Chile, a country with the world’s most long and narrow territory, known as the “skirt of the earth”, through hundreds of millions of years the subduction and collision of the Pacific plate and the South American plate, has given rise to the most abundant copper deposit on earth, which has brought itself endless wealth. Ever since the end of 1700s when locals extracted copper from malachite, Chile has developed to have world’s largest copper reserve, output and export, known as “kingdom of copper”.
During continuous promotion and development, the copper industry of Chile has confronted new challenges: on one side, the new pollution standards of copper smelting industry taking effects in 2014 have resulted in that many smelting companies have urgently looked for settlements of problems such as equipment aging, substandard discharging and high environmental pressures, etc. in the existing smelters; on the other side, the sustainability and fluctuation of Chile’s “copper economy“ has put forward higher requirements for the diverse development, technical innovation, overseas expansion, smelting capacity improvements and final product manufacturing power of the enterprise in the industry.
In Coquimpo, over 300km away from Santiago, the capital of Chile, local people have such a joke: “people come to Chile either for traveling or for mining”. In March 2015, a Chinese team came to this place and caught public attention locally. Neither tourists nor gold diggers, they are leaders and experts from China ENFI Engineering Corporation (hereinafter referred to as “ENFI”), With independently developed advanced technologies and mining development concept, they have came to the paradise at the other end of the Pacific Ocean and built a new platform for mining communication and development between China and Chile; they have been responsible to promote the development of mining in both countries during the current deepening cooperation between China and Latin America.
Meet in Santiago
On March 25th (Santiago time), the technical promotion conference of “ENFI-developed bottom-blown technology and the revolution of copper smelting industry in China” was grandly held in Chile’s capital, Santiago. It is not only ENFI’s first overseas technical promotion, but also the first time of such a large conference China’s non-ferrous mining company has ever held in Chile. About 30 senior executives and technical experts from 16 consulting, engineering and construction companies such as CODELCO and Anglo American in mining metallurgy field that are of local influence in Chile have gathered together with ENFI’s team focusing on nonferrous mining metallurgy and shared development experience and achievements.
Mr. Wu Shaohui, ENFI’s president, gave the welcome speech and introduced the development and achievements of ENFI in over 60 years as one of the first engineering institutes in nonferrous industry. He said, ever since founded in 1953, ENFI has not only gained abundant engineering experience in fields such as mining, nonferrous metallurgy, chemical engineering and environment protection, municipal buildings, electric and automatic control engineering, etc., but also made fast growth in polycrystalline silicon, photovoltaic power generation and waste incineration power generation and sewage treatment, etc. which has gained substantial technical progress and formed the expertise of proprietary technology system with unique characteristics. Mr. Wu specially emphasized on ENFI’s technical advantages in mining and nonferrous metallurgy engineering; he believed that since the ever increasing strictness of Chile’s environment protection requirements has caused many smelting companies facing severe environment problems, ENFI as a promoter of green mining development in China would like to make full use of its own technical advantages, make efforts together with coworkers in Chile, share development experience and achievements, and provide high-quality complete-flow solution for modernization modification of Chile’s smelting projects with popularization and application of ENFI-developed core technologies represented by oxygen bottom-blowing copper smelting technology and oxygen bottom-blowing continuous copper converting technology (i.e. SKS/BBS +BCC) and relevant supporting technologies.
During communication, ENFI’s vice president Mr. Liu Cheng, deputy chief engineer Mr. Liu Yuming, smelting experts Mr. Lu Jinzhong and Mr. Li Bing and other participants discussed issues focused by Chile mining industry. Combined with the current increasing environmental protection requirements, laws, regulations and green development prospect of international mining metallurgy, the development history of copper smelting industry in China was introduced, especially on aspects like energy saving, environment protection and technical modification, etc. focused by Chile market; and meanwhile they shared ENFI’s outstanding engineering and technical achievements in mining, mineral processing, tailings treatment, pyrometallurgy and hydrometallurgy as leading company in China nonferrous mining, especially the development history, engineering performances, technical advantages, current situation and development tendency and application prospect of ENFI-developed oxygen bottom-blowing copper smelting technology, bottom-blowing lead smelting technology and bottom-blowing continuous copper smelting technology (i.e. SKS/BBS+BCC copper smelting process, SKS+RSKS lead smelting process), which has shown ENFI’s technical research and engineering design concept of low-carbon green and win-win cooperation of localization and differentiation.
Visit to Mining Champions
According to statistics of ICSG, six of the world's ten biggest copper mines in 2014 are in Chile, deserving the name “Kingdom of Copper”. ENFI has visited Anglo American PLC, owner of Collahuasi and Los Bronces, Codelco, owner of Codelco Norte and El Teniente, and Antofagasta, owner of Los Pelambres. The senior executives and technical experts of both parties have deeply discussed the projects where cooperation has already been conducted and future prospect for cooperation, deepened the knowledge of development history and intellectual property of ENFI-developed oxygen bottom-blowing copper smelting technology and oxygen bottom-blowing continuous copper converting technology (i.e. SKS/BBS +BCC), and further understood ENFI’s unique advantage and leading position of the field as technical researcher.
