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BHP eyes 500 000 t/y of copper from South Australia

20th February 2024

By: Mariaan Webb

Creamer Media Senior Deputy Editor Online

     

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Diversified mining company BHP is advancing several avenues for copper growth, CEO Mike Henry said on Tuesday, highlighting the key role that its South Australian assets will play in the group’s copper growth trajectory.

The Melbourne-headquartered mining firm acquired more exposure to Australian copper through the A$9.6-billion purchase of OZ Minerals in 2023.

Its Copper South Australia business unit now combines Carrapateena, Prominent Hill, Olympic Dam and the Oak Dam project. Integration has already unlocked synergies of more than $50-million a year – six months ahead of schedule.

Henry noted that it was the group’s aspiration to grow copper production in the asset to more than 500 000 t/y.

In the nearer term, plans are focused on operational synergies, such as processing concentrate from Prominent Hill and Carrapateena through Olympic Dam, and the deployment of the BHP Operating System.

In the longer term, BHP believes that the resource will be able to support a “two-stage smelter” at Olympic Dam, which will be more than double its current capacity.

“This would grow production, and allow us to capture even more of the benefits of processing all concentrate in-house,” said Henry.

He added that BHP would make an investment decision on this in the 2026 or 2027 financial years.

“With stable and competitive government policies in place, we believe there will be a strong case for investment.

“It’s clear that this new Copper South Australia asset will be more than the sum of its parts,” Henry stated.

In Chile, BHP is continuing to study a path forward for the Escondida copper mine to realise the “significant untapped resource potential”.

In particular, BHP is studying a concentrator strategy, which considers replacing the original Los Colorados concentrator at the mine, as well as potential expansions at Laguna Seca 1 and 2.

The mining company is also trialling multiple leaching technologies to help it extract more copper and use latent capacity, potentially while using less water and energy, and reducing the use of tailings dams.

More on these options for Escondida would be announced later in the calendar year, Henry said.

Meanwhile, BHP VP for market analysis and economics, Dr Huw McKay, highlighted the importance of copper for the world to achieve the targets set out in the Paris Agreement.

“What is common across the 100 or so Paris-aligned pathways we have studied is that they simply cannot occur without an enormous uplift in the supply of critical minerals, such as copper and nickel,” he said in BHP’s economic and commodity outlook, published on Tuesday.

BHP’s 1.5 °C scenario envisages cumulative primary copper demand over the next 30 years to be about double the amount consumed in the previous 30 years, said McKay.

Edited by Creamer Media Reporter

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