"I think 2021 will be a good year for the mining industry in general, and in Peru mining will be a key driver of economic recovery. What we are doing in this difficult moment is to focus on our people, to make sure we do not lose any of our talent, and to focus on our core clients as well."
How did the Covid-19 pandemic affect Amphos21’s operations?
The pandemic impacted those projects where we had people in the operations. That had to stop between March and May, but at the same time, those are commonly essential activities, for example mine dewatering, so these people were also the first ones to come back to work after the initial lockdown. Besides, we are a highly diversified company and, while we had a certain reduction of activity, we have recovered quite rapidly and we expect to have reasonable results for this year, considering that 2019 was a record year for Amphos21 globally. The market has recovered, also driven by good metal prices.
In general terms, Covid-19 is going to accelerate the process of digital transformation. We need to see how new technologies like the internet of things, machine learning and artificial intelligence can be linked to the day-by-day tools and instruments used in mining. This will allow for more efficient and safer operations. Only the bigger miners will be able to invest heavily on this in the near-term – it will take longer for medium-sized mines.
Could you describe some of the projects you are working on?
We cover the full water cycle, including engineering and implementation of our solutions, and we apply all that at the early stages of engineering, during operations when we do process optimization, or in the valorization of environmental liabilities and closure activities. A challenging project that we are working on is the reprocessing of tailings at Minsur’s B2 project. This is a very interesting case from the point of view of waste management and liability recovery. We are also undertaking several research projects for Buenaventura Group with a focus on mine closure of different components. Support on mine dewatering for Antamina is another example of essential operational activities where we are involved.
To what extent is water management at the core of mining operations, especially in terms of tailings?
The relevance of tailings facilities in the overall site-wide water balance is crucial and it is well-known that water is a destabilizing element for this, so the trend is to design and operate facilities that have a lower amount of water. Of course, new technologies may be applied at new projects, but there are also a lot of conventional mines where we need to understand risks and long-term conditions. Standards are definitely improving with more automatization, control and monitoring, so this is a segment where we are going to see a lot of work in the future.
What differences do you see between the countries where Amphos21 operates?
All the countries where we work present a very strict regulatory framework. In Spain, and generally in Europe, mining used to be a strong industry, but this is no longer the case so our services usually focus on expert advisory and R&D activities. Latin America, and particularly Chile and Peru, are the strongest mining countries for us, where mining has an enormous weight in the economy and a strong support from the government. They both have similar environmental frameworks where water is always controversial but present a different context. Major projects where we are involved in Chile are located in arid conditions where water resources are scarce, while Peru is a bit more diverse. If water is scarce it may be difficult to fulfil operational water demands and to obtain water rights, and you may need to look for groundwater or non-conventional resources such desalination or wastewater treatment. If there is too much water, like in central Peru, you need to manage that water surplus, which is particularly complex for underground mining operations. And of course, both countries will have to pay close attention in the coming years to climate change and the impacts on operations.
What are your goals for the medium term?
Amphos21 has always been a very innovative company, so we want to be pioneers implementing new technologies based on digital and make sure that our team exploits its full potential. We have experts across the whole water cycle, and what we need to do now is to adapt those new technologies and process the vast amount of data generated by the operations to improve our solutions and make our work more efficient. For this, we have a strong R&D arm that works together with academia and technical centers.
I think 2021 will be a good year for the mining industry in general, and in Peru mining will be a key driver of economic recovery. What we are doing in this difficult moment is to focus on our people, to make sure we do not lose any of our talent, and to focus on our core clients as well. Globally, we have a very consolidated team: our Chile office has been appropriately recovering from the 2016 mining downturn, and our Barcelona office is well positioned serving other sectors as well. Had we not had the pandemic, I am sure 2020 would have been a record year again, so hopefully we'll have a major rebound in 2021.