The Pico Block plant will manufacture more than 60 different construction products, including flooring, structural concrete blocks and sealing blocks, processing 30,000 t/yr of tailings into 3.8 million pre-molded products.
The feedstock for the plant, which is located in the city of Itabirito, Minas Gerais will be sandy tailings from Vale ore processing activities that would be otherwise disposed of in dams or piles.
"[These tailings] have a high silica content and very low iron content, in addition to a high degree of chemical homogeneity and optimum grain-size uniformity," said Vale's executive manager for Environmental Licensing, Rodrigo Dutra.
"In addition to making our operations safer and more sustainable, we want to encourage the development of innovative solutions that create value for neighbouring communities and society."
The company will invest approximately R$25 million in technological research and development (R&D) in the first two years of operation of the Pico Block plant, which will receive technical support from the Federal Centre for Technological Education of Minas Gerais (CEFET-MG).
The more than 60 items produced there will be tested in partnership with CEFET-MG for industrial-scale production, and no products will be sold during the R&D phase.
"The main advantage of being in a plant inside a mining unit is the ability to study the application of various wastes and validate the technology developed in the laboratory in the production environment, on an industrial scale. This model will enable the transfer of technology in a more efficient way, in an environment that drives innovation," explained Augusto Bezerra, lead researcher of the project and professor at CEFET-MG.
The company has implemented a modular design to the 10,000 square metre plant, with different sections responsible for areas such as civil construction, such as transport infrastructure, housing and urban development works.
The company noted that it plans to replicate the block plant in other units in Minas Gerais once the R&D phase at the Pico mine is completed.