Copper is a highly conductive metal used in wiring in transport, construction and manufacturing — and it is also vital to the green energy transition as a component in electric vehicles, wind turbines, charging infrastructure and solar photovoltaics.
As global demand escalates, the copper industry will need to spend more than US$100 billion to build mines able to close what could be an annual supply deficit of 4.7 million tonnes by 2030, according to CRU analysts.
In a spotlight on the world’s top copper producers, Mining Intelligence compiled a list of the companies with the highest production worldwide in 2022.
The world’s top copper producer is Santiago-headquartered Chilean state miner Codelco with 1.6 million tonnes produced — down 10% over the year prior. Chile’s copper commission in 2022 projected a 3.4% annual drop in domestic production amid declining ore quality, water restrictions and union protests.
Phoenix, Arizona-based U.S. miner Freeport-McMoRan (NYSE: FCX) is in second place with 1.3 million tonnes produced, up 7% over 2021. In February, the company was forced to stop operations at its iconic Grasberg mine in Indonesia for more than two weeks after the mine was hit by floods.
The world’s largest miner, BHP (NYSE: BHP; LSE: BHP; ASX: BHP) is also its third biggest copper producer. The Melbourne, Australia-based giant produced 1.1 million tonnes of copper, up 6%. Increasing its exposure to copper projects, BHP last year entered into an exploration agreement with Capstone Mining in Arizona and took over Australian copper producer Oz Minerals in a US$6.4 billion deal.
Baar, Switzerland-based miner and commodities trader Glencore (LSE: GLEN) is in fourth place with 993,400 tonnes produced, down 17% over 2021. Glencore has grabbed plenty of headlines over the past year, notably for its unsolicited US$23 billion takeover bid in March for Canada’s biggest miner, Teck Resources (TSX: TECK.A/TECK.B; NYSE: TECK). If successful, the takeover would substantially increase Glencore’s copper exposure.
Southern Copper (NYSE: SCCO), headquartered in Mexico City, takes fifth place on our list with 895,200 tonnes produced, down 7% over the year prior. Southern Copper was back to full capacity in April this year at its key Cuajone copper operation in Peru after community protests shut the mine for almost two months.
Vancouver-based First Quantum Minerals (TSX: FM) is in sixth place with 740,800 tonnes produced — flat over the year prior. The Canadian miner was under pressure this year to reach a deal with Panama over a tax and royalty dispute that resulted in halted processing operations at its giant Cobre Panama copper mine. An agreement was reached in March.
Shanghang- headquartered Chinese miner Zijin Mining takes number seven, with 676,700 tonnes produced — up a staggering 42% over the year prior. In 2021, Zijin opened Serbia’s largest copper mine, Cukaru Peki. The asset, part of the Timok project, is expected to make the Balkan country Europe’s second-largest copper producer. Zijin also began to produce copper at its Buritica gold mine in Colombia and holds a 39.6% stake in Ivanhoe’s Kamoa-Kakula copper mine in the Democratic Republic of Congo, which began production in May 2021.
Poland’s largest ore miner KGHM Polska Miedz is in eighth place with 536,600 tonnes produced — down 4% over the year prior. This month, KGHM verified four more viable mining pits at its Sierra Gorda copper and molybdenum mine in Chile, and a team of geologists suspect the newly identified pits might be in reality “one big super-pit”.
The world’s second biggest miner, Melbourne, Australia-based Rio Tinto (NYSE: RIO; LSE: RIO; ASX: RIO) is in ninth place with 521,000 tonnes — up 5% over the last year. Eying future copper business growth, Rio Tinto developed the Nuton technologies, a portfolio of copper heap leaching technologies. Rio also bought out Turquoise Hill for $3.3 billion — giving it direct control over the massive Oyu Tolgoi copper mine in Mongolia, and is partnering with First Quantum Minerals on the La Granja copper project in Peru.
London, U.K.-based major Anglo American (LSE: AAL) rounds out the list with 468,300 tonnes of copper produced — up 1%. The approval by Chilean ministers in April of a US$3 billion-plus overhaul at its Los Bronces mine gives Anglo’s production output forecast a major boost.
More data is at Mining Intelligence.
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