The mining industry in the north of Chile, the world’s leading producer of copper, is trying to partially satisfy its insatiable appetite for energy with a renewable, ever-available source: the sun.
Declining mineral content, the need to preserve the environment, and technological advances are causing big mining companies to turn back to underground mining in what is a rising trend in Chile and around the world, experts say.
The arid climate in northern Chile has forced mining companies to seek out new sources of water. The main source is seawater from the Pacific Ocean, whose use is expected to increase significantly in the coming decade despite the high costs of extraction and transport.
Chile's position as the world's top producer of copper is not under threat, but the country faces the challenge of transforming its copper mining industry into social capital for the long term, and addressing high energy costs, which have grown seven-fold over the last decade, experts told IPS.
Women are playing an increasingly important role in Chile’s mining industry, where little more than a decade ago they were not even allowed in the mines because of prejudice and superstitions.
El Teniente, the world’s largest underground copper mine, has already been in operation since 1905, but the state-owned National Copper Corporation of Chile (CODELCO) wants to keep it running for another 50 years.