Residents of Calama, miners, executives and government officials gathered this week to see Chilean President Michelle Bachelet cut the ribbon and officially open Codelco’s Ministro Hales Division. This is Codelco’s eighth operation and the division produced more than 238,000 metric tons (mt) of fine copper and around 300 mt of silver in 2015, making it 70% more productive than the company’s average production.

After visiting the facilities and climbing on to a haul truck, which was operated by a woman, Bachelet led the opening ceremony. “We are setting a historic milestone in ‘everybody’s company,’ because we are taking the first step of many that we will take to keep Codelco at the forefront of world mining, while driving the development of Chile,” Bachelet said. “To talk about Codelco is to talk about our history, it is also to talk about our present, and, more than any other thing, it is to talk about future.”

Nelson Pizarro, CEO of Codelco, highlighted the milestone of this new division and the way it is mining. “We are heading toward a more efficient and productive way to mine, with lower operating costs, which will provide a greater return for the owner,” Pizarro said. “In just one year of operation, Ministro Hales has become our most productive operation, yielding 67 mt of fine copper per person. This day will be remembered as a historic day for Codelco and for the entire country, as we are inaugurating the first of six far-reaching projects that will make Codelco a worldwide mining leader.”

In 1990, Codelco geologists discovered a copper orebody that they referred to as “Mansa Mina,” which translates literally to “Huge Mine.” Eventually the deposit was renamed Ministro Hales in honor of former minister of mining, Alejandro Hales, who led the nationalization of Chile’s copper mines.

With an average ore grade of 0.96%, the deposit contains more than 1.3 million tons of copper. The mine will operate as an open-pit operation for the first 14 years before transitioning underground. Total mine life is estimated at 50 years.

Construction on the $3.2 billion project began in September 2010. The waste rock removal work performed in Ministro Hales on the prestripping phase between April 2011 and June 2013 was the largest in world history. A total of 228 million tons of waste rock were removed.

In addition to productivity, Ministro Hales also does well where energy and environmental care are concerned. For instance, the concentrator plant’s power consumption is 23% lower than the power consumption of Chuquicamata’s concentrator. As for the roasting complex, it captures 99.98% of the gases that flow through the atmosphere; the blasting works are quieter, with minimum levels of vibration; there is a strong control on the emission of particulate matter, applying magnesium salt as dust suppressor and road stabilizer, plus an ongoing watering of those roads, among other measures.

At the operation, there is an integration of women and community, which is demonstrated by the amount of woman employed. Out of a staff of 760, 13% are women, which is quite above the industry average of only 7.5%. The staff features a high number of young professionals — averaging 38 years old — and 70% of employees are from the Antofagasta Region.

The ore contained in Ministro Hales features large amounts of impurities, which require the application of high technology, safety and monitoring. As part of their leading-edge infrastructure, they have an integrated remote operation center and a roaster furnace, which is the biggest in the world and a symbol of the future of mining. This technology, currently operated by professionals from Codelco, is able to drastically lower the percentage of impurities, resulting in a product called “calcina” (calcine), which has less than 0.3% of arsenic.