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Economic Assessment of an In Situ Leaching Operation with Ore Preconditioning Using Sublevel Stoping Techniques

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In situ leaching (ISL) is an attractive technique that enables copper recovery from copper oxide ores that are either low-grade or located at depths too great to be economically exploited through conventional methods. At present, in situ leaching (ISL) has been applied to intact copper oxide ores, in particular, those which (i) present a good natural permeability and (ii) do not require preconditioning. Many copper oxide ores present low natural permeability. These are located above the water table and need preconditioning for the ISL application. The present work shows an economic assessment of the application of ISL to this type of copper ores. The preconditioning technique considered here involves the application of partial mining by sublevel stoping by removing a small fraction of the ore. This technique results in forming an ore bed with good permeability and good solution collection at the stope base. The economic assessment of this approach suggests that it can be implemented with positive net present values to copper oxide ores located at depths in the 100–300 m range, with copper grades above 0.4%. The maximum acid consumption values are below 52.5 kg/t, with blasting procedures designed to produce an ore bed with an average particle size below 6″. The breakdown of operational costs indicates that the mining cost is still very high, accounting for up to 60% of the total operating costs. Therefore, optimizing mining procedures is still necessary for improving the economic outlook of this approach and thus expanding the application field of ISL.

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The authors gratefully acknowledge the financial support of the National Commission for Scientific and Technological Research (CONICYT Chile) through the CONICYT-PIA Project AFB180004 and ANID Project AFB220002.

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Correspondence to Tomás Vargas.

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Estay, H., Díaz-Quezada, S., Arancibia, E. et al. Economic Assessment of an In Situ Leaching Operation with Ore Preconditioning Using Sublevel Stoping Techniques. Mining, Metallurgy & Exploration 40, 493–504 (2023).

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