January 1, 2013
by Therese Dunphy, Editor-in-Chief
In early November, I visited an iron ore mine near Belo Horizonte, Brazil, and saw just how similar mining operations around the world can be to one another. Although it was my first iron ore mine, many of the processes — including crushing, screening, and materials transportation — were similar to those I’ve seen in aggregate operations throughout the United States.
The Iron Quandrangle
The Capão Xavier iron ore mine is operated by Vale S/A, one of the world’s largest mining companies with sites in 37 countries and more than 130,000 employees. The mine is part of the Paraopeba Complex, located on the east side of the state capital of Minas Gerais, Belo Horizonte. It is in a region known as the Iron Quadrangle, which is adjacent to Belo Horizonte, Santa Barbara, Mariana, and Congonhas do Campo. The area covers 1.85 million acres.
In 2011, Capão Xavier produced 9.26-million short tons of iron ore, which comprised just 2.6 percent of the company’s total iron ore production. Considered a “small” mine, the site began operation in 2004 with estimated reserves of 89.5 million short tons of iron ore. The reserves were originally expected to be depleted by 2014, but according to site staff, they now believe operations will continue until at least 2017.
Overburden is removed at the site before drilling and blasting begin. Vale pays particular attention to blast vibration with several employees who live around the site monitoring vibration and its impact on their homes.
A fleet of 16 Liebherr R964 C excavators, with 4-cubic-meter buckets load shot rock onto a portion of the company’s 105-truck fleet, typically onto 38-metric-ton trucks. Much of the size-matched equipment has been in operation at sites throughout the Paraopeba Complex for nearly a decade. And, while the trucks are undersized compared to many metal mines, they are suited for their work near residential areas, as well as the existing infrastructure at Capão Xavier. Once loaded, material is transported to a Metso crusher. Once sized and sorted, nearly 80 percent of the material is shipped via rail to steel mills for further processing.
Vale is the largest iron ore producer in the world and the second largest nickel producer. It also ranks among the top 25 companies in the world in terms of sustainable production. At the site, misters are used to reduce dust, while water trucks dampen haul roads. Waste material is also used to maintain the haul roads.
Outside its gates, the company provides surveillance of local parks and supports community projects including a local children’s theater, a technical education project which helps local citizens create salable craft projects, and art projects.
“It’s important to support the population,” one Capão Xavier employee told me. “They are the most important stakeholders.” And hearing that statement, I felt a little closer to home while visiting an iron ore mine in Brazil.