Mining technology services provider Phibion has opened an office in Belo Horizonte, Brazil, in anticipation of further expansion in Latin America once the COVID-19 pandemic eases.

The office, approximately 600km north-west of Sao Paulo, is the next step in Phibion’s plans to become a major service provider in LATAM, with a long-term view to entering the North American market.

Managing Director David Smirk said Phibion had much to offer Brazil in terms of better environmental and safety management of tailings dams.

‘Brazil represents probably the largest opportunity for new tailings dam management technology like ours,’ Mr Smirk said.

‘It has a large, extensive mining industry, and tragically it has suffered some significant tailings dam failure events over the last few years that have resulted in significant loss of life.

‘Everyone in Brazil is now on the front foot looking for safer alternatives and this has provided us with the impetus to enter what had initially been looking like a longer-term market for us.’

The majority of Brazil’s more than 200 mines are located in the states of Minas Gerais and Pará. Phibion’s new office is in Belo Horizonte, the capital of Minas Gerais.

Phibion began exporting to Latin America in 2019 with an almost $3 million deal to sell its MudMaster machines to a client in Bolivia.

Using the MudMaster and the company’s Accelerated Mechanical Consolidation technology rapidly reduces the risk and environmental impact of tailings dams by maximising water recovery from mine tailings, the mud-like material that is left after separating out the valuable ore.

This process stabilises the ground, improving mine safety and reducing the environmental footprint of the mine’s operations by enabling land rehabilitation sooner.

Phibion’s MudMaster machines are assembled at the company’s factory in Lytton, Brisbane, and 70% of components are also manufactured in Queensland.

Expansion into LATAM and Australia has increased demand for Phibion’s products, with an increasing assembly program now extending well into 2021.

Queensland Trade and Investment Commissioner for Latin America Alex Pessagno congratulated Phibion on its expansion into Brazil.

‘TIQ is proud to have supported Phibion’s entry to LATAM,’ he said.

‘Working with world-class Queensland METS companies is one of our priorities here.’

Mr Smirk said TIQ had been very helpful in the LATAM market.

‘To all aspiring METS companies looking to LATAM, we recommend you work closely with the TIQ team in Santiago,’ he said.

‘They will find and open doors you never thought possible.

‘TIQ has led us along a path where we now need to employ more staff to keep up with this demand plus increase our research funding to satisfy our client expectations.’

Mr Smirk said the impact of COVID-19 on Phibion’s operations had presented some challenges.

‘All of our operations have been affected but it’s been more a question of how could we adapt and deal with that,’ he said.

‘We’ve had machines stranded in countries and mines close operations down, but in other places we’ve maintained full operations.

‘Our focus has been keeping everyone healthy and retained on full pay during these disruptions.

‘Brazil is looking ahead past the pandemic, taking the approach that while they have short-term issues which are changing the way we work, they’re focusing on the long term and how businesses can continue to operate through the current disruption.’

Phibion employs 7 staff at its Brisbane headquarters and 18 staff across its offices in Jamaica, Chile and now Brazil.

METS (mining equipment, technology and services) is identified as an emerging export strength for Queensland in the Queensland Trade and Investment Strategy 2017–2022.