With an announced investment of $5.5 billion, Vale has embarked on one of the largest revamp projects in the mining business: Itabirites. By constructing and adapting processing plants, Vale can reprocess low-grade iron ore that has been stockpiled over the last four decades. The Itabirites project will expand current production volumes and extend the lifespan of three mines: Vargem Grande near Belo Horzonte, and Conceição and Cauê, both in Itabira. Cauê was Vale’s first-ever iron ore operation, opened in 1942. The work should be completed by the start of next year.

The project will add 65 million metric tons (mt) to Vale’s annual nominal iron ore output, representing a net increase in capacity of 26 million mt of contained iron. “The Itabirites project is very important to Vale in current market conditions, in which product quality and productivity improvements are fundamental,” said Vale’s director of ferrous projects for southeastern Brazil, Carlos Miana.

The project involves processing compact itabirites—low-grade ores with up to 40% iron content and a high presence of contaminants (silica and phosphorus), which come from existing mining areas and stockpiles. These stockpiles also contain high-grade ultra-fines, with minus 1-mm ore particles. The new production process entails fragmenting low-grade ore into super-fine particles and mixing it with the ultra-fines from the stockpiles. After this, the blended ore is concentrated to generate pellet feed (an input for pellets) and, in some cases, sinter feed, with iron content of up to 69% and low levels of silica, making them attractive in the global market. The project will reduce environmental impacts by eliminating the need for new areas to form additional stockpiles.

“Together with S11D and our expansion projects such as Plant 2 and N4WS Mine in Carajás, the processing of compact itabirites in Minas Gerais will help Vale to increase its iron ore production by 35% over the next four years, from 340 million mt expected this year to 459 million in 2019,” said Vale’s director of ferrous operations for the south and centre-west systems and manganese, José Flávio Gouveia.