Record copper prices compelling miners to revisit idle resources in tailings waste

More than a decade’s worth of global copper supply sitting in discarded waste dumps at mines across the world is set to be the target of fresh attempts to extract the valuable metal, with the help of new technologies.

After the copper price hit record highs earlier this year following global economic stimulus and long-term rising demand projections, mining companies are looking to extract value from their waste rock dumps, as new deposit discoveries become increasingly rare.

A new study by CRU Group found more than 43 million tonnes of copper is sitting idle in tailings, having been previously considered too difficult to extract economically using conventional mining methods. At current prices, this amount of copper is worth US$2.4 trillion.

However, with the application of new technology championed by US-based start up Jetti Resources, these copper resources could finally be unlocked. Jetti has developed a catalyst that can liberate copper from low-grade chalcopyrite ores, known to have copper grades of well below 1%.

“It’s a linchpin for unlocking a wasted resource base and converting it into reserves we can use,” Jetti’s CEO Mike Outwin told Bloomberg.

The company states that the new process can be bolted on to existing plants and increase production by 20-100% depending on the type of operation. Jetti installed its first commercial plant last year at a Capstone Mining operation in Arizona.