Opinion by Carolina Parra, CCTVal researcher and academic at the Department of Mechanical Engineering, USM, in the magazine Nueva Minería y Energía.
The complex scenario of drought and water scarcity in Chile is evident: a deficit in rainfall, reservoirs and rivers with historically minimal capacities, 98 communities under a decree of water scarcity, and 275 in a state of agricultural emergency are some of the consequences resulting from the crisis that we have been facing for over a decade.
In light of this, taking measures that contribute to efficient water resource management is imperative, especially if we want to ensure human supply, essential goods production, and sustainable functioning of industries.
In the face of this scenario, innovation is crucial, not only to generate competitive advantages but also to enable strategies that address sustainability challenges such as energy efficiency and water management. The unavoidable challenge, therefore, lies in creating value through applied research and the promotion of capabilities in R&D, facilitating the adoption of new productive methods and the implementation of proposals that reduce risks and, of course, align with the specific needs of the surrounding context.
An example of this is the development of nanotechnological solutions designed for mining: in recent years, as a multidisciplinary research group, we have focused on providing transformative tools to the Chilean industry, enabling up to a 37% reduction in energy consumption in copper electrowinning (EW) processes and technologies that make lithium brine purification processes more efficient, reducing water consumption and waste generation.
However, the success of these approaches lies not only in achieving results but also in the partnership between scientific capital developed in universities and research centers and companies, making the creation of strategic alliances with the private sector crucial.
To date, companies such as Inppamet, SQM, Enami, Los Pelambres Mine, and BHP Billiton have supported our work, guided by the common goal of reducing their environmental footprint and mitigating their impacts, in line with the challenges of a more sustainable mining industry and an increasingly aware society of the need for sustainable development. But when it comes to a strategic sector that is simultaneously conservative like mining, it is particularly important to move together towards an approach that validates the implementation of disruptive technologies because these, although they can be powerful tools to achieve sustainable objectives, require prior validation of their transformative power.
Today, nanotechnology represents a valuable innovation contribution to mining. However, alliances, collaborations, and openness to innovation are necessary steps to ensure its success and, in the future, to make a real contribution to improving the availability of a limited and strategic resource like water, for both industries and communities and ecosystems.