Desalinated Water Infrastructure Optimization under Competing Trade-Offs in the Antofagasta Mining Region of Chile

Additonal authors: Campero, C.. Book title: Proceedings of the 58th Conference of Metallurgists Hosting Copper 2019. Chapter: . Chapter title:

Proceedings, Vol. Proceedings of the 58th Conference of Metallurgists Hosting Copper 2019, 2019

Kunz, N.C.

The Chilean Congress has recently promoted desalination as a solution to meet the mining industry’s growing water demand. However, this rapid expansion of desalination infrastructure comes with trade-offs. This includes a significant energy cost for treatment, as well as socio-environmental impacts on indigenous communities, tourism, fisheries, and the marine ecosystem. This paper advances a regional-scale model for analyzing competing trade-offs through a case study in the Antofagasta mining region of Chile. Through geospatial data analysis in ArcGIS, new desalination infrastructure investments supplying water to mines are overlain with features of concern raised by communities during the environmental impact assessment (EIA) process, such as national parks, fisheries and exploitation areas for benthonic resources. The resultant model provides a test-bed for analyzing the cumulative effects associated with desalination expansion and for investigating scenarios to mitigate negative social-environmental impacts. The model simulates alternative scenarios for desalination locations and pipeline routes according to competing constraints (i.e. to minimize cost and energy constraints while also avoiding ecological and social hotspots). The ultimate contribution of the work is a demonstration of how the proactive adoption of a regional-scale infrastructure planning might have led to different desalination investment decisions. INTRODUCTION Chile represents the largest producer of copper globally, and holds approximately a third of the world’s estimated copper reserves. However, access to water represents a major constraint to industry expansion and creates conflicts with competing water users (Aitken et al., 2016; Côte et al., 2010). Recently, the Chilean Congress has promoted desalination as a solution to meeting the industry’s growing water demand, which is likely to lead to significant growth in desalination infrastructure to support large-scale mining projects that extract freshwater over a rate of 150 l/s1. By most recent projections, the Chilean copper mining sector is set to increase seawater use by 230% by 2029 (Faversham House Group Ltd, 2019). By the year 2015, Chile had 11 projects serving the mining industry and there are at least other 12 planned plants (Cochilco, 2015). While the use of seawater allows continued expansion of the sector without depletion of scarce underground aquifers, it is nonetheless accompanied with important socio-environmental drawbacks. One such challenge with desalination is the associated energy costs, expressed, both economic and environmental (e.g., CO2 emissions). This includes the energy required for reverse osmosis treatment facilities, as well as to pump water to inland regions at high elevations around 3.100 m.a.s.l in Chile. (Dixon, 2013; Knops et al., 2013). Additionally, the impacts of desalinated water use on flotation chemistry are generally poorly understood, necessitating the need for further research into the impacts, both positive and negative (Cisternas and Gálvez, 2018; Liu et al., 2011).
Keywords: Copper 2019, COM2019