Bechtel to build saltwater desalination system for Chilean copper mine

The mine, in the Atacama Desert of northern Chile, will be fed by seawater desalination plant 114 miles/185 km away at the Caleta Coloso port.

Bechtel (San Francisco, Calif., USA) reported on Dec. 12 that it has been selected by BHP Billiton (London, U.K.) to provide engineering, project management and construction services for a system that will bring a sustainable water supply to the Escondida copper mine in the Atacama Desert of northern Chile. The project includes construction of a seawater desalination plant at the Caleta Coloso port and the piping and electrical infrastructure needed to transport the water to the mine, 114 miles/185 km away and 10,170 ft/3,100m above sea level. Seawater desalination plants typically make significant use of composite materials. The mine is operated by Minera Escondida, of which BHP Billiton owns a majority stake.

"This an important project that's quite complex given the distance between the port and the mine combined with the mine's remote location and high altitude — not to mention the Atacama's being the world's driest hot desert," says Jose Ivo, general manager of Bechtel's Mining & Metals business in the Americas. "We will draw on our extensive engineering, pipeline and power experience as well as our knowledge of local geographic conditions to work with Minera Escondida to safely deliver a world­class water system."

Bechtel will construct the seawater desalination plant. In addition, the company will undertake the engineering and construction of two 42-­inch-­diameter pipelines that will run between the port and the mine and the related infrastructure, which includes four high­pressure pumping stations, associated electrical substations and 70 miles/114 km of high­voltage transmission lines along the pipeline route. Bechtel also will provide construction management services for the marine works associated with the project.