Molybdenum is a major byproduct of copper production that can be used in various industries. Due to its high melting point, corrosion resistance, high thermal conductivity and low thermal expansion, this transition metal is considered by specialists to be appropriate for applications in leading-edge technology and in the metallurgical and chemical industries.
In Chile, molybdenum is becoming an increasingly important product. In fact, it is calculated that Chilean molybdenum exports this year will contribute around US$2.1 billion to the national treasury. This figure is only outperformed by revenue from copper, of which Chile is the number one exporter in the world.
Aware of the enormous potential of molybdenum, the Chilean companies Codelco (state-owned copper corporation) and Molymet, as well as the Universidad de Chile, decided to join forces with the technological consortium Comotech in order to promote research and development (R&D) in molybdenum, stimulate the development of new uses and encourage its demand in technological applications.
“This is a long-term idea, the results of which will probably be seen in five more years if the initiatives are successful”, explained Fernando Alliende, vice president for Studies and Corporate Affairs of Molymet, the main molybdenum-transforming company in the world.
Codelco is also playing a fundamental role in the project. Thanks to its mining reserves, this company will continue to occupy a privileged position as a world supplier of molybdenum over the next 50 years. The idea is for this product to become a strategic element in the new business model the company is implementing.
“R&D in molybdenum will result in a win-win situation for all. The producers will have a market for their products; the construction and petrochemical industries will be able to have more resistant steel or better filters for fuel refining available; and if the research is carried out in Chile, the scientific and technological development capacities of the country will be strengthened”, states Víctor Pérez, marketing director of Codelco.
Comotech is currently developing two parallel research initiatives: market intelligence and R&D.
“We are involved, together with the International Molybdenum Association (IMOA), in the development of a new molybdenum-based catalyst for the petrochemical industry, which is being conducted at the University of Michigan in the U.S. We are also negotiating a project to develop a molybdenum additive for cement, which would increase its setting speed and thus reduce dead time in the construction business”, indicated David Villaseca, general manager of the Consortium.
The group is also taking part in two other research projects, which will have an estimated cost of 372.4 million Chilean pesos, 55% of which will be funded by InnovaCorfo. The first, undertaken by the Center for Advanced Interdisciplinary Research in Materials’ Sciences (Cimat) of the Universidad de Chile, seeks to establish prospective applications of molybdenum at an international level and disseminate its findings at a seminar that will take place on April 14 next.
The second project, in which Codelco, Cimat and IMOA are involved, is focused on detecting potential areas of interest for R&D in molybdenum. “The objective is to target efforts toward areas where they will have the greatest impact”, states Villaseca.
With this new initiative, the State of Chile, together with companies specializing in mining and research and development, as well as educational establishments such as the Universidad de Chile, intend to maintain over time the high profitability of copper and its derivative product, molybdenum. Among the more noteworthy examples are the development of bactericidal copper, which opens up new markets for the Chilean metal, and copper cages for fish farms, which will be promoted at the forthcoming 2010 Expo Shanghai next May.