors in Chile is increasing and availability is declining, causing concerns for continued industrial productivity, ecosystem health and society in general.

SMI-ICE-Chile researchers will lead the three-year project, working in close collaboration with MCI, colleagues at The University of Queensland’s (UQ) Sustainable Minerals Institute (SMI) and a number of local partners in Chile. SMI-ICE-Chile Sustainability Leader Dr Doug Aitken said the tools will be key to ensuring the sustainability of water management.

“Both the Sustainable Minerals Institute and M.C. Inversiones see water scarcity and sustainable water resource management as an enormous challenge for the future of Chilean industry and society. New smart tools that identify opportunities and support decision making have a huge amount of potential to unlock optimizations across many important sectors.”

Copiapo valley, Chile

SMI-ICE-Chile Executive Director Professor David Mulligan said the new relationship with Mitsubishi is a step towards addressing Chile’s water challenges. “Our partnership with the Mitsubishi Corporation is a very exciting step towards helping address Chile’s water resource management challenges and we are looking forward to working closely with their team in Chile to develop solutions and open up new opportunities.”

M.C. Inversiones Chief Executive Officer Mr. Tadashi Mizuno welcomed the value and opportunities of the research partnership. “We are delighted to begin collaborating with UQ’s SMI-ICE-Chile on this project which we believe will support the development of important solutions to address the challenge of water scarcity in Chile, and which we believe will also contribute to the sustainability agenda of the mining industry, a sector in which we have been actively participating,” he said.


Further Information: Dr. Doug Aitken,

JKMRC and JKTech Integrate Under One Management Structure

Dear Colleagues

We are pleased to inform you that The University of Queensland’s Julius Kruttschnitt Mineral Research Centre (JKMRC) and UQ Holding’s technology transfer company JKTech, are integrating their activities under a single management structure.

We believe this move will consolidate and strengthen both organisations and ensure our clients are receiving the benefits of innovative research, expertise in technology based consulting, laboratory services, software, specialist equipment, and professional development.

The strategic direction of JKMRC and JKTech will be further enhanced by the appointment of Professor Neville Plint to the role of JKTech’s Managing Director in addition to his role as Director of UQ’s Sustainable Minerals Institute. He will be ably supported by Professor Rick Valenta (Acting Director, JKMRC), Paul Napier (Chief Financial Offider, JKTech), Bevin Wong (Operations Manager, JKTech), and Associate Professor Marcin Ziemski who is taking on a role of commercial lead working across JKTech and JKMRC. In Latin America, all of JKTech’s activity have integrated and will be carried out through the International Centre of Excellence in Chile, SMI-ICE-Chile, with Professor David Mulligan as Executive Director.

JKMRC was established in 1970 and JKTech was set up in 1986 as their commercial division. In 2000 JKMRC became part of UQ’s newly established Sustainable Minerals Institute and JKTech became an incorporated company the following year.

While the teams of both organisations have worked closely over the past years, this announcement sees a return to a unified management whilst also preserving JKTech’s corporate and technical identity.

If you have any questions or concerns, please don’t hesitate to contact us via or

Thank you for your continued support, we look forward to working with you in the future to find solutions to the challenges facing the resources industry.

Kind Regards

Professor Neville Plint
Director, Sustainable Minerals Institute
Managing Director, JKTech


Dr Barry Kelly
Chair, JKTech Board



See full article about the integration on the SMI website:

Update from SMI-ICE-Chile: Business Continues Despite Strict Quarantine Measures

SMI-ICE-Chile Team

Chile has had a country-wide curfew between 10pm and 5am since late March, and the team at SMI’s International Centre of Excellence office in Santiago has experienced strict government imposed quarantine measures to contain the spread of the virus. They are self-isolating, social distancing and wearing face masks when venturing outside and overall, everyone has been managing the situation excellently.

Amidst the challenges and new work protocols, the industry has shown their continuous confidence in the projects that SMI-ICE-Chile carries out. As expected, some projects had to postpone meetings and site visits until such activities can be re-scheduled. However, some pending contracts have now been confirmed with new projects kicking off in the near future.

Visit to the lab  in the Chemical Engineering Department, Univ. de Chile (BHP/MEL Gangue Leachability Project) 

In 2019, SMI-ICE-Chile began a research project focussed on the behaviour of gangue minerals in copper heap leach performance at BHP’s Minera Escondida. The project looks at how gangue solubilization and re-precipitation affects copper recovery, proving to be a great opportunity to work in a multidisciplinary research team, involving the BHP Process Innovation team, the Advanced Mining Technology Center (AMTC) from Universidad de Chile, the Institute for Economic Geology from the Universidad de Concepción, and the local SMI-ICE-Chile team. More sophisticated characterisation of samples from the testwork that is carried out at laboratory scale, is expected to be performed at the Centre for Microscopy and Microanalysis at The University of Queensland. The project is scheduled to continue into 2021 and should result in the testing at pilot scale of different pre-treatment options prior to the heap leach to minimise the detrimental impact of certain gangue minerals on process performance.

