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Solar power project to refine Chilean copper

Monday, March 29th 2010 - 18:30 UTC
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Chile is the world’s largest producer and exporter of copper Chile is the world’s largest producer and exporter of copper

Codelco, Chile’s nationally-owned copper company and one of the world’s largest, announced last week a plan to outfit some of their mines with solar power over the next few years, a move expected to save millions of dollars in energy costs.

The 50 million US dollars project will be focused primarily on the Gaby Mine refinery, and will be open for operation sometime between 2010 and 2011. The use of solar panels is expected to cut the mine’s petroleum use by 30%, saving the company nearly 700 million USD.

“We are thinking of, in the first stage, using this technology in the water of the plant processes of electro-winning cathodes of the Gaby mine, we should, in this first phase, avoid consuming more than 660,000 gallons of oil within the year,” Codelco Director of Energy Efficiency Richard Aylwin told local media.”

The Gaby Mine has become Codelco’s principal site for experimenting with new technology. In 2008, under President Michelle Bachelet, it became home to Chile’s first fleet of robotically automated trucks. The company has also utilized a host of environmentally friendly technologies, such as non-contaminating wastes, and wind power. Eventually Codelco plans to obtain at least 6% of its energy for its northern sector from wind power.

These initiatives are all important steps in working toward the renewable energy goals set by the Chilean government in 2008, when it passed a law requiring that at least 5% of all electricity come from renewable resources no later than 2010. The requirement will increase every year by 0.5% in order to reach an eventual goal of 10% renewable energy by 2024.

At this point, Codelco is not sure how they plan to pay for the solar project. As a government-owned company, there are many stipulations to where the funding can come from. Coldelco will have to either use public funding or from their resources.

“Right now nothing is very clear, but in two or three months it will be very clear which business model we will use for this first phase,” Alywin told local media.

By Lindsay Fendt – Santiago Times

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