The copper project pipeline – by Alexandra Lopez-Pacheco (CIM Magazine – August 4, 2022)

Both small and medium-sized companies will have big roles in meeting a growing demand for the metal

According to S&P Global Intelligence, there were 18 discoveries of new copper resources in 2021, marking a seven-year high. Although this is a far cry from the 2012 all-time peak of 57, it also came with a 31 per cent increase in initial resource exploration budgets.

That is good news not just for the copper-exploration sector but also for the global effort to decarbonize. Because copper is one of the best conductors of electricity, the electrification of our world is going to be copper intensive. Analysts are warning a shortage of the mineral will hit within a handful of years. Small and mid-sized copper exploration companies might just hold at least part of the key to solving the looming shortfall.

Although the earth still has plenty of copper resources – an estimated 3,500 million tonnes of undiscovered copper deposits, according to the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS), a scientific agency of the U.S. government – much of it is low grade. While copper is key for decarbonization, at the local level copper mines can be massive energy-guzzling operations that produce enormous amounts of waste rock and consume a vast amount of water.

The lower the grade, the deeper miners have to dig. “And the deeper you go, you start to find more arsenic, cadmium, mercury and other not so miner-friendly things,” said Carlos Risopatron, the Portugal-based director of economics and environment of the International Copper Study Group (ICSG).

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