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Codelco’s Pampa Elvira Solar installation in Chile

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Groundbreaking solar heating installation for the world’s largest copper mining company (Chile)

Pampa Elvira Solar – groundbreaking solar heating installation for the world’s largest copper mining company, Codelco. 43,920 m2 in the Atacama Desert in Chile. The installation was erected in 2013-14.

Mining processes are energy intensive in their operation. For the electro winning (EW) it is required to heat water or electrolyte solutions in order to optimize the process and thus to obtain high quality cathodes. One of the main heat sources used for heating these solutions is diesel fuel. Up to some years ago, Gabriela Mistral Division of Codelco (formerly Minera Gaby) was no exception and used petroleum fuel to heat up process water.

However, in the search for cleaner initiatives, respectful of the environment, this Division of Codelco, state-owned corporation and world largest copper producer signed a contract in 2012 with Energia Llaima (Chile) and Arcon-Sunmark (Denmark), whereby this consortium would build and operate a solar thermal plant which would heat 80% of the water required for the EW process.

The plant comprises a surface of 43,920 m2 of flat solar collectors (99% recyclable) and a 4,300 m3 tank for the storage of hot water, which permits the supply of energy 24 hours a day. These collectors are specially designed for the desertic environment in which they are located, with special seals for preventing the ingress of dust. Furthermore, the piping system is optimized for the purpose of minimizing installation time.

Leads to better quality
The solar heating solution is the perfect complement to the mining industry. Not only because it generates savings and replaces the use of fossil energy with clean energy – increasingly important in the world market – but also because it delivers more stable temperatures to the system, optimizing the EW process and thus a better product quality is obtained.

Fewer trucks
Before it was put into service, an annual flow of 250 trucks transported 8,000 m3 of fuel to be used in the EW process, for the production of 120,000 tons of copper per annum. Today, the solar plant covers 80% of the annual energy demand for the heating of water, thus avoiding the emission of 15,000 tons of CO2 per year into the environment.

Stability of supply, savings and sustainability
The solar thermal energy supply contract has meant a significant saving in energy costs for Gabriela Mistral Division, furthermore permitting independence from price fluctuations of fuel and interruptions of its supply.

The plant manager of this Division of Codelco points out: “Heat is an important resource in the EW process and obtaining it in replacement of fossil energy, which is extracted from the interior of the earth, with clean and renewable energy, a resource abundantly available in the Atacama Desert, is a source of great pride. It allows us to develop a sustainable operation. Gabriela Mistral Division has endeavoured to be a benchmark in the mining industry and we work each day to reach and sustain it. Pampa Elvira Solar, the most powerful solar thermal plant in the world, is a proof of this”.

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