Category: Sustentabilidad

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,

Acid Drainage Prevention – Microencapsulation Technology

Interview with Felipe Saavedra

Acid mine drainage (AMD) is something the global mining industry must face. The challenges that it presents regarding environmental and water resource sustainability have yet to be resolved and must be handled today, looking toward a sustainable mining future. The Centre of Excellence in Chile from the Sustainable Minerals Institute, University of Queensland (SMI-ICE-Chile) is working on a pilot project to prevent acid mine drainage through particle microencapsulation technology.

SMI-ICE-Chile’s mission is to develop innovative research and technologies to solve the challenges faced by the mining sector. This project, co-financed by Fundación Copec-UC, is very important for the Centre since it will allow to continue the development of AMD preventive technology, which could have impacts on the entire industry. Felipe Saavedra, project lead and researcher at SMI-ICE-Chile answers some questions about the project.

What is AMD and what generates it?  

In the current scenario, one of the primary environmental problems is AMD generated from mine sites (abandoned, closed and active), which are characterized by a low pH, elevated concentrations of metals/metalloids and sulphate in solution. Their high reactivity, complexity of the chemical composition, and toxicity make AMD into one of the worse environmental issues today.

What does the microencapsulation technology project entail? 

This project emerges from my PhD thesis at the Univ. of Queensland where I wanted to improve the geochemical stability of lead and zinc tailings. This project continues with the development of microencapsulation technology to prevents the generation of acid mine drainage. This is achieved by using a low-cost chemical solution, which can be applied in tailings sands and fines; waste rock dumps and leach pads; mine walls and tunnels with the potential of generating AMD. For the next stage of the project, we are looking for a mining company partner to carry out pilot testing in a real environment.

What is the expectation regarding its impact to the industry? 

It is estimated that the adoption of microencapsulation technology by the mining industry could dramatically decrease economic costs associated with current AMD treatment measures during operation and mine closure, since it prevents the formation of AMD, presenting significant advantages when compared to technologies used today.

When this project is completed, we hope to continue scaling the technology through industrial scale testing at Chilean mining operations. This will allow us to ensure the quality of water at the operational phase and, more so, for the closure phase, and design and implement an integrated acid or contact water treatment system with low costs of installation and operation based on the prevention of AMD generation.

Photo 1. Mine drainage from Mina Chiflón del Diablo, Lota, Biobío Region, Chile  (Source:

Photo 2. Mine drainage, Biobío Region, Chile (Source: Iván Ñancucheo).

The Relevance of Dialogue: Beyond Social Licence to Operate

Between January 13 and 17, the SMI Centre of Excellence in Chile, along with the Australian Embassy and the Centre for Public Policy from the Catholic Univ. hosted a week of activities with visiting expert Pam Bourke called “Opportunities for Deepening Dialogue” in January 2020. Activities included workshops, meetings and training events with a number of public and private sector organisations and NGOs who are seeking to enhance their engagement and dialogue with community members and organisations in Chile in a time of crisis.

The social and political crisis that Chile has been living through since October 18, 2019, has renewed the relevance and the need for dialogue. Dialogue plays a fundamental role, for example, among social groups who want to express their demands or propose their ideas in light of a constitutional change, or among diverse political sectors trying to reach agreements of benefit to a nation’s citizens. “Dialogue” once again resonates as one of the primary skills to address social conflicts.

One of the key aspects to work on when designing the spaces necessary for successful dialogue is to acknowledge that distrust still exists amongst those communities that are most affected by the activities of mining companies. Dealing with this reality is essential if we want to move towards truly sustainable mining operations. In 2002, nine of the world’s largest mining companies commissioned the report Breaking New Ground: Mining, Minerals and Sustainable Development[i]. While the report demonstrated an industry with the capacity for bringing economic benefits at the national and local levels, findings regarding many of the localised, negative social impacts were not favourable. High levels of distrust among the interested parties and the constant threats by various opposition groups, inequality of impacts and the growing gap between the recipients of benefits, were serious aspects that the industry had to address in a structural way.

Concepts such as citizen participation, social license to operate, and community development quickly achieved popularity within the community relations functions of mining companies. These terms were mobilised both in industry community engagement practices in impacted territories, and within company end-of-year sustainability reporting. Hodge (2014) noted a paradox here. Despite increasing industry uptake of these concepts, there was little evidence of a reduction in conflict between communities and companies, and increasingly greater local resistance to mining operations. Communities were no longer willing to accept without question the measures imposed by industry or government that restricted or limited opportunities to freely decide on the development of their territories, of their futures.

In addressing mistrust and tensions within impacted territories, the challenge becomes how to reach a mutual consensus between the mining sector and local communities. Unilateral and short-term efforts to build community relations will only damage the relationships of trust between parties. According to Hodge, differences in many cases arise when “common ground has not been established between the different values held by a community, an adjacent mine, a host indigenous population, or a national government” (Hodge, 2014, p30)[ii]. Failure by mining companies to adequately address these different values when seeking to improve their social performance leaves the concepts they use at risk of becoming empty signifiers, imprecise and open to the industry´’s interpretation.

One turning point in this issue has been an examination of the meaning and use that the mining industry has given to the concept “social license to operate”. An idea widely used by industry, social license to operate is an approach that is today increasingly criticized by academia. A “license”, often mobilised to validate the predefined indicators of the industry’s own standards and programs of service delivery to impacted communities, falls short of reflecting the urgency for community participation processes that are respected and heeded by companies. While it is understood as a metaphor, social license itself is an indication of how companies choose, or not, to understand and meet the expectations of impacted parties.

