Mauro Valdés, Chairman of the Seminar on Policies and Opportunities for Cooperation in Innovation and President of Alta Ley Program
“It is important to have a Technological Roadmap for the Chilean mining looking at 2035”
True to his belief in mining as a platform for the future of the country, with a virtuous, inclusive and sustainable vision, the President of the High Grades Program, Mauro Valdés, also has things clear in his position, since one of the long-term goals is to export some US $ 4 billion in goods, services and technologies associated to the industry.
In addition, Mauro Valdés is chairman of the seminar on Policies and Opportunities for Cooperation in Innovation that will be held within the framework of EXPOMIN 2018, who will also take the stance to further provide details on the Alta Ley Program that he is carrying out.
From such a perspective Valdés spoke with EXPOMIN Press, on the main milestones that will be addressed in this debate, stating that the objective of this meeting is to generate a discussion on technological development and innovation aimed at mining.
1.- As Chairman of the Seminar POLICIES AND COOPERATION OPPORTUNITIES FOR INNOVATION, and President of the Alta Ley Program, what are the main topics that will be addressed in this instance within the framework of EXPOMIN 2018?
A: Chile is known worldwide as a great mining country and, therefore, there is already a brand that allows us to address this challenge with more facilities and we have to take advantage of that space.
This is an instance of great significance in this new version of EXPOMIN, since it is the first of the new government.
As the Alta Ley Program we have been developing a very systematic and strong associative effort, coordinating mining innovation ecosystem and bringing together companies, suppliers, the world of science, academia and innovation centers, in order to progress in the technologies that we need. The sustained effort on these subjects is absolutely key and the discontinuity of these can shatter not only those we are seeing, but also the future that takes shape every day and summons further efforts. We already hold a portfolio of an operational US $ 120 million on in this field of development under the umbrella of the technological Roadmap for Chilean mining, which we launched in early 2016.From this point of view, we believe that one of the keys to the sophistication and productive diversification in Chile is precisely not to turn its back on mining, but to concentrate on developing goods, services and related technology.
2.- What is it that this Seminar wishes to generate in the Chilean mining industry?
A: The purpose of the seminar is, in the first place, to disseminate what has been done as the Alta Ley Program to the general public, but especially for the new government authorities.
Secondly, to generate a discussion on what has been done and have the support, and hopefully leadership, of all those linked to mining and those who have collaborated with the program.
And thirdly, also to visit once again the main projects that have been developed in recently, in terms of innovation and technological development in mining and prospects that come in the future.
3.- The slogan for the XV International Congress of EXPOMIN is “INNOVATION FOR MINING DEVELOPMENT”. In that sense, are we effectively innovating in Chilean and Latin American mining and how much do we need to have world class standards?
A: The first thing we have to say is that Chilean mining is within world class standards. And it happens that mining is a fairly conservative activity for cultural reasons, but also because there are certain characteristics within the industry that make innovation in this area more complex. Nevertheless, what we are seeing worldwide is an absolutely unprecedented level of disruptions in different industries, to which one can ask in a very legitimate way, where will the “Uber” in the mining industry come from and if that “Uber” in mining produces a disruption like the one that is taking place in transportation, how are we prepared in Chile to generate it from here, to take on the leading role and not be a mere spectator.
The above is obviously a threat, but it can also be a great opportunity for Chile if prepared to face it and play a major role. In this sense, we are now facing challenges that are a bit more day to day in nature, but we are opening up arenas for more disruptive innovation within our mining.
Such that there are several international publications that have noticed the efforts that are being made in Chile in terms of number of start-ups dedicated to solving mining problems as well as in other industries that have similar problems to resolve.
In addition, current mining faces the challenge of becoming a mining dedicated to Alta Ley o r High Grade Knowledgeable, since it was characterized by large high grade deposits that were relatively close to the surface, in a challenging environment, although not extreme. Since approximately 8 to 10 years ago we went into the stage where we maintain a production of approximately 5.5 million tons, which is becoming ever more difficult and, therefore, innovation in terms of power, water use, community inclusion, in mine processes, in addition to the challenges posed by the global trends, for example to control greenhouse gases, as well as others.
The threat to Chilean mining is not to maintain our efficiency and productivity, which could mean entering a phase of downfall and with that turn off an important drive for growth and development.
Therefore, it is key that the Alta Ley Program supports the productivity and efficiency of mining projects through innovation, by generating ideas, solutions, engineering, science technologies which are the key, as well as mining growth and innovation go hand in hand.
