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Representatives from The University of Queensland visited IIMP

With the purpose of developing academic activities together, representatives from the Sustainable Minerals Institute (SMI) at The University of Queensland (Australia) met with the General Manager of the Mining Engineers Institute of Peru (IIMP), Carlos Diez Canseco, on June 23.

Thanks to the coordination of Belisario Pérez, Occupational Safety and Health Manager at Minsur, the Education and Training Manager at SMI’s Minerals Industry Safety and Health Centre (MISHC), Sharyn Cobbin, and the coordinator at the SMI International Centre of Excellence in Chile, Antonio Rivero, arrived at La Molina offices.
They explained how SMI Chile promotes research, innovation, as well as capacity and technology transfer to the mining industry, with the objective of increasing and complementing mining’s productivity, environmental and social management, in that country and the region.
In representation of Belisario Pérez was Minsur’s superintendent of Corporate Safety, Mr César Alarcón.


Minería Magazine, weekly edition number 111, from June 27 to July 3 (in Spanish):

Presentation: “Transitions and Challenges of Mine Closure: What Else do we Need to Learn?

On May 16, Francisca Rivero presented a keynote during the Planning for Closure 2002 congress titled Transitions and Challenges of Mine Closure: What Else do we Need to Learn? in which she proposes an integral overview of closure, as seen from the social aspects of closure. “The process of mine closure from a social perspective implies taking responsibility of a series of transitions –social, economic and environmental– which do not refer only to changes and transformation of the closure of mine site itself” comments Francisca. She, alongside the social researchers’ team at SMI-ICE-Chile work on community relations projects in this and other stages of the mine lifecycle.
Her presentation focused on how during the last years the industry has made great efforts on understanding the scope brought about when viewing social aspects of mine closure. However, Francisca explains that there are multiple items from which to learn regarding transitions, a process that may pose challenges for both communities and companies.

Fabiola Sifuentes, Vice-President of Health, Safety and Environment at Compañía Minera Antamina, Peru and Francisca Rivero from SMI-ICE-Chile during Planning for Closure 2022

First, explains the researcher, we need to understand the differentiated impacts of closure, of which gender is a key dimension to note and learn how this group responds to social and economic aspects that may affect their specific wellbeing. Keeping an updated information database about people who live in the territory not only contributes to know them and about them and their needs, but allows for a follow up about the scope of actions and their results throughout time.
Secondly, she emphasises the importance of knowing about the lessons learned locally and internationally which allows for a social knowledge base. This process of study and evaluation should, in the best scenario, be consolidated during the initial phase of a mine operation. And thirdly, but no less important, is the learning awarded by the long-term study of intergenerational impacts by the mine’s presence in a determined territory, specially focused on how this impacts trajectory, offers opportunities, and directly effects lifestyle, practices and customs locally.
In a certain way, planning closure from a social perspective, implies being responsible for intergenerational impacts as well as designing a legacy, keeping in mind what will come in post-closure stages. It is a consolidation of a long process that must guarantee wellbeing and a good standard of living for communities which are integral part of an operation during its lifecycle, and which will endure beyond the temporary industrial process of the land.


For more information, contact Francisca Rivero or the SMI-ICE-Chile social team:

Planning for Closure 2022 was organised by the Centre for Mining of Pontificia Universidad Católica de Valparaíso, SMI-ICE-Chile and Gecamin. For more information visit


International Women’s Day at SMI-ICE-Chile

On International Women’s Day, the International Centre of Excellence in Chile of the Sustainable Minerals Institute, The University of Queensland, celebrates all the women who have paved the road towards inclusion of female talent.

We believe that the inclusion of all people, no matter the differences, provides for a more resilient and sustainable future. We value those differences, since the challenge of solving problems based on science is enriched and made easier when different perspectives and talents are part of the process.

