IPROCESS: We can get companies to manufacture what they buy abroad today

That is the opinion of Ronald Álvarez, founder of this innovative project that proposes to migrate the Chilean manufacturing industry to an Industry 4.0, recovering valuable elements and transforming them into products of high economic value.

After working 15 years at IM2 (today CodelcoTech), a subsidiary of Codelco dedicated to mining innovation, Ronald Álvarez, a civil metallurgical engineer, decided to undertake. In 2017, he created IPROCESS (Innovation Process), a technology-based company specialized in process innovation that takes care of chemical/metallurgical/mining challenges in those areas that the market does not propose viable technological solutions, or they are high cost for its owner.

«Today we export only raw material to other countries, as a country we can and have a duty to move towards a more specialized industry,» says the professional, adding that mining has a great opportunity to transform its «environmental liabilities» into elements of value.

What is the problem that IPROCESS addresses?

Chile as a mining country must strengthen the chemical manufacturing industry nationally and internationally, producing high-tech chemical materials and compounds, since there are many secondary minerals – which are considered wastes in the mining and chemical industry – that can be used to extract valuable items and produce by-products for use in the agricultural, automotive, mining and chemical industry.

Why is IPROCESS a good solution?

Today the waste and secondary materials of mining either become environmental liabilities or are reprocessed in practice to recover copper and residual molybdenum, while maintaining a residue without stabilizing or rescuing other valuable elements. Despite the above, it is technically and economically feasible to recover elements of value and transform them into products of high economic value, stabilizing the last waste according to the ecosystem and safe environmental standards.

Within the framework of a circular economy, the goal of establishing “Urban Mining” in Chile in a complete and integrated way is established, considering that the current non-ferrous metal recycling plants – except aluminum – only collect, disarm, classify and they package the electronic components with greater value, exporting to different highly developed countries for their final treatment of extraction of precious metals, special metals and rare earth elements (REE). IPROCESS plans to close the cycle, taking the recycling of e-waste to obtain metals or their oxides of purity 4N or 5N, recovered from the electronic scrap, as does the final recipient who receives the current recycling abroad. Thus IPROCESS proposes to migrate the Chilean manufacturing industry to an Industry 4.0 in synergy with the operations of industrial and mining companies to add value in the sustainability of the business and contribute to the circular economy. With this, Chile can «displace imports» and get companies to manufacture what they buy outside today. This certainly sells and adds value.

What is the target audience you intend to conquer?

The orientation of IPROCESS is towards the chemical / mining / industrial sector. For example, companies in the water treatment sector, agricultural sector, suppliers of chemicals and high value-added materials, manufacturers of surfactant additives, fine-chemicals and / or specialties based on special or rare metals, cement sector, Electronic waste recycling, e-waste and, finally, mining companies that require a survey and analysis of the current situation of the processes involved, taking into account the Big-Data of the plant and proposing optimizations for the areas involved.

What phase of the project are they in?

Currently, IPROCESS participates in projects related to the analysis of value-added elements as well as the production of by-products. Our goal today is focused on the search for potential partners that require participation in this great task.

What are your growth expectations?

IPROCESS has a 10-year business plan, aimed at creating multi-purpose plants for the manufacture of high value-added by-products. It is certainly a challenge to grow at a level of patenting and associated royalties. Our goal is to extrapolate the use of elements of value and, at the same time, of production of by-products towards the mining industry associated with waste slag and smelting of smelting powders, mining tailings, wastes from the steel industry, from refining plants of oil, brines from reverse osmosis plants, electronic scrap, among others. Do you think that mining needs projects / suppliers of this type to retain its leadership?
Certainly, but not from the perspective of being a supplier, but rather of taking care of the waste that is now an environmental liability for mining. In this way, the current operation in the plants can be made viable, becoming a value proposition in the sale of products with added value based on sustainability, also improving the long-term business.

How was the experience of innovating in Chile?

Very difficult. Actually, we have been specialized as a Chilean industry for the same decades and we have not expanded to new areas and markets that are more knowledge-intensive, such as by-product manufacturing. Today we export only raw material to other countries, being that as a country we can and have a duty to move towards a more specialized industry (4.0).