Samarco project in South East Brazil is an integrated open pit mine, pipeline and port operation producing iron ore pellets, jointly owned by BHP Billiton and Vale.
In 2005, the boards of the two companies approved construction of a third pellet plant at Ponta Ubu, together with a mine expansion, a new concentrator at Germano, port enhancements and a second slurry pipeline. The project was completed in 2008 at a cost of around US$1.5bn.
During FY2008 the mine produced around 17mt ore, an increase of 8.5% on the previous year.
Record sales volumes reflect shipping efficiency, the RGP3 ramp-up and improvement initiatives.
At 396km long, Samarco’s pair of slurry pipelines are the world’s longest. The pelletising facility on the coast enables Samarco to operate its own port facility at Ponta Ubu, which can accommodate two vessels of up to 170,000 tons. The 313m-long by 22m-wide ship loading pier also receives carriers and tankers bringing coal and fuel oil for the pelletising plant.
Samarco is operated as an independent business with its own management team and has been granted mining concessions by the Brazilian government provided that it mines the Alegria complex according to an agreed plan.
Production began at the Germano mine in 1977 and at the Alegria complex in 1992. The Alegria complex has now replaced the depleted Germano mine.
An expansion occurred in 1997 when a second pellet plant was built. In 2005, an optimisation project increased pellet feed and pellet production.
Following the 2008 expansion, the Samarco mine has been given a reserve life of 21 years at current production rates.
Samarco holds interests in two hydroelectric power plants. These plants furnish approximately 19.2% of Samarco’s electricity requirements. Samarco has signed two agreements expiring in 2014 to purchase remaining power needs from two local concessionaires that operate other hydro-electric power plants.
Geology and reserves
The deposit consists of low-grade itabiritic ore. As at 30 June 2008, Samarco was reported as having a proven ore reserve of 451 million wet metric tons, with probable reserves of 173. Mineral resources were reported as 945mt (dry).
The mine is accessible by public road. Conveyor belts transport iron ore to the beneficiation plant and a 396km slurry pipeline transports pellet feed to the pellet plants on the coast. Iron pellets are exported via private port facilities.
There are two 396km iron ore slurry pipelines integrating the mining complex to pellet plants. With the addition of the third pellet plant expansion, Samarco has the capacity to process and pump a total of 24 million tons of ore concentrate a year and produce and ship approximately 21.6 million tons of pellets.
Samarco achieved record production for FY2008 as a result of improved efficiencies and commissioning of the third pellet plant. The mine produced 17mt iron ore for the 12 months, 8.5% more than the 15.6mt produced for the previous corresponding period.