The Chilian state-owned copper mining company, Codelco, will begin building a US$1 billion desalination plant for its northern operations this year.
The plant, which will be operational in three more years, is a major step towards the company's goal of reducing inland water consumption by 60%, highlights the company’s recent press release.
The consortium, formed by Marubeni Corporation and Transelec, will be responsible for the development of the plant and its drive systems, which will come into operation in over three years time.
The development and execution of the plant - whose construction will begin this year - is a necessary step towards a sustainable supply for the Northern District, which will allow it to face the challenges imposed by water scarcity, maximize operational stability and achieve one of Codelco's sustainable development commitments by 2030. This goal aims to reduce the unit consumption of continental water by 60%, through a combination of improving the efficiency of operating processes, the reuse of water from tailings deposits and the incorporation of the desalination plant for the Northern District.
"We know how urgent it is for our country that large copper mining companies stop using inland water for their processes, so this long-awaited step of building a desalination plant in the north is a fundamental contribution for Chile. At a time of climate change and water crisis, we are proud to initiate this project that demonstrates our commitment to move forward quickly to be recognized as a sustainable company," said the chairman of the board, Máximo Pacheco.
The project involves an investment of more than US$ 1 billion and the employment of up to 2,700 people at the peak of the three-year construction period.
It will be executed under a BOOT (Build, Own, Operate and Transfer) business model, which implies that the consortium will build, own and operate the plant and then transfer it to Codelco.
The copper company explained that it awarded the contract to the main companies that had submitted the best offer in the previous process, a tender that was cancelled in December 2019 to adjust the project to the new definitions of the state-owned company's mining plan.
The project will be a sustainable, state-of-the-art technological solution based on the design of a desalination plant that will operate by reverse osmosis, with an initial capacity of 840 liters per second and the potential to expand to 1,956 liters per second. The plant, which will be located south of Tocopilla, includes marine works and a water impulsion system that will cover more than 160 kilometers with pipelines. The electrical infrastructure will pump it to more than 3,000 meters above sea level until it reaches the industrial water reservoir for the supply of desalinated water in the Northern District.