Wires

Vale's New Steel expects first plant startup in 2022

Marta Nogueira

RIO DE JANEIRO, Feb 5 (Reuters) - Using pioneering dry iron ore processing technology, Brazilian miner Vale SA's wholly owned New Steel plans to put its first industrial plant into operation in 2022, its CEO Ivan Montenegro told Reuters.

With an investment of up to $100 million, the new plant will be an important part of Vale's strategy to reduce the accumulation of tailings, he said in a telephone interview on Friday.

The location of the dry magnetic iron ore concentration plant, which will have a capacity of 1.5 million tonnes per year, has not been decided, but it will likely be in Minas Gerais, Brazil's iron ore-producing region which has had two mining disasters with tailings dams in the last four years.

Many of the wet concentration units in the state have declining assets and their mines with an average iron content of 40% require some form of processing to extract value.

"Minas Gerais reserves are already in a phase where there are few deposits that can still be processed without the need for concentration," Montenegro said.

"Most of them, not only operated by Vale but also by other companies, will reach a time when they will only have poor ore that needs to be concentrated, whether dry or wet," he said.

Vale bought New Steel in December 2018, after the small company developed a unique iron ore processing method, which is already patented in 59 countries, the executive said. The need to reduce the use of dams became an issue after the 2015 dam burst in Mariana at Samarco's mine - a joint venture between Vale and Australia's BHP Billiton Ltd.

New Steel is expected to close 2020 with 110 employees, compared to 60 when Vale bought the company.

Montenegro stressed that, with the help of New Steel, Vale expects to increase the percentage of production that is processed dry or with natural humidity from 60% to 70% by 2024.

Of the remaining percentage, which will be processed wet, more than half will have dry and filtered waste and only 14% will be destined for dams or minefields that are deactivated, as is done today with 40% of Vale's production. (Reporting by Marta Nogueira; Editing by Lisa Shumaker)