Minera Escondida recently inaugurated its third copper concentrate plant, the $4.2 billion Organic Growth Project One facility, at a ceremony held on-site. The plant will add 152,000 t/d to the capacity of Escondida’s two other concentrators, resulting in the industry’s highest copper processing capacity (422,000 t/d nominal).

“The plant…follows a project that required 60 million labor hours and involved 9,200 people during its peak construction period. This project has been a huge challenge but was completed with an excellent safety record,” said Hilmar Rode, president of Minera Escondida Ltda. at BHP Billiton, which manages the mine; Rio Tinto holds a 30% share in the operation.

With the completion of Organic Growth Project One and a second desalination plant at Puerto Coloso, Escondida will have the operational capacity to offset a gradual decline in ore grade.

The president of BHP Billiton Minerals Americas, Daniel Malchuk, said throughout its 25 years of operation, Escondida has increased its processing capacity more than ten-fold, and copper production has almost quadrupled. “We have just completed the Organic Growth Project One concentrator plant and we continue to invest in the Kelar gas-fired power plant and the Puerto Coloso desalination plant. We continue to work hard and look toward the future with optimism,” he said.

Minera Escondida said it produced 1,152,510 mt of copper in 2015, composed of 826,220 mt of copper contained in concentrate and 326,290 mt of copper cathodes. The operation’s average production capacity is expected to be approximately 1.2 million mt/y for the decade starting from FY2016, with minimal further capital investment predicted.