Currently globally, the monitoring of heap leach dumps and dumps is mainly based on the control and monitoring of hydrometallurgical aspects and does not consider those of geotechnical origin, therefore, Geotecnia Ambiental (GA) through the line of Technological Contracts for Innovation of INNOVA CORFO, leads a project that seeks to associate geotechnical variables with efficiency indicators of the hydrometallurgical process to optimize the recovery process of the leach heap solution and evaluate the physical stability in gravel piles and dumps, during its operational stage.
This R&D initiative co-financed by CORFO, started in November 2018, and its completion date is scheduled for May 2021, in which it is expected to generate a knowledge baseline through the development of geotechnical procedures and their respective validation, to obtain a potential cost-efficient service aimed at the mining sector.
In this context, the general objective of the project is to develop a process with the application of cost-efficient geotechnical technologies and tools, for the optimization of the recovery of copper in leach piles, including the continuous evaluation of the physical stability of said piles and dumps.
For which, among the specific objectives, it is contemplated to develop a low-cost geotechnical procedure that allows obtaining critical parameters that can be related to efficiency indicators of the hydrometallurgical process.
Raúl Espinace, Founding Partner and Executive Director of GA, directs this project together with a team of prominent GA professionals, including Paula Espinace, Rodolfo Rojas and Felipe Lazcano, who oversee coordinating and executing the project.
Likewise, Juan Palma, an academic with a long career, leads the PUCV team, the R + D + i entity in charge of the project, made up of prominent professionals, including Gabriel Villavicencio, Pamela Valenzuela, Ricardo Zúñiga and Manuel Bascuñán.
Paula Espinace, Head of the Environmental Geotechnics R & D + i Unit points out “The close relationship that we have achieved with the mining industry has allowed us to get up close to its challenges and guide solutions under a local perspective with an international scale projection. Whose focus is the optimization of their production processes and safety of their tasks, and at the same time in the generation of positive externalities, especially from the environmental perspective, such as improving the closing conditions of their facilities.”
In the first year of research, it has been possible to identify and delve into the geotechnical and metallurgical variables that affect the copper recovery process, together with the validation of technologies for its determination. To date, the National Mining Company (ENAMI Planta M.A Matta) and Sociedad Punta del Cobre S.A. (PUCOBRE Biocobre Plant) have agreed to participate in this project, arranging the experimental fields to carry out the in-situ campaigns and obtaining samples to carry out the testing program. In addition, it has the interest of other companies and its incorporation into the project is studied, with the purpose of scaling the solution in a short term.
The project is progressing as planned in its most relevant lines: Geophysics, geotechnics, hydrometallurgy and image analysis, successfully fulfilling the milestones established by CORFO and obtaining very promising partial results, especially the possible correlations between critical geotechnical parameters and indicators of recovery of solution in leach piles.
It is important to mention that, to date, the project has achieved a close cooperation link between the project actors, the GA company, the PUCV university and the mining companies, building a powerful public-private R&D network that transcends the current scope of the project.
The results of this project will be a significant contribution to the mining industry, taking into account that the methodologies used for heap leaching and stability evaluation have been the same for many years, therefore, thanks to the project, it will be possible to count with improvements to the process that will reduce costs and globally optimize copper oxide recovery processes. In this sense, Engineer Rodolfo Rojas comments “If the result becomes as expected, the estimation of surface humidity from the analysis of images, both satellite and drone, will be an excellent tool for remote operational control of these batteries”. Lastly, the project hopes to impact not only the copper production industry at the local level, but also aims to expand and scale its scope to productions of other minerals globally, for which GA is already working to develop a strategy business associated with the new operational management service for piles and gravel deposits.