In CODELCO, the world’s largest copper company, ENFI has visited the Ventanas smelter which currently is under PFS and communicated with its senior executives. CODELCO is a wholly state-owned company and also a world-class mining company of copper mining, metallurgy and copper metal sales, with copper reserve and product outputs of cathode copper and molybdenum ranking No.1 in the world. During communication, the senior executives of CODELCO said that they have trusted and appreciated ENFI’s technical strength very much through years of mutual cooperation. In recent years, with the increasingly strict environment protection requirements, CODELCO has planned to invest 25 billion USD to conduct technical modification on copper smelters including Chuquicamata and Caletones before 2022, and wished to develop broad cooperation with ENFI. Besides, through this technical promotion conference, they have had better understanding on ENFI’s mining technology and wished that both parties could explore further cooperation space.
Anglo American is one of the world’s largest mine companies with copper business mainly in Chile and Peru of South America. ENFI’s leader and experts have visited its Charges smelter whose PFS is now underway by ENFI, to meet the existing requirements of environment protection and further improve the processing capacity of copper concentrate. During communication, Anglo American highly appreciated the work done by ENFI so far, believed that oxygen bottom-blowing technology is mature and advanced, looked forward to discussion with ENFI on application feasibility of oxygen bottom-blowing continuous converting technology, and also wished that the success of this project can provide support for ENFI to further expand Latin American market and accelerate the progress of internationalization.
ENFI’s leaders and experts have also paid visits to upstream and downstream companies in the industry chain including Chile’s largest gold corporate Antofagasta Minerals, ENAMI, ABS, Tecnicas Reunidas, etc. The visit strengthened ENFI’s ties with the Chilean industry, and laid foundation for ENFI’s further penetration into the Chilean market.
After about a hundred years’ operation, many mines in Chile are faced with decreased grade, followed by declined output. Now with its know-hows, ENFI has brought these mine companies the hope of technology-oriented upgrade. In the past several decades, ENFI has been trying to improve its technical strength, with advanced techniques, appropriate mining, high energy efficiency, environmental friendly processes, digitalization, and harmlessness as its development direction, and has made remarkable achievements in mining, mineral processing, and tailings disposal, etc. ENFI has successfully carried out projects in the non-ferrous, ferrous, rare & valuable metal, building material, and mine chemical industries in many parts of the world, and boasts numerous know-hows and patents, especially in deep shaft mining, mining of low-grade ore, mining technology for difficult mining deposit, new filling techniques, block-caving, super-large open-pit mining. In mineral processing, ENFI has researched and designed combined processes of flotation, magnetic, gravity, electric, heavy-medium separation, table flotation, and manual separation, according to different ore types and characteristics, and has developed a special technique of cyanidation for gold extraction. ENFI keeps increasing R&D input to solve technological challenges.
In non-ferrous metallurgy, various toxic matters such as arsenic, sulfur dioxide, particles, mercury, lead, and cadmium will be released in the smelting process. The Chilean government has introduced new emission standards in the copper smelting industry, requiring all existing copper smelters to control and treat 95% of SO2 produced during operation in 5 years, and 98% for new smelter. At present, all Chilean copper smelters are planning to invest in upgrading their facilities in order to reduce pollution.
After an investigation into the existing techniques of flash process, TSL process and side-blowing process, Chilean smelters have turned their attention to ENFI’s enriched-oxygen bottom-blowing smelting process (the SKS/BBS process). In the 1980s, ENFI launched fundamental research for the SKS lead smelting process, which solved the environmental problems of SO2 offgas and dust during operation. Up to now, the process has been successfully applied in over 30 copper smelters in China and abroad, contributing to more than 80% of China’s lead production. The SKS process is designated by 9 government ministries as the best lead smelting process. Later ENFI extended the low-carbon technology to copper smelting, and again transformed the copper smelting industry with SKS/BBS technology. On that basis, ENFI developed and commercialized the enriched-oxygen bottom-blowing continuous copper smelting technology (SKS/BBS + BCC technology). Due to its all-around competence, the technology has been praised as a “miracle in the world history of metallurgy”: multiple lead secondaries can be treated in lead smelting; CuS concentrate of different grades, or mixing with gold-bearing pyrite or other copper secondaries, can be treated in copper smelting.
The SKS/BBS +BCC technology is advantageous not only in its wide feed adaptation but also in environmental protection and energy saving: 1) autogenous heat balance throughout the process can be realized without any fuel added, thus bringing down energy consumption; 2) in the converting section, as the SKS/BBS furnace and the BCC furnace is connected by launder through which the melt can flow directly into the BCC furnace, the low-altitude SO2 pollution is avoided and S recovery is >99.8%, and the operating condition is thus greatly improved; 3)The waste heat during smelting and chemical processes are all used for WHB evaporation, which not only lowers offgas temperature, but also generates large quantities of saturated and low-pressure steam for power generation, direct heating of electrolyte and drying of sodium sulfite product; 4) Waste acid and waste water are also treated properly: by recycling and reusing, “zero” emission of waste effluent is realized.
At the beginning of 2015, the first Ministerial Meeting of China-CELAC Forum was concluded in success. This historic meeting saw the realization of an all-round cooperation between the two parties across the Pacific Ocean. In the setting of economic “New Normal”, China and CELAC have risen to a greater height of cooperation. ENFI’s visit to Chile conforms well to President Xi’s call for “expanding and diversifying China-Chile trade in the new economic setting, and strengthening cooperation in mining, technology, and clean energy”.
The stronger ties between China and Chile will help create new opportunities and platforms for the common and sustainable development of ENFI and Chilean enterprises. ENFI will give high attention to and keep exploring the Chilean market, try to become an international company while localizing its business, and expand and deepen cooperation with Chilean mine companies. ENFI will take the new epoch of cooperation between China and CELAC as a new starting point, keep developing the international market, and try to form new strengths for MCC and be a member of the world’s best “national team” in metallurgy.