Brazilian mining conglomerate Vale, the world\'s leading iron producer, announced Monday investments of $21.5 billion (16 billion euros) for 2012. It said the investment budget package includes $12.9 billion in capital expenditures for project execution, $2.4 billion for research and development and $6.1 billion for sustaining existing operations. \"Based on a long-term view of global minerals and metals markets, the budget is aligned with our vision of becoming the best global natural resources company in long-term-value creation,\" the company said in a statement. It said the 2012 budget would include $918 million to fund the global mineral exploration program, $848 million for conceptual, pre-feasibility and feasibility studies and $591 million to be invested in new processes, technological innovation and adaptation. Vale said its mineral exploration program would involve initiatives in the Americas, Africa, Asia and Australasia. It said expenditures would be earmarked to boost reserves of iron ore ($282 million) and nickel ($202 million) and explore opportunities in copper $156 million), coal ($75 million) and potash and phosphate rock ($50 million). Among key challenges for the mining industry next year, Vale cited environmental licensing, human capital constraints, cost pressures and longer lead times. In the third quarter of 2011, Vale posted a net profit of $4.9 billion, down 23.5 percent from the previous quarter due to a sharp appreciation of the real in relation to the dollar during the year. Last year, Vale achieved the best results in the history of the global mining industry last year, with net profits of $17.3 billion. Its business volume reached $46.4 billion and its production rose 29.4 percent to 308 million tons of iron ore. In May, Roger Agnelli stepped down as Vale chief and was replaced by former company executive Murilo Ferreira. Agnelli\'s departure came after weeks of rumors that the Brazilian government, a major shareholder, had demanded change at the top after Vale laid off 1,300 workers in Brazil and abroad in 2008. Also in May, Vale opened a new $1.7 billion coal mine in Mozambique, tapping the southern African country\'s thermal and coking coal reserves of around 23 billion tonnes.