New Blue Water Copper Leaching Technology Drives Profits

Editor’s Note: Gerardo recently returned from a site visit in Arizona to check out new leaching technology that’s helping to solve the looming copper shortage. We discuss it in the interview below, and also put together a video for you to see the technology for yourself. 


New Blue Water Copper Leaching Technology Drives Profits

Nick Hodge: Let's talk about copper because you've been busy. You recently were on a copper site tour in Arizona looking at some new types of leaching technologies. To set the stage here, I'm going to read you a couple of statistics on projections for copper demand. McKinsey & Company says that for the world to meet its net zero emissions targets it will be short 50 million metric tons of copper a year by 2030. As the world goes electric, net-zero emission goals will double demand for the metal to 50 million metric tons annually by 2035, according to S&P Global.

Meanwhile, mine supply growth will peak by around 2024, with a dearth of new projects in the works and as existing sources dry up. That’s setting up a scenario where the world could see a historic deficit of as much as 10 million tons in 2035, according to the S&P Global research. Goldman Sachs Group Inc. estimates that miners need to spend about $150 billion in the next decade to solve an 8 million-ton deficit, according to a report published this month. BloombergNEF predicts that by 2040 the mined-output gap could reach 14 million tons, which would have to be filled by recycling metal. 

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S&P Global says that we need to mine more copper in the next 22 years than we've ever mined throughout all of human history. 

So varying degrees of acuteness there, I guess you could say, insofar as these various entities think we're going to be short. But the overall gist is that, in layman's terms, we need to fuck-ton more copper in the next decade or two decades. And a lot of money is going to need to be spent on that. 

The world’s large, existing copper mines are getting smaller and more expensive to produce. They're getting deeper. And the new deposits that we're finding are lower grade. So we’re turning to technology to try to solve the coming copper shortfall. And one of the ways the industry is doing that is by coming up with new ways to extract the copper, similar to what they're doing in the lithium industry with direct leaching. 

There have been a lot of articles about this. Rio Tinto has got its Nuton project that it's licensing out to various different companies. BHP is working with a company called Jetti to come up with new types of copper leaching technologies. We're talking about using these technologies to: 

1) Mine waste rock and/or low-grade tailings essentially that are currently uneconomic to process; and
2) Do some in situ leaching of copper the way that uranium is leached in situ and then produced. 

That's a pretty good introduction. Right now, copper is just under $4 per pound. Many people think it'll be $7 to $20 per pound over the next decade.

But anyway, so you were in Arizona to look at some of these technologies. I'd love to hear a bit about that and who you went with and what you saw.

Gerardo Del Real: I'm no geologist. I'm definitely not a chemistry major. But it was a pretty fascinating trip. You know, I went down to Arizona with a colleague of ours, Mr. John Carl, to look at a copper mine that is working on this new copper leaching technology. And it's absolutely fascinating to me because this is a past-producing mine that has, as you mentioned, low grade tailings that weren't economic for a very long time. 

John Carl and Gerardo Del Real at a copper mine that is working on this new copper leaching technology.

There's rail, there's road, there's power. I drove to it from Phoenix. It was one of the smoothest drives to a site visit that I've possibly ever had. You get out of the airport, get into the rental car, drive an hour and 15 minutes, stop by Starbucks and go get busy. 

The process is fascinating. It's got the potential to really contribute to solving the copper deficit. The bottom line is, if you believe people like Robert Friedland, and on this I actually do, there's going to be a run on copper like there has been on lithium. There's not going to be enough copper within the next five years for the simple fact that we're so far behind and it takes so long to make discoveries of significance. It takes years, perhaps decades, especially for the more bountiful systems like copper porphyries to be developed and approved. I think the copper thesis is as solid in the mid to long term as the lithium thesis is, and maybe even better. Maybe even better because of how tough it is to make these copper discoveries of significance and then actually get them permitted and then actually build them and get them to market. I think we're going to have a couple of years where people are scratching their heads going, how did we miss this? How did we get in a position where copper is $8 a pound now and we still don't have enough? I think it's headed there in the next couple of years.

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Nick Hodge: Yeah, well that's why this blue water leaching technology is so exciting. If it takes ten years to find and de-risk and permit a mine, here you have a technology that can be applied to existing tailings that would definitely have a shorter timeline to production in terms of how long it takes to leach. So we put together a video about the investment opportunity. It's worth putting on your radar as this whole situation develops because as the copper demand rises, there's going to be new technologies that emerge that you need to keep your finger on the pulse of.

Gerardo Del Real and John Carl checking out blue water leaching technology.

(Click to See the Process in Action!)

Gerardo Del Real: And let me add this... This company that I went to see in Arizona in this video that we shot on site also happens to have partnerships with some of the top copper producers on the planet that are investing their own money to advance this process. And the reason they're doing so is because if you're a multi-billion-dollar blue chip copper producer and your ore grades are declining and you're not making the discoveries of significance, but you have uneconomic tailings and/or uneconomic portions of your deposit that are amenable to this process, well, all of a sudden, you just turned dirt into dollars. And if you can figure out a way to turn dirt into dollars and you have a lot of dirt, that can get very profitable very quickly. The company that's pioneering these studies is a fascinating one. The process is a fascinating one to me. But even with this technology, it's not it's not going to be enough in the next five to ten years. And so the kind of table that's been set for us as speculators in this space, which is high risk and high reward, and everybody should understand that — but man, there's a lot of tailwinds for us. 

Nick Hodge: So watch the video from Gerardo’s site visit now. You get to see the blue water copper leaching process in action. You get to hear management talk about it. It's definitely worth the watch.

Nick Hodge

Nick Hodge
Publisher, Resource Stock Digest