BHP extends Spence by 50 years with copper concentrator site

The US$2,460mn copper concentrator plant in Chile has a throughput of 95,000tpd, producing copper concentrate and molybdenum concentrate

BHP has extended the line of mine at Spence in Chile by 50 years after opening its new copper concentrator plant.

The project, which has a throughput of 95,000tpd to produce copper concentrate and molybdenum concentrate, was built with more than 12,000 workers and total investment reached US$2,460mn. 

The inauguration of the concentrator is part of a global plan by BHP that seeks to reinforce the copper portfolio, strengthening its operations in Chile to respond to a global demand for the metal that will double in the coming decades.

BHP CEO Mike Henry was accompanied by the president of BHP Minerals Americas, Rag Udd, the president of BHP Pampa Norte, Cristián Sandoval, the Undersecretary of Mining Willy Kracht, as well as local authorities and residents of Sierra Gorda and Baquedano.

“This is a significant moment for BHP in Chile, where we have been for more than 30 years and we want to continue on this path of joint development and collaboration," said Henry.

"Chile has great opportunities to provide the commodities that the world needs to decarbonise and improve living standards. But we cannot do it on our own. We need to continue working with industry, government, and communities to continue development in a safe, sustainable manner, and to create value for everyone along this way."

Kracht said its commitment as a government is to create conditions for a harmonious development of mining activity, so that it allows us to continue contributing with the necessary minerals to advance in the energy transition.

"From this perspective, we value the industry's efforts to responsibly increase Chilean copper production and I would like to recognize BHP for the great achievement of having completed the construction and commissioning of the Spence concentrator in such a complex context, as the one created by the pandemic”, he said.

Sandoval explained that the project represented "a meeting point for emerging talent, for the incorporation of women into mining and new opportunities for all workers and communities in the region". 

The new concentrator plant was built with an inclusive and diverse workforce: today, 32.7% of Spence workers are women, and BHP will continue to move in this direction.

In addition, during the construction process – which lasted 1,180 days – more than 12,000 workers were employed and it was the only mining project in Chile that did not stop construction during the pandemic. 

On a technical level, water for the new concentrator is supplied by a desalination plant located in Mejillones, which allows Spence to operate exclusively with desalinated seawater today, and power for the concentrator is supplied exclusively from renewable sources.

Another sustainable feature is the implementation of new flotation technology, which uses 60% less energy and occupies 50% less space than conventional plants. This will generate lower energy consumption and reduced emission of greenhouse gases. 

In addition, innovations at Spence include the implementation of a fleet of 5 drills and 33 autonomous trucks, which will allow progressing in the electrification of material handling processes.

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