Samarco: innovating to reinvent itself


Recognizing that we need to evolve is the first step toward a fresh start. This concept summarizes some of the discussions we had last week at the Mining Hub in Belo Horizonte, a project that brings together mining companies, suppliers, startups and the Brazilian Mining Institute (Ibram) to discuss the future of the industry.

Having graduated in Metallurgical Engineering, I, like many of the graduates of the Federal University of Ouro Preto (Ufop), always wanted to work at Samarco. I joined the company in October 2016 as Chief Operating Officer and took over as CEO in April last year, aware of the challenge that I would be facing. The company, which was once the fourth largest exporter in the country, has been inactive since the failure of the Fundão dam in Mariana in 2015, which impacted the environment and the lives of thousands of people.

When I arrived at Samarco, I perceived the employees’ aspiration to have the damage remedied, a commitment shared by the company and the shareholders that is currently being put in practice by Fundação Renova, and also to go back to operation. After the initial emergency response activities, in March 2016, a Framework Agreement (TTAC) was signed by the company, our shareholders, Vale and BHP, and the federal governments of Minas Gerais and Espírito Santo. This agreement established the creation of the Renova Foundation in order to carry out the remediation and compensation programs.

The failure of the Fundão dam will always mark Samarco’s history, but we need to move on. Building on what we have learned, we need to do things differently and innovation is key in this process. Our recovery will be gradual, initially at 26% of our production capacity, not using a tailings dam and employing a dry stack filtration system, which will make our production process even safer.

Every day we strive to strengthen our risk management and our prevention culture. We have developed an Integrated Safety System, which relies on the Monitoring and Inspection Center (CMI) which has over 600 pieces of equipment to monitor our geotechnical structures 24 hours a day, seven days a week. In parallel to the preparation for restart, the process for obtaining the Corrective Operating License (LOC) for the Germano Complex is ongoing at the State Secretariat of State for Environment and Sustainable Development (Semad).

After almost four years of shutdown, the company believes that innovation is the path to reinventing itself and contributing to a new chapter in the mining industry. Rewriting a story that started out with pioneering work. In 1977, Samarco was designed to beneficiate itabirite, a poor ore basically considered as waste, a major challenge at the time. In addition, the company built the country’s first iron ore pipeline, a logistics solution that allows the slurry to be transported from the Germano Complex in Mariana to the Ubu Complex in Espírito Santo.

We know that on our own we can’t go too far. That’s why we rely on collaboration, on open innovation. In 2018, we launched the MinerALL Challenge, a project built in partnership with NEO Ventures, the Federal University of Minas Gerais (UFMG), the Federal University of Ouro Preto (Ufop), the National Institute of Science and Technology (INCT MIDAS), and the Development Center of Nuclear Technology (CDTN). In its first edition, the MinerALL Challenge was aimed at encouraging undergraduate and graduate students to develop new business opportunities using mining tailings, thus generating positive impacts for mining territories.

We know that we still have many challenges to overcome. Has it been an easy path? No. But it is a new path and the one we are going to follow. Reflecting on our experiences, investing in new ideas, sharing learning, understanding industry changes and the needs of everyone involved, so that we can make a difference. Thus, prioritizing people, with respect to the environment, focusing on safety, we can transform mineral resources into a value for society.

Rodrigo Vilela, CEO of Samarco