The desalination plant, known as the Escondida Water Supply (EWS) project, involved the construction of a 180-kilometre water transport system to reach the Escondida copper mine. Four high-pressure pump stations move water from the Port of Coloso across the Atacama Desert and up to a reservoir at the Escondida mine site, more than 3,000 metres above sea level.
The facility is one of the largest desalination plants in the world and is Escondida’s second plant after its 525 litre/second plant that has been operational for over ten years.
The EWS project represented an investment of US$3.4 billion. The energy required for desalinating and pumping the water to the mine is supplied from BHP’s Kelar natural gas-fired power plant.
In recognition of its size and technical complexity, the EWS project was awarded the Industrial Desalination Plant of the Year Prize by Global Water Intelligence at the Global Water Awards 2017.
Once fully operational, Escondida’s desalination plants will secure a sustainable water supply for its operational purposes and minimise reliance on the region’s aquifers, enabling it to meet its environmental commitments and achieve its long-term business strategy of producing copper sustainably.