We are committed to diversity and inclusion, and on this day we recognise all the women from our team who promote we #BreakTheBias linked to women in STEM, in academia, in the mining industry, and as an essential part of any organisation.

Read their perceptions:

New leadership at SMI-ICE-Chile

The Sustainable Minerals Institute and JKTech are pleased to announce the appointment of Dr Douglas Aitken as General Manager, SMI-ICE-Chile.

Dr Aitken was the Sustainability Project Leader in ICE-Chile and has extensive experience in the development and management of multidisciplinary and collaborative research projects. His focus is on reducing the adverse social and environmental impacts from the mining industry and maximising the economic, social and environmental benefits.

Dr Aitken’s appointment follows the retirement of Professor David Mulligan as Executive Director SMI-ICE-Chile in December 2021.

SMI Director Professor Neville Plint and Chairman of the JKTech Board Dr Barry Kelly, said Dr Aitken’s appointment would strengthen integration across the Institute.

“Dr Aitken has extensive experience working collaboratively with partners across government, industry, community organisations and academia, and we look forward to working with him to support and grow the work underway in Chile,” Professor Plint said.

“We would like to thank Professor Mulligan for all his hard work and commitment to building the team in Chile, and wish him well with his future projects.”


SMI-ICE-Chile was established in 2014 and aims to develop innovative research, technologies and training platforms to address the challenges faced by the mining sector.

Tackling water supply concerns in Chile: The Sustainable Minerals Institute, SMI-ICE-Chile and M.C. Inversiones complete first year of smart water supply systems project

The aim of the project is to support the development of solutions to address the challenge of water scarcity in Chile and contribute to the sustainability agenda of the mining industry.

The first year of the project involved data collection, stakeholder engagement and initial tool development in the project case study, the Atacama region. The first-year report and video outlining the background, methodology and initial results are now available.

Water scarcity is one of the greatest threats to social and economic development in many of Chile’s central and northern regions. Low water availability, inadequate water management and the effects of climate change are leading to prolonged droughts that are generating adverse consequences for society.

The mining industry in Chile and some other sectors have invested heavily in the use of desalinated seawater to develop reliable supply systems. While effective in providing reliable water, such systems are often developed independently and tend to be expensive, energy intensive and can result in socio-environmental impacts.

There is a need for improved water supply systems that integrate multiple sources and users, and allow the optimisation of resources based on local geography, water availability and water demand, ensuring water security for users and the protection of local ecosystems.

The University of Queensland’s SMI-ICE-Chile and Sustainable Minerals Institute, along with M.C. Inversiones (a subsidiary of the Mitsubishi Corporation), decided to partner on the three-year research project to develop smart water supply planning tools that will help decision makers at all levels to identify and analyse optimised water supply options.

The team includes collaborators from the Universidad de Antofagasta, the Pontificia Universidad Católica de Chile and Universidad del Desarrollo.

The project leaders would like to thank M.C. Inversiones for their support of the project, Corfo and ANID for their support of the International Centre of Excellence in Chile, and our project collaborators.

If you would like more information, please contact the Project Leader, Dr Doug Aitken at


Read the first year project report HERE.

Watch the first year project video:

A Successful Week during the Sustainability Module at the Mining Engineering Master’s

From 6 to 10 December the International Centre of Excellence, SMI-ICE-Chile, was the host of the Sustainability Module of the Master’s in Mining program from the Mine Engineering department of Universidad de Chile.
For months the Centre’s researchers concentrated their energies in programming a week of presentations, group activities, and special guests from industry to share knowledge, perspectives and a vision of sustainability for the natural resources industry.
Presentations covered diverse aspects of sustainability, seen from the life cycle of a mine, and working around a case study of a real mine site.
The week’s activities were complemented by presentations from industry guests such as Héctor Castillo, Environmental and Territory Director at El Salvador Division, Jorge Sanhueza, Sustainable Development Manager, both from Codelco, and Manuel Zamora, Deputy Manager of Community Relations and Corporate Responsibility at Albemarle Chile.
The topics covered in during the week were:
– Mine life cycle | Mining and the challenges and opportunities of sustainability
– Optimization of resources | Local impacts | Mine closure
– Value recovery | Social pre-requisites to generate value in the territories| Environmental value
– Health, safety and risks | Governance | Responsible mining
For more information contact us at

