Ancient seabed mined for phosphate in Peru

Better soils
with Brett Petersen
Kiwi Fertiliser & Golden Bay Dolomite

The following describes a visit by Ron McLean, Managing Director of Kiwi Fertiliser to the Vale Phosphate mine. This is the original source of Sechura RPR, situated at Bayovar in the north of Peru.

The mine is almost three hours’ drive from the city of Piura. The phosphate extraction area covers eight square miles, and up to 20 metres of stripping sand to get down to the ancient seabed deposit of phosphate ore. There are seven benches.

We were met by one of the mine managers who explained there are eight Komatsu 4800 Hydraulic Excavators loading 22 Cat Dumpers that work on two shifts, 20-hours a day, seven days a week. It takes just four bucket fills to load 100 tonnes onto the waiting dumper. As soon as one fills, another is already waiting to be loaded.

From the mine we went onto the screening and washing plant, as it was mid-winter in Peru and the Port Silos were full and the plant was on shut down for maintenance. After going through the initial screening process to take out the oversize, the ore then goes through the washing stage with salt water twice then final wash with desalinated fresh water out to the stock pile.

Phosphate rock

The Bayovar beneficiation process to obtain the phosphate rock concentrate is basically scrubbing; attrition between two stages of screening and de-sliming, filtration and finally drying (at the port). Unfortunately there is no provision for keeping all the colloidal silica (diatomite) with the concentrate, but two-to-three per cent does remain.

The phosphate is then transported by a fleet of around 30 off-highway Mercedes Benz road trains that haul 70 tonne payloads towards the port where they off load onto eight kilometres of conveyor belt to the two kiln drying plants.

Once dry, the phosphate is then stored in two 50,000 tonne concrete silos awaiting shipping. Once a ship comes alongside the wharf, the phosphate is loaded at around 850 tonnes per hour, meaning that they can load a 25,000 tonne vessel in just over a day.

Employee valued

This is by no means a small operation, and the Vale mine employs 700 people. We were treated to lunch in their staff canteen which serves a very good variety of good food. Vale values its employees and looks after them well. We could see it in the genuine smiles of the workers who all speak Spanish, but no English.

At the onsite laboratory we were shown every room and their apparatus; as the phosphate moves through the plant samples are taken and tested every four hours as their goal is to continually produce consistent phosphate content.

The lab is set up to global best practice and is vetted by other labs. Furthermore, SGS test independently all export shipments of Sechura Rock Phosphate.

The mine is relatively close to the port. The wharf is all-weather access. Once a ship is loaded it is 19 days steaming to the first New Zealand port for discharge directly across the Pacific Ocean.

Honest operation

In the last two years Vale sold 2.8 million MT of product annually, but is capable of four million tonnes. Vale runs a very professional, upfront and honest operation and we were shown every aspect of the operation. Nothing was held back.

It is hard to comprehend that New Zealand NPK manufacturers have purchased from this mine in the past but now don’t, due to the cadmium debacle that was created by themselves.

This is a naturally-mined product that passes for organic certification and we can be assured to be supplied consistent quality for direct application onto New Zealand pastures.

In our quest to source the very best quality fertiliser, inputs of Sechura RPR needs no introduction. Its performance in New Zealand’s conditions for more than 30 years is well documented.


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