Chile conducts testing of solar power island

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An island of solar panels floating on the tailings deposit of Las Tortolas in Colina, Chile is being experimented for its feasibility on generating renewable energy and reducing water evaporation at mining operations, boosting both efficiency and deposit.

Mining company giant Anglo American runs the experimental and potential electricity-generating island at its Los Bronces mine. The installation of the project was completed on Thursday. Minister of Mining Baldo Prokurica was present during the inauguration of solar panels, measuring about 12,917 square foot. It is floating at the center of an artificial lagoon that is being used as an impoundment of mining refuse or tailings.

Mining tailings are left-over materials from mining processes. These are usually dumped into mining/tailings ponds. One of the benefits of the water in the ponds is that it helps minimize the transportation of fine tailings by wind which could potentially affect the health of people.

The shadow of the 256 solar panels is expected to lower the temperature of water in the pond, thus reducing the water evaporation by around 80 percent. With this, more water will be retained by the mine which could also lead to reducing the mine’s need to pump more fresh water from the mountains where there is a scarcity of water.

According to Los Bronces’ Vice President of Operations Patricio Chacana, the system can help make consumption of fresh water more efficient. And this aligns to the re-invention of mining and reduction of freshwater consumption of Anglo Americans by 50 percent roughly 11 years from now, or by 2030. Carbon Dioxide emissions will be reduced as well due to the production of non-polluting energy.

This pilot solar panel island project will be monitored during the year to assess future expansion to other tailings ponds. There are about 800 tailings ponds in the country according to the experts. Additionally, according to Prokurica, the Mining Ministry is at work to improve safety in the ponds to prevent failures, especially that many of these ponds in the northern part of Chile are close to populated urban areas.

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