Social Transition in Mine Closure Processes

By Nigel Wight and Francisca Rivero, social researchers at SMI-ICE-Chile

Mine closure is an inevitable process, yet the complex changes related to closure can have significant and lasting impacts on an operation’s surrounding communities. A company’s conceptualisation of mine closure is not the same as how an impacted community views closure. For communities, “closure” means a long and often difficult transition, away from an entrenched dependency on the mine’s benefits that can take years, or even generations. At the same time, the negative consequences of a mine’s operations, such as the mine pit, waste rock dumps, and altered water courses, can often continue to impact communities for life.

The majority of the world’s mining companies are not prepared for the social requirements of closure. Mining companies, when making the decision to close a mine, assemble multidisciplinary teams of experts, specialising in diverse technical aspects of mine closure, such as the dismantling of mine infrastructure, ensuring the chemical and physical stability of the mine site, post-closure, and rehabilitation activities. Many of the technical aspects for closure have been identified by the company years prior. Mining companies rarely identify with such foresight the issues relating to social transitions that take place when a mine closes. Moreover, the social knowledge base to inform mine closure is built on the logic of operational continuity. Company indicators related to social performance tend to be associated with ensuring a mine remains open and functioning. Key social performance areas such as local employment quotas and local supplier initiatives seek to transfer mining benefits to local communities.

Yet these benefits cease immediately upon closure. Mining companies should approach closure planning around extending a mine’s benefits to communities, and reducing social risks, in the same way they approach the risk of acid mine drainage, for example. Social aspects of closure processes must be integrated early in mine closure planning, with the same or more time and resources assigned to carry out this task.

Internal company capacities however, rather than reinforced for the social challenges of closure are often reduced or phased out, and operations usually decrease their “social” budgets, instead of maintaining or increasing them. Promises of wellbeing do not consider closure and post-closure stages.

Much of the mining industry’s own evidence base to support claims of mining-driven sustainable territorial development is –in reality– strongly contingent on the continuous operation of operations. Collective efforts by the industry, government, academia, and non-government organisations to understand the future implications and expectations of impacted communities have been limited. Arguments around the sustainability claims of mining become polarised, defended by mining industry public relations on the one hand, and attacked by activist positions on the other. The sustainable development arguments for mining are most critically tested when a mine closes. It is imperative that the impacts on communities through closure transitions are effectively researched.

The research data on the social impacts of closure are necessary across many aspects of closure planning. Data to inform mining social investment programs that avoid or limit communities’ economic dependence. Data to inform how community visions or interests are included in closure planning decisions. Or to identify the necessary skills to strengthen company and community capacities for a successful transition to a post-mining reality.

Timely evaluation of social impacts

Mining companies cannot leave the identification of the potential social impacts of closure to the end. Companies must offer hard evidence of the positive benefits and the sustainability of local communities after they leave the territory. Moreover, closure plans must effectively address the social risks to communities of closure through directed investment aimed at optimising closure resources for maximum long-term benefits to communities.

For the mining industry, closure presents as a paradox. On the one hand, the mining operation must conceptualise, plan and implement actions for the inevitable closure. On the other, the industry is increasingly examined for its contribution to the sustainable development of society, particularly of the communities in the local territories. Social actors that are, or will be, affected by mining are increasingly informed of the responsibilities of the industry for the direct and indirect impacts to communities, as well as their rights and how they can influence decisions related to their territory. The mining industry has the opportunity to address these external pressures by demonstrating positive and prolonged impacts of a mine’s operation in the territory, supporting the development through closure towards a sustainable post-mining future.

