Digitizing chemistry for the mining industry
Solvay has developed a digital platform to increase efficiency in metal extraction
A global leader in metal separation technologies, Solvay is now expanding its service offering digitally. Leveraging data from customers, SolvExtract™ is a web-based platform that brings Solvay’s expertise to customers like never before to increase their operational efficiency.
Solvent extraction is a process to concentrate and purify certain metals from mined ore. The first step involves leaching soluble metals from the ore with strong acid, followed by a separation step using solvent extraction chemistry. This is a process with a high degree of variability, meaning the percentage of metal you can hope to retrieve constantly changes. In addition to the products necessary for solvent extraction, Solvay has also long been providing mine operators with technical service to help the operations adapt to the changing conditions. The service is supported by MINCHEM®, a simulation model that predicts operational performance based on the analysis of samples collected from the mine.
Innovation is a priority for Solvay. In this case, our chemicals remain the same, but by adding data to the equation, we further improve operational performance.
From traditional to digital services
For each mine operation, a unique MINCHEM® model is created considering its specific characteristics. The model then allows SolvExtract™ to run a simulation, and when plant performance is below target, to identify improvement opportunities. Operators can then make adjustments according to the recommendations provided by the digital platform.
“By connecting the mine site with mobile tools, we are now able to offer digital services that complement our face-to-face interaction with customers. We can provide recommendations every week or even daily, as opposed to once a month,” explains Chuck Price, Executive Vice President of Mining Solutions at Solvay’s Technology Solutions global business unit. “In mining, every day is a new story, so closing the gap between the actual and the ideal performance can really create value for our customers.”
SolvExtract™ is a unique solution in mining today, “an industry where the level of innovation and digitization is historically very low, so there is significant room for growth,” adds Nicolas Renaud, the Digital Business Transformation Director at Mining Solutions who is behind the new platform. SolvExtract™ typically functions with 20 to 30 collection points, sending the data to Solvay every hour. The platform is secured and compliant with cybersecurity standards - the team even hired hackers to perform penetration tests to ensure compliance.
Partnering to create value
Solvay’s Technology Solution team started imagining a digital extension to its services back in 2017, and partnered with Codelco, the Chilean national mining company and world’s largest copper producer, to implement SolvExtract™ at Gabriela Mistral, a copper mine in Northern Chile. “Codelco is one of our main customers; we have a 20-year relationship with them,” says Marcio Santos, Latin America Sales Director for Mining Solutions’ Metal Extraction Products business. “Codelco was very open to the project, so we established a cooperative agreement with them in a spirit of innovation to see how SolvExtract™ behaved and how it could be improved.” And the results were satisfactory for all, as confirms Rodrigo Benavides Oswald, Codelco’s Innovation Director: “Solvay provided us with deeper, more frequent insight, which has positively influenced our daily decision making.”
Initial tests began in the Fall of 2018, leading to the release of a new version of the platform in the Spring of 2019 and its deployment at a second site, Gabriela Mistral’s sister mine Radomiro Tomic. “The idea is to create a partnership with mining sites,” says Keith Cramer, North America Sales Director for Metal Extraction Products at Technology Solutions. “We’ll keep updating and improving the platform by leveraging experience and feedback. We developed solvent extraction modeling back in the 1970s, where we collect samples and send back reports and recommendations; now we’re speeding up the whole process to help our customers make faster decisions, boost their productivity and improve their bottom line.”
I believe there’s going to be a lot of momentum for this service, because it’s a unique and new way of creating additional value from Solvay chemistry in the mining industry.
‘Solvay in your pocket’
The next target is to extend to several additional mining sites in North and South America by the end of 2019, both in Chile and in the USA. In the future, SolvExtractTM will also be deployed for other metals, but copper extraction remains the focus for the time being. “There’s definitely a lot of interest out there, and I believe there’s going to be a lot of momentum for this service,” says Chuck, “because it’s a unique and new way of creating additional value from Solvay chemistry in the mining industry.”
Ultimately, SolvExtractTM enables more efficient and frequent interactions with Solvay’s customers. “You could call it ‘Solvay in your pocket’,” adds Nicolas. “All the stakeholders see the same process data in close to real time, so we can focus on value added conversations with customers. Innovation is a priority for Solvay. In this case, our chemicals remain the same, but by adding data to the equation, we further improve operational performance.”