Ammonium nitrate, a natural-based chemical used extensively in agriculture, can also be used to make explosives. Enaex S.A. is the only company in Chile that manufactures it, selling it locally and internationally as a raw material for the production of several types of explosives.
Enaex is a world leader in the rock fragmentation industry, focusing on open pit and underground mine blasting. In addition to currently producing over 775,000 tonnes of ammonium nitrate per year at its Prillex Complex in Mejillones, the 95 year old Chilean company manufactures blasting products at two other plants and provides mining-related logistical services. It produces both low and ultra low density ammonium nitrate, and prides itself on developing innovative solutions that increase efficiency and safety in mining operations for its customers.
As a result, Enaex has become the world’s third largest provider of low-density ammonium nitrate. In addition, in 2013 its exports of high-density explosives exploded, growing 26% in one year to US$16.6 million.
Enaex sells its products to over 40 countries worldwide, a and has an operational presence in Chile, Peru, Colombia and Argentina. In Argentina it recently built a bulk emulsions plant, in Colombia a cartridge emulsions project, and in Brazil civil explosives and initiation systems through the company Britanite. Its Chilean plants operate in Mejillones, Calama and La Serena.
With every new acquisition, Enaex draws in new customers. According to Mr. Juan Andrés Errázuriz, Enaex’s CEO, “Its high quality, high durability ammonium nitrate is valued and demanded by major companies across the globe.” By 2014 the company owned three production plants and employed more than 1,700 people.
Enaex was founded in November of 1920, but it wasn’t until the early ’80s that the company started producing its own ammonium nitrate, building Prillex América in Mejillones. This enabled the company to independently supply itself with the main raw material in its explosives. In 1993 Sigdo Koppers bought the company and built more production plants, expanding Enaex’s capacity to produce nitric acid and ammonium nitrate.
In 2006 it applied for its first carbon credit project, eventually becoming Chile’s national leader in CO2 reduction and emission of carbon credits. The government of Norway now supports Enaex’s CDM projects, providing resources for continuing the projects and financing community social projects developed by Enaex.
In 2012 Enaex started reworking its image, updating its headquarters and developing a new working model based on innovation. In 2013 they started producing new innovative products, like Hidrex that controls slopes and buffer blast. They also recorded the highest sales in the company’s history, with a clear profit of US$93.9 million. That year the company captured 90% of the tons of explosives put out for bid in the Chilean market.
Per Errazuriz, “Understanding client needs and maintaining a socially responsible vision are at the core of Enaex’s quest to become the world’s most prestigious supplier of high quality ammonium nitrate and rock fragmentation services.” This includes acting on climate change and sustainability issues.
In Chile Enaex is recognised as one of ten leading companies in climate change management. The Chilean Ministry of Mining named them the “Chilean Company that Best Represents the Mining Industry,” according to Errazuriz. The most noteworthy of its sustainability initiatives resulted in an annual reduction of nearly one million tons of CO2.
Enaex works hard to develop innovative new processes for its customers as well, in areas such as security, sustainability, and infrastructure. Fragmentation control, reduction of mining fines, stability of mine walls, and saving energy are all concerns that Enaex works to improve in the blasting process. A change in its composition of high powered explosives, for example, created more finely fragmented rock, which then reduced energy needed downstream for crushing.
Safety has long been a major concern in the mining industry, which in 2007 was valued at US$962 billion worldwide. Many of Enaex’s innovations are designed to increase safety, including its modification of blasting components, explosives powders, and machines like the new Milodón truck (produces explosives onsite) and the Blast Site Watch system, which customers like Anglo American, Escondida, Codelco, and Minera Los Pelambres allowed Enaex to test onsite.
The CEO of Enaex Servicios, Edmundo Jimenez, says that Enaex creates a win-win relationship with its customers by keeping three main principles in mind:
1. Efficient operation and reliability in the manufacture and delivery of its own products and services.
2. Reducing the cost of extraction and processing for customers via innovation of new, more efficient supplies and equipment.
3. Helping customers balance income generation with safety needs, sustainability, and production efficiency.
The company increased electrical self-sufficiency by 45% at its Prillex Complex by using surplus steam to replace energy from the grid. In 2013, after many years of working on safety measures, the company reduced its accidents rate to just 2.01, meaning an average of 0.02 days lost per worker – one of the lowest rates in the industry. Working toward the company’s own sustainability was a major contributing factor.
Out in the community, the company holds regular meetings to gather feedback about the impact they are having locally. That information is relayed back to the company’s steering committee, led by Enaex’s CEO. There the committee seriously considers the community’s suggestions for positive improvement.
Improved education is a constructive impact the company hopes to have on its communities. In Mejillones, the Prillex America plant offered an eight month internship for eight local students in 2013. “One of the company’s social commitments is to provide ongoing support for education and technical-professional training in the community,” states Jimenez.
During the next 5-10 years, Enaex sees two main trends emerging in the industry, both of which will require innovation: An increase in the scale of operations of open pit mining, and the increasing depth of underground mining. Deeper mines, lower grades of ore produced, high energy costs, and greater sustainability requirements are all related issues Eneax is already starting to deal with.
Jimenez believes that the company’s focus on innovation, of which it is justifiably proud, will help it meet these requirements, thereby furthering its position as a leader in the mining industry worldwide. He states, “In both ways Enaex is acquiring all the necessary know-how and partnerships for being well prepared for the upcoming future.”
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