If Doctor Copper is anything to go by, then the prognosis for global economic health
and our nation’s copper mining industry is extremely positive.
After the global economy plummeted in March last year due to the impact of
COVID-19, including the price of copper, the mineral has completely rebounded from
the depths of its plunge, soaring almost 100% in less than 12 months to more than
Experts predict the price rise to continue in 2021 due to increasing global demand
brought on by the widespread transition to smart, connected cities as well as copper’s
properties of being recyclable and antimicrobial.
An average house contains 180kg of copper and an electric car contains about five times
more copper than the equivalent car with an internal combustion engine.
Despite a total of 80% of copper ever produced still in use today, the world is
hungrier than ever for copper, boosted by countries’ and corporations’ commitment to
net zero carbon emission targets by 2040-2050.
The green energy drive by global governments, the transition to electric
vehicles and the push by the mining industry to lead the ESG movement through
decarbonisation and emissions reductions, sees the demand for copper rising in the
medium term as supply struggles to catch up.
Copper, a rare and sought-after mineral, is one of mankind’s oldest metals, used in
prehistoric times as an alternative to stone tools during 8000BC.
Today, it is a vital raw material used in a broad range of industries and products
including electrical wiring, roofing, plumbing, industrial machinery, power transmission,
electronics, electric vehicles, wind turbines.
Copper, as a metal, is ductile, malleable, corrosion-resistant and an excellent
conductor of heat and electricity.
Most copper mines across Australia have large reserves which are likely able to
meet this growing demand with increased production and new mine development.
Australia’s copper miners produced 937,000t in 2019, with strong figures from
mines in SA, QLD and WA.
A Geoscience Australia spokesperson said the nation’s copper production totalled
0.93mt and accounted for 5% of global supply in FY20.
“Australian ranks sixth, behind Chile, Peru, China, the United States and Congo in terms
of global production,” the spokesperson said.
However, Australia holds the second ranking globally for copper resources, after Chile.
At the end of December 2019, Australia’s economic demonstrated resources of
copper were 93.36mt and total ore reserves of copper reported in compliance with
the Joint Ore Reserves Committee (JORC) amounted to 22.98mt.
“Australia hosts 11% of the world’s economic copper resources, second only to
Chile at 28% and ahead of Peru at 10%,” the spokesperson said.
According to Fitch Ratings, Australia is in second position globally after the US in
its Mining Risk/Reward Index, with low industry and country risks due to excellent
government regulation, and high rewards due to mining sector size, infrastructure and
a highly competitive landscape.
Australian copper and gold miner OZ Minerals ramped up production at its
Carrapateena mine in South Australia in November last year, six months ahead of
OZ Minerals also plans to invest $47m toward the potential expansion of its
Prominent Hill mine in South Australia, the largest portion of which would be directed
towards further infill drilling ahead of a final investment decision expected mid-2021.
The company’s recent study update confirmed the feasibility of a vertical hoisting
shaft to replace truck haulage at a cost of $450m over four years, which is projected to
lower site operating costs by $10-15/t and extend mine life by another 11 years.
OZ Minerals managing director and chief executive Andrew Coles says these positive
findings increases the company’s confidence in Prominent Hill’s longevity and ongoing
“Underground mining rates are now averaging circa 4mtpa and we expect to
achieve rates between 4–5mtpa from 2022, when we are able to mine simultaneously
from the bottom of the mine plan and from the current mining levels,” he said.
“The mine has consistently operated in the lowest quartile of the cost curve for many
years. We look forward to the results of the study and further infill drilling in mid-2021.”
Prominent Hill is an iron oxide copper gold silver (IOCG) deposit in the Gawler
Craton, South Australia, which covers about 600,000km² and hosts the Olympic Dam,
Prominent Hill and Carrapateena copper mines.
Copper is produced in all jurisdictions in Australia except the Australia Capital
Territory, with production concentrated in three states: South Australia, Queensland
Australia has several copper mines of world significance, including Queensland’s Mt Isa
copper-lead-zinc deposit and the Olympic Dam copper-uranium-gold deposit, which is
one of the largest copper-bearing deposits in the world.
As well as Prominent Hill and Carrapateena, other important copper resources within
• Northparkes copper-gold, CSA copper-lead-zinc and Girilambone copper
deposits in NSW;
• Ernest Henry, Osborne and Mammoth copper deposits and copper-gold
deposits at Selwyn in Queensland;
• Copper-zinc deposits at Golden Grove and the Nifty copper deposit in WA.
Most of the copper ore produced in Australia comes from underground mines.
The traditional mining and processing method used at most mines involves
crushing and flotation, with the concentrate processed in a smelter. Smelting converts
the concentrates to copper metal.
Some Australian mines use the leaching method, followed by a solvent extraction
Australian exports are predicted to rise from 925,000t in FY20 to 941,000t in FY22
(in metal content terms), according to the Federal Government’s Resources and Energy
Quarterly for December 2020.
Geoscience Australia’s $225m Exploring for the Future program (2016-
2024) is currently providing explorers with national and regional-scale pre-competitive
data to help target new mineral discoveries in under-explored regions across Australia,
including known geological provinces, covered areas and tailings dams.
After several years of significant exploration investment, copper exports earnings
reached new records, increasing from $10.2b in FY19 to $10.4b in FY20.
This figure is expected to lift even further in FY22 to a projected $11b.
Copper was the second most explored for commodity, behind gold. Spending on
copper exploration drilling in FY20 was $429.1m, a 27.8% increase from FY19 at
Exploration activity included drilling at Rio Tinto tenements in the Yeneena Basin of
the Paterson Province in WA, at the Winu project.