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Finding the copper mine of tomorrow: In search of hypothetical “reserves”

Finding the copper mine of tomorrow: In search of hypothetical “reserves”

John Sykes

Copper is an important component of the modern economy, however, total copper “resources”, and both the size and number of copper deposits are finite. For this reason, the copper mining industry sees its long-term future through the concept of resource depletion. In recent years, the previously opposing “opportunity cost” and “sustainable development” resource depletion paradigms have converged on a “controlling idea”, within the copper industry. Under these paradigms, the “copper of mine of tomorrow” is a large, low-grade deposit, facing “sustainable development” problems and requiring higher copper prices (the “opportunity cost”) to become “economic”. As a result, the copper industry needs radical innovation and technological development in mining and processing to mitigate these problems. This assumes, by implication, only a minimal role for exploration in the future of the copper industry. In this future, copper exploration merely outlines further, ever-lower quality copper “resources”. In response, this presentation will challenge the “controlling idea” and offer an alternate hypothesis, suggesting that the ‘development problem’ is a ‘discovery problem’. Investigating whether exploration can help mitigate resource depletion and sustainability problems, by opening up new “search space” and unveiling high-quality copper deposits with the potential for both “economic” and “sustainable development”. In this case, the “copper mine of tomorrow” would be a high quality, as yet, undiscovered deposit, which can meet the twin goals of “economic” and “sustainable development”.