From Seawater to Freshwater

The Quebrada Blanca Phase 2 project will be the first large-scale use of desalinated seawater for mining in Chile’s Tarapacá Region.

The Atacama Desert in northern Chile is rich with mineral deposits, including Teck’s Quebrada Blanca Phase 2 (QB2) project, one of the largest undeveloped copper resources in the world. However, what the region has in an abundance of minerals, it lacks in available freshwater.

The Atacama Desert is one of the driest places on earth, and freshwater, which is critical to the mining process, is a resource to be used sparingly. To protect this commodity, and as part of the QB2 project, Teck is building a large-scale desalination plant so that desalinated seawater can be used in place of freshwater for the mining process.

“Given our proximity to the Pacific Ocean, we wanted a way to use seawater for the mining process at QB2 so we could protect the region’s freshwater supply and support our sustainability commitments,” said Francisco Raynaud, Port Manager for Teck’s QB2 project. “To achieve this, we have partnered with IDE Technologies, one of the most prominent desalination companies in the world with experience building large-scale plants, to design and engineer our desalination facility.”

The Desalination Process

The seawater desalination process works through reverse osmosis, in which a semi-permeable membrane is used to remove ions, molecules and larger particles to create freshwater.

Seawater is pumped to the desalination plant, purified, then pumped by five booster stations up 4,400 metres of altitude to QB2’s concentrator plant, where it will be used for mining processes. The leftover concentrated saltwater is pumped back into the Pacific Ocean at a depth of 40 metres (750 metres from the coast) to ensure there is enough dilution to be compatible with the ocean’s ecosystem.

Suction pipes used to collect seawater are almost a metre in diameter, located nearly 500 metres from land at a depth of 30 metres, and are designed to ensure full compliance with coastal protection requirements.

When operating at full capacity, the desalination plant will purify about 1,000 litres per second, enough to fill an Olympic-size pool in 40 seconds.

Water is one of Teck’s most important sustainability issues and a key focus of our sustainability strategy. Projects such as the desalination plant in Chile are part of Teck’s commitment to reducing freshwater consumption and improving our water performance. To learn more about Teck’s approach to water stewardship, visit

Thank You

Download Connect, Volume 25

Many thanks to those who contributed to and participated in this issue of Connect:

Catherine Adair, Community Relations Leader, Trail Operations; Andrés Castillo, Senior Geologist, Highland Valley Copper; Eric Goss, Superintendent, Maintenance, Quebrada Blanca Phase 2; Mark Helms, Mine Engineer, Mine Technical Department, Red Dog Operations; Rob Klein, Senior Engineer, Projects, Water Quality Management, Sparwood office; Andrea Lobos, Senior Communications Specialist, Santiago office; Andrew Milner, Senior Vice President, Innovation and Technology, Vancouver office; Mario Ortiz, Manager, Integrated Operations, Quebrada Blanca Phase 2; Angelique Rosenthal, Environmental Engineer, Trail Operations; Jackie Scales, Director, Inclusion and Diversity, Vancouver office; Stephanie Shaw, Manager, Human Resources, Teck Chile, Santiago office; Nicole Tapia, Communications Specialist, Corporate Affairs, Vancouver office; Herman Urrejola, Social Responsibility Manager, Teck Chile, Santiago office; Verna Westlake, Community Relations Coordinator, Red Dog Operations

On the Cover

Quebrada Blanca Phase 2 (QB2) will develop the deeper sulphide resource underlying the pre-existing Quebrada Blanca operation. To access the QB2 resource, new infrastructure is being constructed now through to 2021. Read more in “QB2: A Next Phase”.


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