In this regard, there is a clear role for academic researchers and NGOs operating in impacted territories. First, to effectively identify the social closure risks, for communities as well as for the company. Second, to contribute to building an adequate social knowledge base to inform decisions regarding closure planning and to fill the capacity void among all parties, the State and the communities throughout the social transition to a post-mining legacy. And finally, to inform possible changes to mine closure legislation.

Scope of social performance in a closure scenario

The social challenges the closure of a mine generates are numerous, and social risks to communities can be immense. A company’s social performance functions are oriented around the operational phase of a mine’s life cycle. How well-equipped are a mine’s social performance functions to adapt to the demands of closure? What social knowledge base and capacities does a company have, not only to track the impacts of closure and inform mitigation measures accordingly, but to address the concerns of local stakeholders during a period of extreme change in a territory? We observe an effective limitation in the capacities required to face this challenge in the industry.

The demands by impacted communities, and regional and national governments, around how mining companies address the social transitions generated by mine closure, will continue to increase. The social performance function will become increasingly important within an operation’s closure planning team. Not only in terms of engaging with stakeholders around closure, but in ensuring that the social impacts of closure are well-identified, and that the closure mitigation plans are prepared with the participation of communities, addressing the long-term developmental aims and visions of those who will remain in the territory long after the company has left.


For further information, please contact Nigel Wight and Francisca Rivero.

Towards the sustainable management of mine tailings, part 2

By Felipe Saavedra, Environment Researcher and Project Manager at SMI-ICE-Chile


As commented in Part 1, the challenges of appropriately managing tailings are threefold, considering the tailings of yesterday, the tailings of today and those of tomorrow. Among the primary aspects to address are water recovery and its inherent difficulties, aspects of circular economy for the conversion of tailings into other materials, and the adaptation of processes to move closer a tailings-free mining.

Water value and supply costs are high in most of the copper mining districts and any water recovery from the tailings is a valuable achievement. However, efficient water recovery is constrained by investment costs of conventional equipment and by high energy demands, particularly for filtration processes. Water recovered by conventional processes presents high concentrations of dissolved constituents and can only be returned to the process plant, with high risk of building up impurities that will require additional treatment.

Converting tailings into useful materials means managing the throughput scale and their difficult characteristics, among which are high-water content and low particle size, both which affect physical and chemical stability of tailings. The enormous amounts of tailings produced every year by the copper industry makes their complete conversion to useful commercial products extremely challenging. Numerous studies have proposed to transform tailings into various useful products, such as ceramics or bricks, but unfortunately, currently, there is no market able to absorb these vast amounts of construction materials. Moreover, most of the mining sites are in remote areas far from potential markets and, from both an economic and environmental sustainability perspective, long distance transport may represent an important and almost insuperable limitation for their practical use.

It becomes clear that the challenges linked to mine tailings establish a difficult and up-hill battle against time to come up with viable and long-lasting solutions which may address yesterday, today and tomorrow’s tailings.


The primary copper ­reserves in the world are found in countries with high rates of solar radiation. The Atacama Desert in the north of Chile has one of the highest rates of solar radiation in the world, which is precisely where the world’s largest copper reserves are located. This scenario inspired the solar tailings transformation concept presented in the BHP Tailings Challenge in 2020 and chosen as one of the 10 projects for the proof-of-concept stage. The Solar Tailings Transformation project (STT) is a novel, circular, and forward-looking approach to tailings management that combines i) sustainably dewatering tailings, and ii) repurposing tailings into marketable final end-products through solar thermal energy. This approach, promoted by the consortium formed by SMI-ICE-Chile, SEENSO, IMDEA Energy and Aiguasol, is a smart and sustainable solution for converting tailings into valuable materials with a low carbon footprint, which seeks to virtually eliminate the need for traditional tailings facilities in the future. 

