Codelco begins using bacteria to make low-grade ores profitable
By Fabian Cambero
SANTIAGO Aug 26 (Reuters) - Bioleaching technology that uses bacteria to extract copper from low-grade mineral is ready after years of development for use in Chile, potentially boosting production at world No. 1 copper miner Codelco as it seeks to squeeze more metal out of tired ores.
Bioleaching uses bacteria to obtain copper from sulfide ores, which with current technology are usually considered unprofitable and left unprocessed.
BioSigma, a joint venture between Chile's state-run Codelco and Japan's JX Nippon Mining & Metals, has been developing the technology over the last decade. It will use it to treat sulfides at Codelco's Radomiro Tomic mine in northern Chile after successful trials, executives from the venture told Reuters.
Codelco is battling to maintain production levels against a backdrop of falling ore grades at its aging mines, a sliding copper price and rising costs.
By using bioleaching, the company can turn around a drop in production at Radomiro Tomic, said Fidel Baez, Codelco's vice president of development.
Trials are also taking place at Codelco's El Teniente and century-old Chuquicamata mines, said Baez.
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