Another key project in Chile is the energy efficiency study carried out upon request from CAP Minería’s magnetite ore Pellet Plant in Huasco. The study provided a great opportunity for the SMI team to join forces with the Advanced Mining Technology Centre (AMTC) from Universidad de Chile and looks at the opportunities for enhanced energy efficiency both from the point of view of plant configuration and operation, and automation and control. The scope of work was defined and aligned with the Mine Energy Transformation and Integration program from JKMRC, and SMI researchers participated in the initial site visit and several of the subsequent project activities. Part of this project was the thesis study performed by Solange Vera, a recent metallurgical program graduate from the Universidad Técnica Federico Santa María who used the JKSimMet software to model opportunities in the grinding/classification circuit. A combination of different alternatives in both the process and control have been identified, that will allow CAP Minería to reduce the specific energy consumption by approximately 10% in the pellet plant.

The research team visit the Pellets Plant in Huasco


At the same time, a project with Codelco’s El Teniente Division to develop a strategic roadmap for water resources and tailings management to address possible future scenarios considering economic, social and environmental changes is coming to completion. The project included five workshops that involved staff from El Teniente and SMI, who worked on discussing and understanding key themes through numerous activities. Due to current circumstances, the final event of the project had to be postponed.

In the area of water management, the team has also been working on a benchmarking study of best practices in water resource management for the Chilean copper mining industry in partnership with the International Copper Association. Our researchers interviewed numerous water resource managers of some of the principal mine operations in Chile to understand how practices are changing, what novel techniques are being implemented to improve general management and water use efficiency, and about future strategies for each of the companies.

Felipe Saavedra, mid-presentation for the Fundación Copec-UC Project

In the areas of mine closure and integrated waste management, SMI-ICE-Chile has been awarded a 24-month R&D fund from Fundación Copec-UC, a group based out of Universidad Católica de Chile, to co-develop and scale-up a technology for acid mine drainage (AMD) prevention. The project will involve laboratory and field-scale testing with porphyry Cu mine tailings and waste rock from a mine operation in Chile. This AMD preventive solution could dramatically decrease economic costs associated with current AMD treatment measures during both operational and mine closure phases, and importantly, contribute to improving the water quality accessible by surrounding communities and ecosystems. When this project is completed, the team hopes to continue scaling up this development through industrial scale testing at different mining operations in Chile and beyond.


Originally published in the SMI website:

SMI COVID-19 Update

Dear Colleagues

Uncertainty resulting from COVID-19 has created many challenges for us all. At the Sustainable Minerals Institute, we have been working to prepare an action plan that allows for business and research continuity while ensuring the protection, health and well-being of our staff and research partners.

As part of The University of Queensland, we are following government advice, and as of 26 March, have implemented working from home measures for all staff who are able to do so. Our St Lucia and Indooroopilly offices remain open allowing critical staff and those involved in laboratory work to continue safely with their projects.

All staff working from home are equipped with computers, internet and online meeting capabilities so business continues as normal, although in a virtual world for the time being. Across SMI our team is focused on delivering against the recently revised strategic plan and associated projects.

We will continue to operate in this way until advised otherwise by federal or state government. The situation is fluid, but we believe we are in a strong position to navigate changing circumstances.

There has been an impact on a number of our professional development courses, and we have postponed all face-to-face delivery of courses until at least June. The Acid Metalliferous Drainage Workshop (AMD) has also been postponed, but we are hopeful it will take place later this year.

We are continuing to run our JKMRC Friday seminar series via webinar, and you can find details of each week’s seminar here. We are also working on a number of new podcasts to keep you up to date with our latest research, and you can keep in touch with our daily work via our Twitter and LinkedIn accounts.

If you have any concerns regarding the delivery of any of your projects or programs with SMI, please don’t hesitate to contact me.

Thank you for your continued support of SMI, I hope you and your families stay safe and well through this difficult time.

Kind Regards


Professor Neville Plint

Sustainable Minerals Institute
The University of Queensland


Originally published in the SMI website:

“El próximo ministro deberá ser un científico distinto al común pero respetado por sus pares, o no va a funcionar”

A días de entrar en vigencia la ley que crea la nueva cartera de ciencia y tecnología,una de las mujeres líderes del Sustainable Minerals Institute International Centre of Excellence Chile, comparte su visión en torno a los principales desafíos de este nuevo ministerio.

