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CANADIAN MINING PERSPECTIVES: Mining industrial minerals in Chile

Readers are familiar with Canadian mining companies that have developed copper and gold mines in Chile. But ATACAMA...


Readers are familiar with Canadian mining companies that have developed copper and gold mines in Chile. But ATACAMA MINERALS of Vancouver has eschewed metals, opting instead to mine industrial minerals. It is producing iodine, sodium sulphate and nitrate from its Aquas Blancas property in northern Chile.

We rarely consider the industrial minerals industry of Chile, but that country produced 62% of the worlds iodine in 2004. Iodine has uses in x-ray contrast media, pharmaceuticals, nutrition, water treatment and LCD screens.

Nitrates at the Aquas Blancas region were discovered as early as 1860, and the district became Chiles main nitrate producer until the First World War. In fact, Chile was a major source of nitrates used in manufacturing gunpowder until the advent of synthetic nitrates.

Under the direction of Atacama, Aquas Blancas mine restarted production in 2000. It is an open pit with a single 2- to 4-m bench. Rather than drilling, blasting and crushing, Atacama has commissioned a cost-effective continuous mining machine capable of removing 200,000 t of ore per month. Ore is trucked either to heap leach pads or an agitated leach pilot plant. Atacama recently reported a 20% increase in reserves. Proven and probable material totals 24.6 million t grading 522 ppm I2, 18.6% SO4 and 3.10% NO3. Mine life is estimated at more than 20 years.

Plans are in place to increase iodine production to 1,500 t/y, with the successful completion of a commercial-scale agitated leach plant by mid-2007. The production of sodium sulphate and nitrate will begin this year; annual production of these minerals is to be expanded to 325,000 t sulphate and 65,000 t nitrates by 2008-09. Atacamas stated objective is to become one of the worlds largest and lowest cost iodine and sulphate producers.

Looks like the company is well on its way to reaching its goal.


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