Posted by Paul Moore on November 22, 2020
On November 17, Vale opened the Pico Block plant, the first pilot plant for civil construction products made from tailings from mining activities. The plant at the Pico mine in the town of Itabirito, Minas Gerais, is designed to foster the circular economy within local iron ore processing activities.
After the trial period, Vale estimates that each year 30,000 t of tailings that would otherwise be disposed of in dams or piers will be turned into 3.8 million pre-molded products with a variety of applications in the construction industry. civil construction. The products include interlocking flooring, structural concrete blocks, waterproofing blocks, concrete slabs, shackles, waterproofing blocks, among others.
According to Vale’s executive director for environmental licensing, Rodrigo Dutra, the residue reuse initiative is the first of its kind in the company. “In addition to making our operations safer and more sustainable, we want to encourage the development of innovative solutions that create value for neighboring communities and society. “
Vale has been studying residue reuse and recycling options since 2014. Using it in civil construction instead of natural sand is also a green solution. According to the United Nations, sand is the second most exploited resource in the world after water. The material is scarce and subject to illegal and predatory extraction globally. “Vale’s sand tailings resulting from ore processing activities have a high silica content and a very low iron content, in addition to a high degree of chemical homogeneity and optimum grain size uniformity,” Dutra pointed out.
The company will invest around R $ 25 million in research and technological development (R&D) during the first two years of operation of the Pico Block plant, which will receive technical support from the Federal Center for Technological Education of Minas Gerais. (CEFET-MG). The support team allocated in this phase will consist of 10 researchers from the institution – such as professors, laboratory technicians and graduate, undergraduate and technical students.
“The main advantage of being in a factory inside a mining unit is the possibility to study the application of various wastes and to validate the technology developed in the laboratory in the production environment, at scale. industrial. This model will allow the transfer of technology in a more efficient way, in an environment conducive to innovation ”, explained Augusto Bezerra, principal researcher of the project and professor at CEFET-MG. No product will be sold during the R&D phase.
The block plant occupies an area of 10,000 m2 within the Pico mining unit of the Vargem Grande complex. “The plant was designed in modules for the versatile development of various types of products for civil construction, such as transport infrastructure, housing and urban development works,” explained Laís Resende, one of the engineers responsible for the initiative.
The entire factory production system is automated and built to occupational health and safety standards, avoiding physical strain when personnel handle parts. According to Karina Rapucci, executive director of the Vargem Grande complex, Vale has built sustainability into all aspects of the plant. “In addition to reusing residues, the plant offers a safe, ergonomic and comfortable work environment. This project is also aligned with the movement for diversity and inclusion in mining – it has been implemented and will be operated by women.
Eight women will oversee all the plant’s processes. Ana Luiza Marinho, a resident of Itabirito, was one of the women hired to work at the factory. “It is a privilege to have been selected to work as an engineer in an initiative that follows the principles of the circular economy, which reuses residues as a raw material for its products while helping to reduce the extraction of non-renewable natural resources. I believe the goal behind creating a block factory run by a team of women is proof that the business is growing, looking to the future, and caring for the communities that surround its operations. .
Vale plans to replicate the block plant in other units in Minas Gerais once the R&D phase at the Pico mine is completed. The company also combines its efforts with more than 30 organizations, including universities, research centers and Brazilian and foreign companies, to develop solutions for the reuse of tailings in different industrial sectors.