A snapshot of 2021 from the team at SMI-ICE-Chile

17 November 2021


Despite the uncertainty that has permeated our lives this year, the mining industry in Chile and the region has maintained operational stability. For  SMI-ICE-Chile, this has meant continuity and the growth of our project portfolio. There has been a considerable focus on local social and environmental challenges, particularly around water scarcity and operational water management, land rehabilitation and tailings management, and community engagement and the generation of local value.

The team visited Northern Chile to gather samples for a project at El Salvador

The central and northern zones of Chile continue to experience the effects of the Chilean ‘mega drought’ which is greatly impacting water availability. SMI-ICE-Chile and the Centre for Water in the Mining Industry (CWiMI)’s project with MC Inversiones Ltda. (a subsidiary of the Mitsubishi Corporation) Achieving Economic and Social Development in Arid Areas through Intelligent Water Supply Systems” aims to address this issue by supporting the planning of interconnected water supply systems.

The project team are currently developing planning tools that allow the user to identify and analyse water supply solutions that connect multiple water sources and users via the application of algorithms to optimise cost and minimise environmental impact.

The tools are being developed for the Atacama Region of Chile and the project has included considerable stakeholder engagement through a series of workshops and meetings with key sectors.

With the first year of the project recently completed, the focus is on further development and testing of the planning tools. There has been considerable interest in the project from  industry and civil society and the team have been invited to be involved in other water supply planning initiatives at a regional and national level.

The Centre’s Tailings and Contaminated Land team also had an extremely active year. Several projects with Codelco División Salvador have led to an understanding of the impacts of past management practices on local soil and vegetation systems, and strategies for the rehabilitation of those impacts. The recent successes of proposals for projects linked to the restoration and management of the historic impacts on Salar de Pedernales further sets up the group for a major partnership with the company and local providers and stakeholders.

Solar Tailings Transformation project for Expande-BHP Tailings Challenge

Tailings management issues have remained in the global spotlight and the team at SMI-ICE-Chile is currently working on the proof-of-concept stage of the Solar Tailings Transformation project that was one of ten projects to receive funding from the Expande-BHP Tailings Challenge.

The project team are researching the potential to apply concentrated solar energy to tailings to recover water and generate a more stable and valuable end material. Learn more about the process and the proposed solutions here.

The Social Performance and Resource Governance team completed their project with Albemarle which provided an evaluation of the company’s agreement with the Indigenous communities local to the Salar de Atacama. The project was supported by UQ’s Dr Sally Babidge and Griffith University’s Professor Ciaran O’Faicheallaigh and was well received by both Albemarle and the communities.

The team has also been working with the water resources team on a project sponsored by BHP to design and develop climate resilient infrastructure for Indigenous communities in the north of Chile. The project called ‘Kuskalla’, is being developed as a partnership between EBP Chile, PowerLedger, Ser Patrimonio and SMI-ICE-Chile and is being implemented in the Tarapacá Region of Chile.

One of the driving objectives for SMI-ICE-Chile is the transfer of knowledge, and this year the Centre was invited to deliver a module on sustainability in mining for the Universidad de Chile’s Master’s in Mining degree program. Centre staff also delivered lectures as part of the Pontificia Universidad Católica de Valparaíso’s Mine Closure postgraduate program and Responsible Mining Certificate Diploma.

SMI-ICE-Chile is co-organiser of the 4th International Congress on Planning for Closure to take place in May 2022 and the team from SMI’s Minerals Industry Safety and Health Centre (MISHC) are co-organising the 2nd International Conference on Safety and Labor Health in Mining, to take place in Santiago in June 2022.

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