Solar Mining Chile

Towards a sustainable mineral extraction of the mining sector in Chile through the integration of solar energy and the closing of production loops for strengthening the local solar industry under a life cycle perspective

Projektförderung | Auftraggeber

Deutsches Zentrum für Luft- und Raumfahrt e.V. (DLR)


01.06.2015 - 31.05.2018

Based on the working hypothesis, the main objective of the project is to conduct a scientific sound technical, environmental and economic analysis for developing a roadmap of “Solar Mining” in the Atacama Desert in Chile. It is aimed to identify and characterize the steps that are necessary to evolve from the current mining situation, which strongly relies on fossil fuels, to a synergetic integration of solar energy into the mining industry. This evaluation will be based on a systems approach and a life-cycle-methodology according to international standards (e.g. ISO 14040).

It is also the objective to build a strong mutual and long-term partnership between the Energy Center of the University of Chile (CE) and the Institute of Energy Economics and the Rational use of Energy (IER) of the University of Stuttgart and with further stakeholder groups in solar energy and systems analysis in Germany and Chile. Consequently, it is also the objective to foster technology transfer between both institutions in an internationally relevant topic.

The successful integration of a considerable share of solar energy in the mining sector and use of mining products for developing the local solar industry is coined “Solar Mining“ in this project. As a result, a roadmap for “Solar Mining“ in Chile is developed with a high transfer potential to other arid and solar rich areas in the world to make mineral mining more sustainable.

The arid region of Chile (i.e. the Atacama desert) is an important source for mineral products, such as copper, molybdenum, antimony, rare earth metals and other metals and minerals. The mining sector is an important industry in Chile with worldwide relevance. Large amounts of energy are needed for mineral extraction and processing. Large energy efficiency potentials are seen in the synergy between solar energy and the mining sector. The deployment of solar energy and the integration into the energy supply chain of the mining sector in Chile would generate positive environmental and economic effects and improve the overall sustainability of the mining and energy system in Chile. Additionally, there is a huge potential to improve the sustainability of the production chain from the raw material (mining products like salt, minerals) to the final product (e.g. storage, batteries, etc.), also through recycling and upcycling, that can concurrently assist the deployment of solar energy.

The project objectives will be achieved through the investigation of the following research questions:

  1. Diagnosis of the current mining situation – what is the current heat and electricity demand of the different mining processes along the Atacama Desert? What is the status of the energy system in northern Chile and what are the legal-institutional frame conditions? Which solar technologies exist to deal with the aggressive mining environment, such as high salinity, acid fogs, dust and the large thermal oscillation between day and night?
  2. Life cycle (cradle-to-grave and cradle-to-cradle) assessment (LCA) – What is the environmental impact of solar technology implementation within the raw-material processes? How does the environmental impact improve when mining production loops are closed to assist the deployment of solar energy? What is the overall environmental benefit of “Solar Mining”?
  3. Economic assessment – What are the economic costs and benefits of the production and implementation of solar technologies? How competitive are those against reference technologies? How does “Solar Mining” assist the competitiveness and sustainability of mineral extraction?
  4. Roadmap for Solar Mining – What is the pathway of the deployment and dissemination of “Solar Mining” in Chile? What are the gaps for implementing “Solar Mining”, i.e. what are the missing requirements related to structural, administrative, human capital or equipment demands?

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Ludger Eltrop

Ludger Eltrop


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