Disaster-hit Vale has announced a R$1.5-billion (about $390-million) investment in the implementation of dry stacking technology, as the company moves to reduce its reliance on tailings dams.
By 2023, Vale will rely on dry processing for 70% of its production, compared with 40% in 2014 and 60% in 2018.
The iron-ore major is spending $500-million to buy a company that develops innovative iron-ore beneficiation technologies. New Steel owns patents for dry processing concentration in 56 countries.
The miner highlighted its efforts to reduce its reliance on tailings dams as it emerged this week that the Brumadinho dam disaster had already cost the lives of more than 120 people, with another 200 still unaccounted for. The January 25 tailings wall collapse is the company’s second major dam disaster in less than four years, following the Samarco accident in 2015, which killed 19 people and caused severe environmental damage.
The Samarco disaster spurred Vale into action to decommission the 19 upstream dams that it uses for iron-ore production. Before the Brumadinho disaster, nine upstream dams have been decommissioned and the company has announced plans to expedite the decommissioning of the remaining upstream dams.
The decommissioning, which will cost R$5-billion, will impact on about 40-million tons a year of iron-ore production.
Vale pointed out in a press statement late on Tuesday that it had increased investments in dam management, new dam construction and heightening projects since the Samarco disaster.
Its new dams are constructed using downstream, or conventional construction methods, which many engineers deem safer than upstream dams. The downstream design is built vertically over time, while the upstream design is built higher and leans into the waste it is meant to contain.
The company has invested a total of R$496-million on new conventional dams between 2016 and 2018 and has earmarked another R$718-million for dam construction projects this year.
Investment in dam management has totalled R$530-million between 2016 and 2018, and it will spend another R$256-million this year. These initiatives relate to the maintenance and safety of dams, such as maintenance services, monitoring, improvements, auditing, risk analysis, revisions of the emergency action plan for mining dams, implementation of alert systems, video monitoring and instrumentation.
Overall, investment in dams and waste dumps between 2016 and 2019 would total R$2.56-billion (about $725-million), the company’s press release states.
On Monday, a court ruling forced Vale to halt the use of several dams, including one that not use the upstream tailings method like the Brumadinho dam, affecting about 30-million tons a year of production. The company declared force majeure on some of its contracts on Tuesday.