* Lower-quality ore means less copper, more arsenic
* Ecometales seeks permit for process adapted to high
* Seeking to commercially extract small metals
By Barbara Lewis
SANTIAGO, April 7 Ecometales, a unit of Chile's
state-run Codelco, is in talks with smelters in
Europe and China to share its technology for stabilising arsenic
while processing lower-quality copper ore, an executive said on
Codelco was hit hard by the commodity price crash of 2015
and early 2016 and leading copper producer Chile as a whole must
find creative solutions as its mature mining industry has used
up much of the best ore.
Turning the remainder into pure copper is expensive and
challenging from an environmental and health perspective.
Ecometales has a plant to process smelter residue dust in
Calama, northern Chile, where ores have one of the highest
concentrations worldwide of arsenic, a carcinogen.
To stabilise the impurity, which increases as the amount of
copper in ore declines, Ecometales has been using a method of
arsenic and antimony abatement since 2012.
It is now talking to smelters across the world as they seek
to meet increasingly stringent regulatory standards.
"We are working with one European smelter and are piloting
our technology," Development and Business Manager Carlos
Rebolledo Ibacache told Reuters on the sidelines of a conference
on mining sustainability.
He said he could not name the smelter because of a
In addition, he said the company was in early discussions
with smelters in China, Chile's biggest customer.
In Chile, there is a growing pile of complex copper
concentrate, which is partially treated ore that contains 0.5
percent or more arsenic, that most smelters cannot process for
Globally, the International Copper Study Group has estimated
the extraction of arsenic associated with copper mining will
rise to 162,000 tonnes by 2020 from 82,000 tonnes in 2013.
Ecometales is seeking an environment permit for a technology
known as autoclave, already used in the nickel and gold
industry, for copper.
It uses oxygen at high pressure and temperatures to treat
concentrate, increasing the proportion of copper and removing
arsenic while producing zero emissions.
Ecometales hopes it will get its permit around the middle of
this year. It will then need to find financing of around $300
Some extra cash could come from extracting minor metals
dismissed as impurities in a nation that has focused on copper.
Ecometales is seeking commercially viable ways to extract
germanium, used in night-vision technology, bismuth, a fire
retardant, antimony, used in alloys, lead and a small amount of
(Reporting by Barbara Lewis; Editing by Meredith Mazzilli)