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FEB. 2, 2021

Mining industry to build 15 new desalination plants by 2028; use of seawater will almost equal use of fresh water in a decade

Today the industry has 8 desalination plants and 3 seawater impulsion systems already functioning in Chile, covering 25% of the non-recirculated freshwater used by the copper industry.

Seawater is playing an increasing role in the mining sector to respond to the environmental challenges that the industry faces and the great interest of companies in investing to make their processes more efficient. This is reflected in the 15 projects on file for desalination plants and/or seawater impulsion systems (direct use of non-desalinated seawater), which will come into operation in Chile by 2028.

The information was collected by the Project Management Department of the Mining Ministry from a report prepared by the Chilean Copper Commission (COCHILCO). The report notes that within a decade, when these 15 new initiatives are added to the 11 seawater supply projects – of both desalinated and direct use seawater – already in operation in the country, the copper industry will be using almost equal volumes of fresh and seawater. By 2031, according to the report, 53% of the water used in mining will be fresh and 47% will be extracted from the sea.

The Minister responsible for both the Energy and Mining departments, Juan Carlos Jobet, explained that “having a portfolio of desalination plant projects that will double our existing operations is in line with the Government's targets and the mining industry's efforts to promote the efficient use of resources, boosting innovation and responsible investment by mining companies to preserve the environment and the natural surroundings of mining projects.”

Of the 11 seawater provision systems currently operating in Chile, 8 are desalination plants and 3 are seawater impulsion systems; together they represent 25% of the non-recirculated water used by the copper industry.

By 2031, the Antofagasta Region will have the largest number of desalination plants in the country, supplying 66% of the copper industry's consumption in that region. It will be followed by the regions of Atacama, with 16% of consumption; Tarapacá, with 14% and Coquimbo with 4% of its water consumption supplied by seawater.

The 15 desalination plant projects on file include the INCO complementary infrastructure project being built in Coquimbo by Antofagasta Minerals, which involves a 150-km long pipeline to transport the water; Codelco's Northern District Desalination Plant in Antofagasta; the Quebrada Blanca Hipógenos project of Teck in Tarapacá, and the Santo Domingo project of Capstone Mining in Atacama.