The first stage of the STT approach uses high-performance solar evaporation and subsequent condensation of water applied to the tailings to recover up to 90% of high-quality water and dry the tailings that will be subjected to an agglomeration process in a second stage (explained below). This innovative process for water recovery, integrates two patented technologies already tested by prototypes currently operating in Chile and in Spain. The prototypes produce higher quality water than the water recovered currently, using conventional tailings dewatering technologies (i.e., tailings filtering). The process also involves the repurposing of the salts present in the tailings (e.g., gypsum precipitates) into binders’ additives for the agglomeration process of the STT approach – see the general concept in the figure below:

The Solar Tailings Transformation approach can recover high quality water and transform the tailings into a pelletized inert material. This approach is compatible and complementary to other reprocessing solutions, such as those focussed on recovering metal(loid)s present in the tailings or those attempting to transform part of the tailings content into valuable products.

STT’s second stage is where the dry tailings are subjected to a disruptive high temperature agglomeration process using cutting edge solar thermal energy technologies to transform the tailings into physically and chemically stable eco-friendly pellets suitable for different engineering and materials applications.

The solar high temperature melting-agglomeration-sintering process is inspired on natural processes observed in some volcanic eruptions where lapilli are formed by accretion and agglomeration of dust particles around condensed liquid or melted glassy nuclei.

The chemically and physically stable pellets will be easy to handle, transport and store, so the cost and carbon footprint of managing tailings as pellets would be lower than the current tailings management practices. In addition, the eco-friendly pellets could be used for engineering applications such as road stabilisation, dust control, covers to preclude drainage generation and emissions (dust and odours) from mines and landfills or as footpath base and for landscaping application in parks on rehabilitated areas, including mine waste impoundments. The melted tailings and pellets may also be used to produce other by-products from tailings, such as ceramics, lightweight aggregates, sorbent materials, structure for mirrors used in concentrated solar power applications, etc.

STT technology will have significant and positive environmental and social impacts. The approach is compatible and complementary with other tailings reprocessing solutions, such as those focused on recovering metal(loid)s present in the tailings or those attempting to transform part of the tailings content to valuable products.


The Solar Tailings Transformation concept is a sustainable approach that could lead to a paradigm shift in the mining industry’s tailings management. This concept takes a complex and difficult to handle mine waste and transforms it into an opportunity to support a more sustainable industry. For this shift to take place, the industry needs to identify the weaknesses and strengths in their currently knowledge and actions pertaining to tailings, as well as evaluate the risks and opportunities of novel and innovative approaches created by academia for the improvement of processes that impact a diverse and large group of stakeholders.


For more information, please contact Felipe Saavedra, Jacques Wiertz, and David Rubinos.

Construction of knowledge on social aspects of mine closure processes

By Nigel Wight and Francisca Rivero, social researchers at SMI-ICE-Chile


Mine closure is an inevitable part of the mine cycle. Mining operations are temporary and, once their activities are no longer viable, be it for structural, economic, or political reasons, the operation must close. Mining companies have multiple internal uncertainties, environmental mitigation measures and external variables which determine how closure is planned, financed, and operationalised.

Laws that regulate and guide the social performance of mining companies in mine closure are scarce and limited. This is true both in Chile and throughout the world. Mining companies depend greatly on their own standards and social performance actions to identify and mitigate social risks related to the closure of operations.

We consider that the knowledge, capacities and resources available during the operation’s lifespan are not sufficient for the closure and post-closure stages. Closure comes with unique challenges in terms of impacts and social risks, and requires specialised knowledge, capacities and resources to successfully carry out such a profound process as closure. In the midst of this complexity, academia has begun to contribute meaningfully to generate knowledge, disassociated somewhat from the industry pressures of the mining cycle, and with resources that allow us to learn from closure process experiences, and promote changes in the way mining companies organise for closure.