Those directly impacted by mining operations do not think about social licence. Their concerns are linked to wellbeing, survival, job opportunities, impacts to basic resources such as clean water and land, noise and dust pollution, in-migration, protection of heritage sites, loss of culture, among others. They think about their quality of life after the mine. To stop and think about their real concerns, quality of life before and after the operation, is to begin to become aware and to begin to talk about dignity and respect. These are key aspects for a successful and genuine dialogue process, establishing the foundations for the construction of long-term relationships. This is a fundamental aspect identified previously by researchers John Owen and Deanna Kemp[iii] from The University of Queensland’s Centre for Social Responsibility in Mining, in the detection of possibilities for territorial development that is truly sustainable.

The design of a genuine and successful dialogue system should be a thorough process, which includes all the improvements, adaptations and changes required to really obtain, beyond a design document, a live system of stakeholders, institutions and processes that aids in the creation of legitimate mutual debate spaces, problem resolution, and the detection of possibilities.

If the mining industry really would like to make changes toward successful dialogue processes, beyond policy frameworks external to companies, the implementation of dialogue will imply important and conscientious internal changes. This means that we not only need to take on the development of community capacities for dialogue, but also the sector must acknowledge the new challenges in the relationships with stakeholders, and to make internal changes that will probably be required for this to be achieved.

Within any dialogue framework that is agreed upon as an industry, the key issues of any social conflict will not be made visible in terms of social license, but in terms of living in an environment free of contaminants, of greater social justice, respect, and deliberate participation. It is important that companies position themselves at the heart of this debate.

Our current changing scenario demands that companies focus on positive contributions in the long-term, that promote the post-closure development of communities over the more technical, and more easily quantifiable, actions for impact mitigation. This more transactional approach promoted by the industry’s interpretation of the concept of “social license” prioritizes operational continuity for the company over broader and more complex expectations that arise from impacted territories. This approach limits the possibilities of building sustainable relationships for these projects, during the operational life of the mine, and beyond. To have a truly constructive and symmetrical dialogue, the mining industry must think about how it wants to add value to its communities, based on an open and honest dialogue with them, to meet without conditions, open to the challenges that will come both during times of calm and in times of crisis, such as those we are currently living in Chile.

[i] Mining, Minerals and Sustainable Development. 2002, Breaking New Ground: Mining, Minerals, and Sustainable Development: The Report of the MMSD Project, Earthscan Publications.

[ii] Hodge, RA 2014, Mining company performance and community conflict: moving beyond a seeming paradox’, Journal of Cleaner Production vol. 84 December 2014 pp 27-33.

[iii] Owen, JR & Kemp, D 2013, ‘Social licence and mining: A critical perspective’, Resources Policy, vol. 38, 1, pp 29–3.

The 1st Cobalt Workshop in Chile Ended Successfully

The International Centre of Excellence from the Sustainable Minerals Institute (SMI-ICE-Chile) at the University of Queensland organized the first workshop focused on cobalt in Santiago, Chile on November 20. With presenters from 11 organizations and over 80 participants including academics, students, and professionals from supplier, consulting and mining companies, the workshop evidenced the wide-spread interest from the industry for this element present in mineral deposits in our country, and representing the great potential for future research, work and marketable byproducts.

The workshop was opened by Neville Plint, Director of the Sustainable Minerals Institute in Australia, who was in Chile that week. The first session focused on the supply and demand. Francisco Acuña from CRU and Alejandro Muñoz from the Chilean Cobalt Corporation spoke about the cobalt market in the world and in Chile, respectively. Brian Townley from Universidad de Chile, presented about the potential in the country regarding cobalt from a geological point of view, including a metallurgical outlook to find opportunities for its exploration, and eventual recovery, through current copper processes.

In the second session, Héctor Suazo from SGS Minerals, Juan Pablo González from GeoMine and Alejandro Quilodrán from Solvay discussed about cobalt from ore. Romke Kuyvenhoven from SMI-ICE-Chile commented that cobalt is associated to pyrite, an aspect that yet to be studied in depth. An issue that must be addressed and developed in detail, to allow learning and facilitating cobalt production as a byproduct. She mentions that the most feasible method to recover this metal would include stages such as pyrite flotation > pyrite-concentrate leaching > cobalt precipitation.

For the third session, after lunch, Iván Nancucheo from Univ. San Sebastián and Rodolfo Rodríguez from SAM Consultants spoke about cobalt as a secondary resource. The latter emphasized cobalt recovery from batteries, focused on applying aspects of circular economy. The fourth and last session focused on industrial case studies, where Leonardo Parraguez from Pucobre and Milton Rojas from Andes Iron commented on recovery and flotation of cobalt in seawater, and the cobalt business model in the copper and iron industries, correspondingly. Javier Quevedo’s presentation (SMI-ICE-Chile), was of great interest to the audience, seen in the number of questions made, and the novelty of his research about the distribution of cobalt in pyrite crystals, and the impact this generates in the potential resource exploitation. Also, he introduced and showed results of an analysis technique that has not yet been used in this type of study, and from a geometallurgical focus, uniting the views of geologists and metallurgists.

For 2020 a second version of the workshop is being considered, which will cover some of the less emphasized topics, such as the necessary efforts to characterize, recover and process elements of value from tailings, as well as cobalt electrowinning processes or the secondary product precipitation, along with the search for new products and byproduct that promote, together with copper, the economy of Chile, always considering the economic, social and environmental potential this entails.

Consultas generales

+56 2 2307 9710


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

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