RANKED: The 10 best copper mining projects in the world – 2022

Copper, often called the beacon metal as a barometer of global economic health, is a vital metal for the green energy transition. Demand has been rising for the red metal, and energy and metals researcher Wood Mackenzie expects end demand for copper from electric passenger vehicles to grow to around 2.9 million tonnes over the next decade, against around 600,000 tonnes in 2021.

For a glimpse into tomorrow’s copper supply chain, MINING.COM and its sister company Mining intelligence compiled a list of the 10 largest undeveloped copper projects and ranked them based on copper resources into measured, indicated and inferred categories.

Based on our criteria, we excluded Udokan from Udokan Copper in Russia, Timok from Zijing in Serbia, and Quellaveco from Anglo American in Peru, which are in the construction and commissioning phases.

#1 Pebble

Status: Preliminary economic assessment. Geology: porphyry, supergene copper

Northern Dynasty MineralsThe Pebble project in the Bristol Bay region of Alaska leads by far, containing 37.18 million tonnes (mt) of copper. Pebble has been plagued by controversy, delays and environmental opposition over the years, and the project’s key water permit was officially rejected by the US Army Corps of Engineers last year.

This year, the Biden administration has said it will restart a process that could permanently shield Bristol Bay from development. The decisions are currently being challenged by Northern Dynasty Minerals, and in October 2021 the company released a preliminary economic assessment. If allowed, Pebble would be the largest mine in North America.

#2 Resolution

Development status: Feasibility. Geology: Porphyry

Rio Tinto and BHPThe Resolution copper project in Arizona comes second with a copper resource of 27.7 mt. The world’s two leading miners have spent $2 billion over 26 years trying to get Resolution into production, but have faced continued opposition from Native American groups and environmentalists. A 2014 decision by former President Barack Obama and Congress set in motion a complex process to give Rio federally owned land in Arizona that contains more than 40 billion pounds of copper and is believed to be one of the largest major underground mines in the world.

#3 La Granja

Development status: Advanced exploration. Geology: Porphyry

Rio TintoThe La Granja property in Peru ranks third with 22.06 mt of copper. Rio Tinto acquired La Granja more than 12 years ago, but renewed the concession in 2019 and paid $5 million to continue exploration. In the same year, it was rumored that Rio might partner with First Quantum to develop the mine.

#4 MKS

Development status: Pre-feasibility. Geology: Porphyry, Skarn

Gold from the sea deckThe Kerr-Sulphurets Mitchell (KSM) project in British Columbia ranks fourth with 21.25 mt of copper. The $5.3 billion project hosts four mineral deposits that will be mined as a combined surface and underground mine. Late last year, Seabridge announced its intention to remodel KSM by incorporating the Snowfield porphyry deposit, acquired from Pretium Resources in December 2020.

#5 New Union

Development status: Pre-feasibility. Geology: Porphyry

teak and NewmontNueva Unión’s 50/50 joint venture in Chile takes fifth place with a copper resource of 16.69 tonnes. The project is located in the Atacama region and the annual copper production is estimated at 224,000 tons during the first 5 years of production.

#6 Tampakan

Development status: Feasibility. Geology: Porphyry

The Tampakan deposit on the Philippine island of Mindanao ranks sixth with 15.25 mt of copper. Sagittarius Mines is seeking local approval for the proposed mine, which is expected to produce an average of 375,000 tonnes of copper per year over a 17-year mine life.

#7 The Pachon

Development status: Advanced exploration. Geology: Porphyry

glencoreThe El Pachón copper and silver project in Argentina’s San Juan province ranks seventh with a resource of 15.04 mt. Glencore acquired the project from Xstrata Copper – El Pachón is a major long-term development project with the potential to initially produce 400,000 tonnes of copper per year.

#8 Tiles

Status: Preliminary economic assessment. Geology: porphyry, supergene copper

McEwen Mines created a new company, Copper McEwen, to advance the 13.42 mt Los Azules project in Argentina. The first thing the company said it intends to do is construct a new low-lying northern access road to provide year-round access to the site. The current exploration route is passable only about five months a year.

#9 Twin Metals

Development status: Pre-feasibility. Geology: magmatic sulphide

AngofagastaThe beleaguered Twin Metals project in Minnesota rounds out the top 10 with 12.96 tonnes of copper. The company has asked U.S. officials to reconsider a proposed 20-year ban on mining in Minnesota’s Boundary Waters region, a plan announced last fall that would completely shut down Twin Metals.

#10 Frieda River

Development status: Feasibility. Geology: Epithermal, Porphyry

Rise of GuangdongPapua New Guinea’s Freida River project completes the list with a resource of 12.45 mt. The estimated life of the Freida River mine is 20 years.

Download data from Mining intelligence.

About William J. Harris

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