Australian miners ramp up investment in electric-vehicle metals – by Kaori Takahashi (Nikkei Asian Review – February 22, 2018)

Copper and lithium among targets for spending as demand and prices climb

SYDNEY — Australia’s mining companies are shelling out more to find copper and other materials used in electric vehicles as demand for the next-generation automobiles grows.

Anglo-Australian mining group BHP Billiton looks to invest $6.9 billion in plants and exploration in the year through June, up 32% from the previous fiscal year’s $5.22 billion.

The aim is to improve productivity at the company’s core coal and iron ore operations, and to develop its copper business. BHP in February completed a $350 million facilities upgrade at the Olympic Dam copper mine, where it plans to raise output 25-35% on the year.

“Growing our copper business [is the] best way of benefiting” from the growing market for electric vehicles in China and elsewhere, CEO Andrew Mackenzie told investors on Tuesday. A single electric car uses around 80kg of copper, according to BHP, four times as much as a gasoline-powered vehicle.

Boosting copper production is already paying off. The metal was selling for $3.20 per pound in the second half of 2017, up 33% from a year earlier. BHP raised output 17% over the same period, largely through increased production at its Escondida mine in Chile.

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