Besides there is a combination of circumstances that are very favorable for Chile: considerable increase in copper demand for electro mobility, that is more demanding in terms of a socio-environmental footprint, also the explosive demand for lithium and other minerals abundant in our territory, closely related with the generation and storage of energies, where our Atacama desert has unparalleled conditions. Chile can become the new Houston of solar energy, posing us with an opportunity that is equal to the trip to the moon in terms of the motivation that this generates, the potential of positioning our country, but also the demands in terms of capabilities, coordination, to strategically face this opportunity.
4.- In such a situation as you also pointed out that the program is to strengthen the mining competitiveness in the country. What do you mean by this strengthening of competitiveness and how can the industry achieve this?
A: Chilean mining attracted an investment of 40 billion dollars between 1990 and 2004, according to data provided by Sonami, and multiplied production by about four times. From 2004 until 2016, 48 billion dollars were invested but production was not increased, so there is a productivity gap in terms of capital investment that is absolutely key to address.
On the other hand, the conditions of exploitation have also become more difficult, the deposits now found are deeper or smaller or have lower grades, so you have to develop formulas to generate investment in an associative way, as it occurs today in the Nueva Unión project, where two mining companies that had relatively close projects are building joint infrastructure.
Also, the sites that are at matured phases, which have been in operation for over 15 or 20 years, have tremendous challenges in mining and processes, since they extract harder rocks, deeper deposits, with issues in resourcing water, minerals with contaminants, etc, and these sorts of challenges if not dealt with, will mean, our mining will go into a phase requiring even greater costs for growth and therefore falling in competitiveness.
We must face these challenges in order to control costs, as one of the advantages that Chile showed until 2004 was that we have effectively achieved an approximate 80% of production in the first two quartiles of costs, whereas today we are at around 40% of our production in the first two quartiles of costs with the rest is further behind and it is clear that when prices drop, those that are more exposed are those with greater costs, so there is serious substantial threat that eventually in the next cycle, the production that exits the market is Chile´s and therefore producing phenomena not only of affectation.
5.- How does the Alta Ley Mining Program make the higher grades of natural resources, end up as high grades knowledge?
A: What we did was transform that idea into a very concrete and important product that is a Technological Roadmap of the Chilean mining industry looking toward 2035. What we did in this Roadmap was to explore the mining processes in their entirety and find which ones were core or areas where the major bottlenecks were taking place in the production of copper and so is what we published.
So today we have a map to address this issue and through the same challenges identified make available to innovation ecosystem such as universities, entrepreneurs and industry suppliers to work together and develop solutions that deal with the reality of mining.
- – The Alta Ley Program also establishes that mining has the required conditions to produce a robust innovative ecosystem. From this perspective what are the main areas of development in this field?
A: Chile has the conditions to trigger off a robust innovative ecosystem around mining, because the country concentrates around 30% of the world’s copper production and, therefore, its projection is not that visible at the national level. However, very much identifiable on the world stage.
On the other hand, Chilean mining has transited into a stage of maturity where it is facing world class problems, but where it is also possible to transform them into global solutions.
The Alta Ley program precisely publishes these challenges, opens up and faces reality and also relies on feedback from the ecosystem, proposals for solutions at start-up level or early ventures, as well as through more mature suppliers, universities and RI &D centers. That has been installed massively in Chile, through the continuous effort of the last three governments and in collaboration with entities such as Corfo´s, National Innovation Council and the mining companies themselves that have been cooperating.
7.- What are the main challenges that the Alta Ley Mining Program has proposed in the short and medium term? And how do you make these challenges effective?
A: In the short term, we have proposed updating the Mining Roadmap to identify the new challenges that arise from new contexts; promoting them and mobilizing entrepreneurship and development of the solution to these issues. We have also set out to develop an early projects portfolio, among which the Expande project, which is the open innovation platform, managed by Fundación Chile and whereby several mining companies participate, sharing their most daily challenges as very important elements.
There is also the Eleva project, which is a 2.0 version of the Council for Mining Capabilities led by the Mining Council, aimed at the development of technical education and specifically of the relevance of technical education by 2023, where we will need to cover close to 30 thousand new workers in mining t due to a retiring workforce as well as for new tasks.
We have also identified that the typical challenge for the development of technologies in mining is the cost of failure that the sector has had since the mining process to test an innovation or new technology is very expensive. In order to address this, two pilot and test centers for mining technology have just been assigned that have the following Universities as partners, Universidad Católica, Universidad de Chile, Universidad Católica del Norte and Universidad de Santiago.
In the medium term, we want the projects that aim at more generic capabilities to trigger more massive and virtuous processes in line with entrepreneurship and mining innovation, for which we are monitoring the number of companies and solutions that are emerging.
In the longer term, we have envisioned a very demanding goal, to reach an export of about 4 billion dollars in associated mining goods, services and technologies by 2035 and 250 world-class suppliers. Today the Chilean mining sector exports sppliers of are around 70 and exports are at 500 million dollars.