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Minera Tres Valles, after the first two quarters of own-mine operation under the control of the project’s second owners the Vecchiola Group, has accomplished increases in both the amount of ore processed and the quantity of cathodes produced.

The Tres Valles project, originally discovered and developed by the Brazilian mining company, Vale, was bought by the Vecchiola Group at the end of 2013. During the first 20 months in control, the new owners suspended operation at the two on-site mines in order to restructure and optimize the company.

In October of last year, the underground mine, Papomono, reopened and today it is operating in four turns, focusing on bringing the mine to full-scale production.

During this first quarter of 2016, Tres Valles increased cathode production by 11%, a significant step on the way to achieving the company’s next goal of bringing the plant to full production capacity of 18,500 tons of cathodes per year.

Production has increased thanks to improvements in both the mines and the processing plant, in Quilmenco, Salamanca. Ricardo Vergara, Plant Superintendent at Tres Valles, explained, “During the first quarter of 2016, the amount of recoverable copper arriving at the plant increased 6.5% in compared to the previous quarter. The plant is advancing forward and becoming more efficient in order to take advantage of al the ore that is exploited from the mines.”

Vergara continues, “For the plant, the next step is the incorporation of more heavy machinery, as well as keeping up maintenance on our truck fleet in order to improve their operation by 70%. The goal of this increase is to more than double the heaping of tailings.” The re-leaching of tailings is a process that significantly contributes to the recuperation of total ore.

During the suspension of mining operations at Tres Valles, the SX-EW Plant never stopped operating. In this period, the team of workers from the Plant were able to optimize performance of the different processes, making the plant operate as efficiently as possible.

In addition to increasing cathode production, during the first quarter of 2016 Tres Valles also increase the volume of material crushed at the plant by 31%.

Production at the mines during the first quarter was primarily focused in two areas: The Papomono underground mine and the North Portal, which corresponds to the open pit of the underground mine. José Bahamondes, Mine Superintendent at Tres Valles, explained the advancements that took place during the past quarter, “In the pit, we began to exploit Phase 1 where we continue to work today, and we began to prepare the removal of waste from Phase 2 in order to eventually expand the mine. This involves contracting out some services in order to incorporate more trucks into the extraction fleet and in the end improve and increase production.”

Improvements have been continuous and each day the Tres Valles team has been able to increase production goals. “During the next quarter, at the Pit, as well as the underground mine, we face the challenge of increasing both production levels and the amount of reserves that are sent to the plant, all the while working to extend the LOM,” added Bahamondes.

These results, after only two quarters of production, are only the beginning of what is to come at Minera Tres Valles, As José Bahamondes said, “In September 2015, we sent only 2,000 tonnes to the plant and had only 7 miners working 5×2 shifts. Last April when we reached 30,000 tonnes processed at the plant we realized that we are capable of increasing the production even more, as we continue to always be more efficient and our workers maintain their motivation, both from internal and external workers.

In the laboratory, Eduardo Hasan, Superintendent of Metallurgy, and his team are developing pilot leaching tests in mini columns, testing how oxidizing salts can be used to speed up the recovery process.

Hasan commented, “We are excited about the possibilities that these tests are presenting. The hopeful result of the implementation of this new process will be, fundamentally, to increase Copper recovery by 5-10% of Total Copper, to decrease the leaching cycle from 360 to 120 days, to decrease the consumption of sulfuric acid, and most importantly to develop our leaching pads so that they are more efficient.

This new stage includes not only the reopening of operations at Minera Tres Valles, but also an improvement in all procedures and in all areas of the operation. Mario Valdés, Operations Manager at Minera Tres Valles, is already looking forward towards the future of the project, “We are entering a new stage with a new level of quality at Minera Tres Valles. Learning from the successes and the difficulties that we encountered in the past, now we are ready and have an operation that is efficient and prosperous. For now, we will continue increasing our production in order to reach the name plate capacity of our processing plant (5,400 tonnes/month), but we are always looking to the future to see how we can continue efficiently and responsively developing Tres Valles.