Si bien estudió su pregrado en Chile, buena parte de su carrera la hizo en Estados Unidos. Ingeniera comercial de profesión y MBA de la Clarion University of Pennsylvania, Varinka Farren tiene mucho que hablar sobre ciencia, especialmente porque su carrera siempre ha estado ligada a esa área.

Trabajó para Andrómaco, multinacional del área farmacológica, y fue una de las pioneras en el desarrollo de la Unidad de Transferencia Tecnológica de la Universidad de Chile cuando no era un área popular en estas instituciones. Un desafío que resultó no menor, según cuenta, porque lograr que las empresas se interesen por la ciencia elaborada al interior de una institución de educación no resultaba llamativo.

Al mando de la Unidad de Transferencia de la Universidad de Chile, trabajó en la creación de una estrategia completa, desde comprender las investigaciones hasta preocuparse de la imagen, las redes (networking), vinculación con la industria, asuntos legales, entre otros elementos. De una única licencia que se había logrado transferir antes de su llegada, Varinka logró traspasar más de 48 tecnologías de la universidad al mercado. Esto le permitió ser la primera en obtener el premio Mejor Gestora Tecnológica del año que entrega CORFO.

Hoy, como Gerente de Operaciones de un centro de investigación que utiliza la ciencia para lograr soluciones innovadoras para la industria extractiva, Varinka cree que existen una serie de objetivos fundamentales para que la nueva cartera de ciencia y tecnología tenga un impacto real en el desarrollo económico y social del país.

 “Una de las primeras tareas del futuro ministerio va a ser un levantamiento de los fondos que existen para ver cuál de ellos está teniendo impacto. Eso también va requerir mayor inversión en investigación de parte del Estado, ojalá doblar lo que se gasta actualmente. Además, va a ser necesario seguir incentivando al sector privado para que también invierta. Estamos muy por debajo en comparación al promedio de los países OCDE y eso debiese cambiar en un plazo razonable”.

Varinka coincide en que apostar por el desarrollo científico enfocado a sectores estratégicos como la industria minera, la biotecnología, la acuicultura, como lo ha planteado CORFO, es un acierto: “hay lineamientos definidos que ya se están desarrollando y requieren ser profundizados”, manifiesta.


“El o la próxima ministra deberá ser científica pero tendrá que cumplir una serie de cualidades que vayan más allá del laboratorio”


¿Debe ser un científico el o la próxima ministra de ciencia y tecnología? ¿Cuáles debiesen ser sus características? Para Varinka el líder de la nueva cartera debe haberse formado profesionalmente en las ciencias, pero los requisitos no terminan allí, “va a ser necesario que este nuevo líder tenga capacidad de gestión y manejo político; sin embargo, debe ser respetado por sus pares. Eso va a marcar la diferencia”.

Desde su experiencia, Varinka cree que un científico “puro” no va a funcionar porque será necesaria una mirada estratégica que vaya más allá del laboratorio. Contrariamente, “alguien que sea solo un buen gestor tampoco va a lograr un buen trabajo si es que no tiene el respaldo de sus pares”.

Varinka de momento se la juega por nombres como el de Andrés Couve, director del Instituto Milenio de Neurociencia Biomédica y el de Cristian Hernández, director de negocios de la Fundación & Vida. A su parecer, son científicos distintos a los comunes y tienen las capacidades suficientes para liderar esta nueva secretaría de gobierno.


Artículo 9: ¿Desincentivo para los científicos?


La comunidad científica y especialmente las universidades han planteado su desacuerdo con el artículo 9 de la ley que crea al ministerio, donde se exige a los proyectos cuyas patentes sean exitosas devolverle al Estado el 100% de los recursos.

Para la Gerenta de Operaciones de SMI-ICE-Chile, ese punto es donde “echan a perder todo”. Explica que es muy complejo hacer la trazabilidad de cuánto dinero puso el Estado para hacer una investigación. Lo que hace este artículo en el fondo es desincentivar la transferencia tecnológica y, por ende, “matar a los fondos como herramientas para la investigación”.

“Hay que entender que existen investigaciones, como en el área médica, que pueden requerir sobre los 20 millones de dólares para llegar al mercado, de los cuales sólo una parte menor puede ser obtenida de fondos públicos en nuestro país”, concluye.

Consultas generales

+56 2 2307 9710


Sustainable Minerals Institute International Centre of Excellence Chile
The University of Queensland

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