Cesco holds a meeting to analyze the future of smelters in Chile

The Center for Copper and Mining Studies organized an online meeting between the directors of the institution and members of its FURE (smelters and refinery)Commission, which since November 2019 has brought together different specialists from both industry and academia; Universidad Católica, Universidad de Concepción and Universidad de Chile, to analyze the future of this industry in Chile.

On the occasion, the director of Cesco and general manager of EcoMetales, Iván Valenzuela, and the academic of the Universidad Católica Gustavo Lagos, presented a complete analysis based on two questions: is a modern smelting industry necessary for the country? And is it a good business for the country?

“One of the strategic issues that copper mining must resolve this decade is whether the country will continue to rely on exporting more concentrates or whether a new mining policy is required,” Valenzuela explained during his presentation. The world and markets are changing and we cannot continue doing the same, among other things because it is not possible to repeat the concentrate boom of the 90s and early 2000s, and mining is ceasing to be the car that pushes the growth and productivity of the Chilean economy. “The objective of this work is to answer this question and make a proposal that provides a powerful signal of the direction that could be taken in the future in this important industry”.

For his part, Gustavo Lagos carried out a detailed analysis of the economic and environmental performance of smelters in Chile, in contrast to other smelters outside the country. In addition to this, and based on a rigorous evaluation of a project for a 1 million ton refinery smelter, he presented the benefits of having a smelter in Chile, where the environmental, competitiveness and profitability benefits were highlighted, among others. In this regard, Lagos added that “the signal aims to create a smelter – refinery, which will advance to a highly technological, knowledge-based, green mining. This work shows why this is beneficial for the country and mining.”

Main conclusions

Although this work is still under discussion, this meeting was important to detect the interest and to some extent the surprise of many of the participants, because somehow the pre-existing image is that the smelter theme appeared as something from the past. And from the discussion raised it was shown that, on the contrary, this type of activities can constitute a bridge with the mining of the future; innovation, new technologies, on-site processing and avoiding the transport of gigantic amounts of garbage, use of by-products, scrap processing, and the generation of knowledge in metallurgy that make it possible to solve the growing problems that increasingly complex mining will present. It is precisely a matter of advancing towards the so-called circular economy, which requires, beyond slogans, a minimum productive base that requires this type of facility, with a high environmental, commercial and technological standard.

“We propose that the State promote, not finance nor operate, the construction of a smelter-refinery with the highest environmental standards”, said Gustavo Lagos, collecting the proposals emanating from the Commission. “This will generate a set of economic, technological, environmental, human capabilities, strategic and social benefits for the mining industry and the country, and at the same time, does not imply costs for the mining industry.”

Regarding this, the Commission defined that mining companies can participate in the ownership of the business if they wish, specifying that their main contribution is the long-term sale of concentrates commitment. However, the refinery smelter business must be managed by a world-class company in copper smelters and refineries.

Finally, the State “must guarantee that all the indicated conditions are met concerning the location of the project, environmental evaluation and protection, supply of concentrates and consultation with communities and other interest groups so that it can be successfully completed in a short time”.