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(Science) mining in Portugal

The 3rd Network Wide Event (NWE3) of SULTAN project not only allowed early researchers and partners to exchange scientific ideas but also offered magnificent hands-on experiences at the same time: A brief travel into the past and useful knowledge for future sustainable mining


1st day (11/02/2020)

The first day of the NWE, at the Faculty of Sciences of the University of Lisbon, was fully dedicated to training activities for the ESRs. In the morning, talks and practical sessions on the geological setting and ore properties of the Iberian Pyrite Belt (IPB), with particular emphasis on the Neves Corvo Cu-Zn deposit, were given by Prof. Jorge Relvas and Prof. Álvaro Pinto (photo 1).

After lunch the ESRs identified the typical minerals from the Neves Corvo Cu-Zn deposit during an ore microscopy and applied mineralogy practical session (photo 2). The session included training on mineral identification and sample preparation for optical microscopy, a very useful technique for ore characterization.

The training day finished with a presentation about the Tailings Storage Facility (TSF) and waste management at Somincor’s Neves Corvo mine by Mafalda Oliveira, and a hands-on exercise identifying the fresh and oxidised waste rock and tailings.

2nd day (12/02/2020)

During the second day, still at the Faculty of Sciences of the University of Lisbon, the SULTAN ESRs presented their research progress from the last 6 months in two poster sessions (photo 3), which led to very interesting and fruitful scientific discussions!

Following the poster sessions, the SULTAN members had a series of meetings within the Work Packages (photo 4), and all together, to provide updates and sort out any logistics for future meetings. After lunch, the Work Packages progress was presented by the WP leaders. The ESRs had a workshop provided by Lugas Raka Adrianto (ESR15) on data collection for Life Cycle Assessment (LCA).

At the end of the day, the SULTAN team travelled to Aljustrel (Alentejo region) to stay the night there.

3rd day (13/02/2020)

Day three of the trip involved a visit to Somincor’s Neves Corvo Cu-Zn mine facilities, one of the partners and research material provider of the SULTAN project. After initial presentations about health and safety and the mine waste management, the SULTAN team was ready to start the tour of the copper processing plant (photo 5).

In the copper processing plant, the copper ores (mainly composed of chalcopyrite) arrive, already crushed from the underground primary crusher, on a conveyor belt (photo 6) to a secondary grinding stage (photo 7). The milled material is sent to the froth flotation circuit (photo 8), where copper and zinc concentrates are recovered. The tailings produced from this process are some of the materials that the SULTAN ESRs are working on!

SOMINCOR, represented by the Tailings Dams and Waste Department, and in particular Mafalda Oliveira, offered the whole SULTAN team an amazing lunch where we could discuss and talk to their team about generalities and common questions that most of ESR’s had about the materials distributed among them.

The SULTAN team then visited the waste rock stockpiles and the tailings management facility (TMF) (photos 10 and 11), to see the thickeners, where the water content of the tailings is reduced, and how the TMF is constructed in a co-deposition of thickened, fine tailings and berms of waste rock. The final stop of the trip was the lab used to test the moisture content, pH and the density of the tailings on a daily basis.

It was a very valuable experience for all of the SULTAN team to visit an active mine, see where the SULTAN samples come from and better understand the mining and ore treatment processes at Neves Corvo Cu-Zn mine.

4th day (14/02/2020)

The fourth and final day of the SULTAN meeting took place in the historic mining town of Lousal, at the northwest end of the Iberian Pyrite Belt. From 1900 until 1988, a thriving community grew in Lousal as the Lousal pyrite underground mine was exploited for the production of sulphuric acid to use in fertilizers. The local community was greatly impacted by the closure of the mine, as the town fell into disrepair. The local municipality of Grândola and the Frédéric Velge Foundation, set up in the name of the previous owner of the Lousal mine, funded the RELOUSAL project to revitalise Lousal. Focused on cultural tourism, the program established the Centro de Ciência Viva do Lousal (Lousal Life Science Centre – photo 12), Museu Mineiro do Lousal (Mining Museum of Lousal – photo 13) and Galeria Mineira Waldemar (Waldemar mining gallery – photo 14). Furthermore, old mine facilities have been converted into a hotel, restaurant and shops. Lousal now attracts 22,000 visitors a year. The SULTAN team (photo 15) was fortunate to receive guided tours of the facilities by Professors Jorge Relvas and Álvaro Pinto, and learn a great deal about the local mining history, the lives of the miners and their families, and the economic importance of such mining operation.

Thank you to the SULTAN team in Portugal for organising the highly successful 3rd SULTAN  NWE! Thanks also go to SOMINCOR, for the insightful visit to Neves Corvo mine facilities, and to the Centro de Ciência Viva do Lousal for the great visit to the well recovered Lousal old mining site.