Quellaveco lessons shape Anglo’s vision for Woodsmith, says McCulley

Anglo American crop nutrients CEO Tom McCulley

Anglo American crop nutrients CEO Tom McCulley

4th October 2023

By: Mariaan Webb

Creamer Media Senior Deputy Editor Online


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Building on the success of its Quellaveco copper project, touted as the group’s most advanced greenfield mine, Anglo American is channeling this legacy into its Woodsmith project – a deep polyhalite mine nestled in the heart of North Yorkshire, England.

Quellaveco, situated in Peru, stands as a testament to sustainability, innovation and technological prowess. Anglo American crop nutrients CEO Tom McCulley emphasises that these attributes will find a new home at Woodsmith.

In a presentation delivered to analysts visiting the polyhalite mine's site just south of Whitby, McCulley affirmed that Woodsmith represents the next generation of FutureSmart Mining at Anglo American, underscoring the group’s commitment to technological integration that is aimed at bolstering safety and operational efficiency.

“We do not embrace technology for the sake of it; our primary objective is to address critical challenges. Safety remains our paramount concern, followed closely by productivity and cost efficiency,” he said.

Anglo American’s focus extends beyond current technologies, such as tele-remote and automation, with the company actively designing mines to accommodate the next generation of technological advancements.

Drawing on the lessons learned at Quellaveco, Anglo American acknowledges the limitations of relying solely on technology venders. McCulley noted that vendors may not always possess the capabilities needed to meet evolving demands. Hence, the company is taking a proactive stance in technology development.

The core team behind Quellaveco, credited with pioneering the world’s first fully autonomous hauling system, integrated operations centre and digital mine in a greenfield setting, has been brought on board to lead the charge.

Anglo American’s technological vision for Woodsmith is to establish a peopleless underground mine, with operations and maintenance controlled entirely from the surface. While acknowledging that the journey will require time and resources, McCulley expressed confidence in the realisation of this vision.

“Many technologies are already out there; we just need to put the system in place and the wherewithal to help the vendors take the next step. This will not happen from the start, but with our vision and the team we have in place, I have no doubt that in the future, this vision will become a reality,” said McCulley.

Before taking the helm at Woodsmith, McCulley steered the ship at the 300 000 t/y Quellaveco copper project, which faced its share of skeptics. During the analyst visit, he reflected, “Many of you thought Anglo American was not capable of delivering, yet it was completed on time, on budget, without any community stoppages, during a global pandemic where Peru was arguably the country most impacted by Covid and now it is delivering according to our ramp-up schedule.”

The success story of Quellaveco, McCulley believes, primarily owes itself to the team responsible for bringing the mine to fruition.

“At Woodsmith, we will proudly steal with pride from Quellaveco,” he remarked. “We have built a team and culture that will ensure we can deliver this project according to our expectations. We have the right blend of ex-Quellaveco talent, international contractors with the right experience to deliver the scope and we have blended this together with our existing local talent to execute the work the right way – the Woodsmith way.

The Quellaveco and Woodsmith projects form part of Anglo American’s shifting portfolio trajectory towards future-enabling products. The Woodsmith project is the world’s largest known deposit of polyhalite, a natural fertiliser product containing potassium, sulphur, magnesium and calcium.

Anglo American will market a fertiliser product, known as Poly4, which it says has significant benefits over other bulk fertiliser products. First product to the market will be available in 2027.

The mining company is spending about $1-billion a year to progress Woodsmith, which will extract ore via two 1.6-km-deep mine shafts. The product will be transported to port using an underground conveyor belt in a 37 km tunnel.

McCulley reported that the tunnel excavation was making “excellent progress”. The next milestone for the tunnel will be when it passes 25.8 km, at which point a world record will be set for the longest single tunnel boring machine, or TBM, tunnel.

Further, he said Anglo American will conclude most of its studies for Woodsmith towards the end of the year, which will enable it to progress towards about 30% engineering next year and ultimately a potential board approval in 2025. This approval is expected to be for a five-million-tonne-a-year case, but will also define a pathway to 13-million tonnes a year.

Edited by Creamer Media Reporter



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