Social challenges and the law for closure of mine operations

The closure of a mine operations is a highly complex process, presenting multiple challenges. In 2012 in Chile law number 20 551 which regulates the closure of mine operations and facilities came into effect. International experiences on mine closure were references for the Chilean legislation, as well as existing closure practices from the primary foreign mining companies in Chile. The law’s objective is to plan and implement actions “progressively, during the different operational stages of a mine site, throughout its lifecycle”. The law compels companies to make a closure plan early, which must be approved by Sernageomin, which allows for the identification and mitigation of environmental impacts which remain as legacy in the territory.

However, Chilean regulation is yet to adequately consider how to guide the industry through the demands of social aspects of mine closure. This aspect of closure remains invisible compared to the challenge of achieving physical-chemical stability of the site. It is not enough merely to inform and disseminate the closure plan among impacted communities, although this is a key aspect. A good communications plan does not guarantee a transition focused on ensuring sustained wellbeing of impacted communities. In this sense, Chile is equivalent to other mining contexts. A study carried out by Kung et al (2020) for the Centre for Social Responsibility in Mining identifies that the great majority of mining contexts, among them jurisdictions within Australia, Canada, New Zealand and Peru, do not require social impact evaluations for closure.

In Chile there are few mining companies that have undergone site closures. However, every operation currently active, as well as projects under development, must have an approved closure plan. Few companies have elaborated their own standards to explicitly undertake social challenges generated during closure: social transition, new land uses, and social impacts related to environmental impacts. Since current regulations do not address social impacts of closure on communities, they restrict mining companies from effectively designing and implementing their social performance activities in order to reduce the future risks associated with mine closure. There is an opportunity to enrich and improve the regulatory instrument so that it may address, appropriately and accurately, the challenges of closure from a social perspective.

The role of the State is crucial

Generally, the State has not actively participated in the development of the territory where mines operate. Their actions are circumscribed to activities carried out by municipalities and regional governments but restricted by the limited public resources these entities administer. Public investment in mining territories, from the respective governmental agencies, does not always complement private investment and, on occasion the absence of the State is evident in these areas, where mining companies finance basic services in order to guarantee a minimum wellbeing for communities, through Corporate Social Responsibility programs.

As a mine reaches closure, the historical absence of the State in a territory becomes relevant. The State must reassume its role, firstly to safeguard the compliance of the law, but also to fill the void left in the territory and collaboratively support the social transition process that communities will undergo towards a post-closure scenario.

The social and political context of Chile increasingly demands addressing the requirements of key social stakeholders in the territories in a timely and responsible manner. The State, alongside industry and the communities, must have conversations and reach the necessary agreements to design future scenarios for a transition from mining that promotes territorial development while supporting a sustainable legacy considering the wellbeing of communities.

The role of academia

Australian, Canadian and European academia are distinguished by the longevity and breadth of their research and experience in the social complexities of mining, including mine closure. Academia, through its experience based on evidence, can positively affect a fairer distribution of risks and benefits as it relates to mine closure processes. We believe that our vision and knowledge from academia and applied research, examining industry process and understandings, allow us to advance and influence the public agenda to propose sustainable regulatory adjustments and enrich mine closure planning processes, from a social perspective.

The Sustainable Minerals Institute (SMI) at The University of Queensland has carried out extensive research on social aspects of mine closure, and is currently part of The Social Aspects of Mine Closure Research Consortium, a collaboration established in 2019 between academia and industry to carry out research that challenges the norms and practices currently accepted by industry, and establishes new standards on mine closure focused on people.


· Kung, A., Everingham, J., and Vivoda, V. (2020) ‘Social aspects of mine closure: governance & regulation’. Centre for Social Responsibility in Mining. The University of Queensland: Brisbane. See HERE.

· Image credit: Codelco, El Salvador Division, Feb 25, 2019.



For further information, please contact Nigel Wight and Francisca Rivero.

Consultas generales

+56 2 2307 9710


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

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