Austral Chemicals together with Arkema develop solutions to make the concentrator plant process more productive and sustainable

Chemical solutions are incorporated into the mineral concentration process, optimizing tailings management from the thickening stage to its deposition, together with allowing greater water recovery.

The results of these innovations have been technically ratified at the semi-pilot and pilot level in Chilean laboratories and also at industrial level.

At present, many concentrator plants operate their thickeners with a solids content well below the design capacity, which negatively impacts the water balance making it impossible to maintain their performance. Other of the most common challenges are in line with the need to modify the rheology of tailings for long-distance transport effects or to increase deposit slopes to meet design specifications and finally storage capacity.

With the objective of addressing these problems that affect the industry transversally, it is that the Austral Chemicals company together with Coatex, a subsidiary of the French chemical group Arkema, began working on the development of a range of custom rheological modifiers, for different applications related to mineral concentration processes.

In general terms, these are liquid chemical solutions, ready and easy to add, that are incorporated into the process and allow to deal differently with operational difficulties associated with a need to reduce or increase rheology.

In this interview Víctor Gómez, Business Development Engineer of Austral Chemicals, and Civil Metallurgist Engineer, tells us more details of this innovative solution, which after more than three years of development, today its results have been technically ratified at the semi-pilot and pilot level in laboratories in Arkema, France, Chile and also on an industrial level.

What is the problem that this solution addresses?
Every day it is more difficult to operate a concentrator plant either by internal variables, often not considered as geological and also by external variables such as the lack of water associated with climate change. Because of this the rock that is milled contains less and less of the element of interest and more impurities that modify the yield stress (minimum cutting tension necessary to initiate a sustainable flow.) And the viscosity of the pulps that are generated, bringing with it a series of changes in its fluid-dynamic behavior.

In operational terms, the most recurring problems associated with rheology are: high torques, collapse of transmission systems and cracking of thickeners, low drive capacity and shipping in transport systems, as well as management of slopes for tailings deposition, among others. . All this translates into a negative affectation of productive KPIs.

Why is it a good solution?
Our technology is unique, specialized and tailored solutions according to the challenge of each mining company. It proposes chemical solutions to a problem that is traditionally resolved with high-investment structural projects that require increasingly demanding environmental authorizations. In addition, our solutions are friendly to people, communities, environment and facilities and are added without the need for major interventions.

What is the target audience you intend to conquer?
In general, all the concentrator plants that have challenges associated with improving their thickening processes, tailings and concentrates transport, water recovery, management and management of tailings deposits, etc.

What phase of the project are you in?
Currently, after more than 3 years developing this market and a series of tests carried out with samples from different Chilean prospects in our laboratory in France, we have technically ratified our results at the semi-pilot and pilot level in prestigious laboratories in Chile and also at the level industrial, which gives us full security regarding the benefits of our technologies.
We have recently started marketing our custom designed solutions.

What are your growth expectations?
Rather than talk about growth, at this stage we are working hard to continue learning and educate our potential clients on rheology issues. It is a very important issue since we still have a hard time being differentiated, for example, from the widely known flocculants, which we do not produce.

In the short term we want to be recognized, among the large, medium and small mining as the leaders in rheological solutions promoting alternatives that today do not exist in the Chilean mining market.

To continue spreading our technologies, we will be present at Expomin 2020, presenting interesting applications and demonstrations for all attendees.

Do you think that mining needs projects / suppliers of this type to retain its leadership?
One of the main axes necessary to maintain and strengthen our position as leaders of the copper market worldwide, considering the overwhelming progress of our main competitors in recent decades, must be innovation. This forces us to operate continuously in an environment of improvement, reducing costs, operating safely, and maintaining productive relationships with all stakeholders.

Chile annually produces more than 500 million tons of tailings with a significant amount of water contained in them. That, in the current critical climate change scenario, forces us to open with concrete actions, quickly the paths to give way to innovation.

How was the experience of innovating in Chile?
The challenge of innovating in Chile is not easy at all and it requires a lot of patience, perseverance and passion. Although we have had quite positive experiences regarding the reception of the technology, in some cases it is difficult to advance to the next level and scale our laboratory results, mainly due to the associated treatment volumes.

In general terms, although there are positive signs from corporate governments of large mining companies and a change of mentality in innovation leaders, I believe there is still enough room to improve and especially accelerate this process along with research, in an industry still quite conservative.