"Today, the South American market represents 45% of the company’s revenue, with Chile and Peru being the largest contributors."
How has Ausenco grown in Chile in the last few years?
Ausenco is a global company founded in Brisbane, Australia 30 years ago. In 2008, we entered the South and North American markets through a series of acquisitions, including Pipeline Systems Incorporated (PSI) and Vector Engineering. These acquisitions allowed us to better position ourselves in the Chilean market. Today, the South American market represents 45% of the company’s revenue, with Chile and Peru being the largest contributors.
In Chile, we provide consulting, design, and construction services from mine to port, including process plants, tailings, environment, permitting, asset management & optimization, pipelines and transportation & logistics. A safety achievement we are incredibly proud of is surpassing 6 million person-hours Lost Time Injury (LTI) free across our projects in Chile.
We were recently awarded the EPC lumpsum turnkey contract for Mantos Copper’s Mantoverde development project – a defining moment for us. We will deliver a 30,000 t/day copper concentrator plant and related infrastructure as well as significant carbon emission-reducing benefits. We are also working with BHP on the commissioning of the Spence Growth Option project, and we have been awarded a similar contract to provide commissioning services at Teck’s Quebrada Blanca project (where we are currently providing field engineering services).
Our office in Peru is in the final stages of delivering the Mina Justa EPCM project for Marcobre. The project consists of a 6 million mt/y copper sulphide concentrator and a 12 mt/y vat leach oxide facility, and all the associated infrastructure with a total investment of US$1,600 million.
What set Ausenco’s proposal apart from the competition for the Mantoverde project?
We were chosen because of our excellent track record in delivering similar projects and our capital-efficient and optimized design. We reduced the plant’s overall footprint by relocating the primary crusher, redesigning the stockpile reclaim tunnel and optimizing grinding and flotation. This reduced earthworks excavation and concrete requirements.
How do you compare your experience with the pandemic in Chile relative to other jurisdictions in South America?
The pandemic significantly impacted South America. However, the dynamics of the pandemic and resulting closures and lockdown in Peru were more severe than in Chile. Despite this, we continued to deliver the Mina Justa project (Ica province) and are currently installing the third ball mill at the Las Bambas project in Cotabambas.
In comparison, Chilean mining and related activities were declared essential and we didn’t experience the same delays. Our biggest challenge in Chile was managing the logistics of key individuals travelling between sites as commercial transport links were suspended.
Can you elaborate on the challenges of developing mining projects unique to Chile?
Water scarcity is an ongoing challenge in Chile. The desalination and the transport of seawater require large amounts of energy and increases operational costs for projects. Comminution is also an energy-intensive process. The industry is moving towards greater incorporation of renewable energy sources to address rising energy costs and sustainability issues.
Another challenge facing the development of mining projects in Chile is bureaucracy. This affects how quickly projects are approved and permitted. The industry and government are aware of this issue, and efforts are being made to streamline the process.
How would you characterize the current trends in the Chilean mining industry?
A current trend we have noted is the increase in mid-tier mining companies interested in Chile. Large-scale operators are expanding, but there are also several promising mid-sized projects for which we are developing studies. We believe there is a strong potential for these projects to be developed in the future. Canadian and Australian junior companies are also increasingly active in Chile, especially in the gold space.
The bullish sentiment in the markets has translated into a growing demand for studies to develop new copper and gold projects, that is backed by the interest of investment companies and private equity firms to invest in these projects. It is a very exciting time for the mining industry and Ausenco.