"Projects are going to get bigger and more expensive due to the amount of rock we have to mine and move around to produce the copper needed to meet the demand, especially as ore grades are declining."
Can you tell us about Wood’s work at some of the emblematic Chilean mining projects in the last year?
Our role as the integration contractor for BHP’s new copper concentrator at the Spence mine – BHP’s second largest deposit in Chile after Escondida – is a great example. We still have a small team on site, but we’ve effectively and successfully completed the integration. We are also just finishing a lithium project for a client in the north of Chile which has been extremely successful.
We are currently involved in a number of projects, the biggest of which are Codelco’s Chuquicamata project, where we are doing the detailed design for underground mining and early works for Antofagasta Minerals’ Minera Centinela project. We are also involved in a significant amount of proposal study work and have long-term engineering contracts with mining companies in Chile.
What are some of the key considerations for mining companies looking to source water for operations?
From a broad water perspective, looking at new mines in Chile, I would expect that all are going to use seawater of some description – whether it is desalinated water used as potable water or non-desalinated water used in processes. If you want to use seawater, the materials for construction have to be different because salt water is highly corrosive. The cost analysis also needs to be considered as desalination plants can become incredibly expensive, as well as the need to replace materials on a more frequent basis than what you would do otherwise. We have to reduce water consumption and find ways to use every liter of water multiple times, and Wood can contribute engineering solutions for both water management and recycling.
Can you elaborate on what Wood’s ‘Mine 2050’ concept aims to achieve?
The energy transition starts and ends with mining. There is a huge mismatch between the world’s climate ambitions and the availability of critical future-facing metals needed to resource the energy transition. If you look at the demand of copper alone, in order to achieve the net-zero 2050 targets, analysts suggest it will take around 19 million tons of additional copper. The largest copper mine in the world is Escondida, and that figure equates to a new Escondida that must be discovered and entered production every year for the next 20 years to meet the projected increase in demand, bearing in mind it currently takes 12 to 15 years to move a mine into production. Progress has to be achieved faster, better and safer, and Wood is supremely focused on the solutions we can provide to address the urgency and achieve those net zero target and support our clients as they look to reach their sustainability goals. This includes working on digital technologies related to the energy transition, such as carbon capture, and developing integrated energy solutions through the deployment of our renewables arm.
What type of renewable energy projects do you expect to play a role in the development of mining?
I believe that all renewable sources of energy such as wind, solar, green and blue hydrogen will play a role. For example, Wood is doing work for a client in Chile to supply hydrogen for all their trucks. We have a division that specializes in hydrogen development. We also have the ability to deliver renewable solutions to reduce the carbon intensity of mining operations.
Which areas of Chile’s mining business do you see as having the strongest potential for growth for Wood?
Projects are going to get bigger and more expensive due to the amount of rock we have to mine and move around to produce the copper needed to meet the demand, especially as ore grades are declining. As a global company we can harness a broad range of expertise along with a diverse range of cross-sector solutions to ensure our clients’ operations are future-ready, efficient and sustainable. Finally, we have a strong digital technology division, which I believe will see significant growth in the coming years as mines become green and integrate value added technologies into their operations. Digital twins are in particularly high demand. In summary, as the world’s needs and our clients’ needs continue to evolve so will our solutions. Our track record of managing mega projects along with our know-how in digitalization and automation will see Wood’s presence in Chile continue to grow.