(Bloomberg) – Over the past decade, 43 million tons of copper have been mined that have never been processed. Instead, the metal lies trapped in giant piles of waste rock in dozens of mines from Chile to Australia.
That wasted copper, too difficult to extract using conventional mining methods, could alleviate a looming shortage of the metal that has sent prices soaring. Startup Jetti Resources says it has the technology to release that metal, which is expected to grow more than five times by 2050, according to CRU Group. That’s the equivalent of more than a decade of supply from a mine and worth $ 2.4 trillion at current prices.
“It is an axis for unlocking a wasted resource base and turning it into reserves that can be used,” said Mike Outwin, CEO and founder of Jetti Resources. “That is why this problem has been called the holy grail.”
Investors have been piling up in copper as global stimulus drives demand and longer-term projections show that supply will not match the increase in consumption from the transition to green energy. With few new mines under development, both Trafigura Group, the world’s leading copper trader, and Goldman Sachs Group Inc. say prices could reach $ 15,000 a ton in the next few years.
Jetti said it is in talks with some of the world’s largest miners about the application of its technology. The company’s board of directors includes former BHP Group CEO Chip Goodyear, as well as a former CFO of Xstrata Plc and former copper directors of Anglo American Plc and Rio Tinto Group.
The Boulder, Colorado-based company has developed a catalyst that allows copper to be released from low-grade chalcopyrite minerals, which can have a metal content well below 1%, by breaking the metal-sulfur bond in the mineral. Traditional leaching methods, which dissolve the metal to form a weak copper sulfate solution, cause a film to form on the copper in these minerals, preventing its extraction.
The new process could be incorporated into existing plants and increase production by 20-100% depending on the type of operation, Jetti said.
The company installed its first commercial plant last year at an Arizona mine managed by Capstone Mining Corp. Capstone says that over the next two decades, after processing millions of tons of waste rock, it expects to produce an additional 350 million pounds of copper, for worth more than $ 1.6 billion at current prices.
Jetti currently has a pipeline of 23 multi-stage projects, including five pilots and three in operation that it will seek to convert to commercial status in 2022. By the middle of the decade, its plants could begin to have a material impact on the global supply of copper.
Processing millions of tons of copper that has already been mined will extend the life of existing mines and allow new projects to process lower-quality ore from the start.
Still, while Jetti’s innovation could extract millions of tons of copper over the next three decades, it won’t revolutionize production like new technologies did with shale or even nickel. Instead, it will help fill the looming supply gap.
“We are unlocking a colossal stranded resource, but we will not do so in an incredibly short period of time that floods the industry with either excess production or dramatically lower cost than is currently being done,” Outwin said.
Original Note: Copper Boom Pushes Miners to Tap Trillions of Dollars From Waste
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