Weekly Metals News Digest – June 3-7

Major Copper Smelter to be Built in Kazakhstan

Agreement Between KAZ Minerals and China Nonferrous Metal Mining

Kazakh copper producer KAZ Minerals has signed an agreement with China Nonferrous Metal Mining to construct a $1.5 billion copper smelter in eastern Kazakhstan. This state-of-the-art facility is scheduled to begin operations by the end of 2028. It will source raw materials from KAZ Minerals’ Bozshakol, Aktogay, and Vostoktsvetmet concentrators and is expected to have a capacity of 300 ktpa of copper, excluding byproducts such as gold, silver, and sulfuric acid.

Production and Operational Benefits

KAZ Minerals currently operates multiple mines and concentrators in Kazakhstan and a mine in Kyrgyzstan. Last year, the company increased its copper production by 6% to 403 thousand tons and its silver production by 6.3% to 4 million troy ounces, although gold output decreased by 5.3% to 162 thousand troy ounces. Constructing its own smelter will enable KAZ Minerals to avoid tolling fees for processing its mined material into pure metals. China Nonferrous Metal Mining will handle all project aspects, including construction, equipment procurement, and commissioning.

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Innovation in Lithium Extraction

Occidental and BHE Renewables Pilot Project

US-based Occidental and BHE Renewables have announced plans to establish a pilot plant to directly extract lithium from geothermal water. This facility will be situated near BHE Renewables’ 10 geothermal power plants in Imperial Valley, California. The technology is currently being tested at one of these plants. If successful, the companies plan to build additional facilities to produce high-purity lithium from geothermal groundwater.

Increasing Demand for Lithium

Lithium is crucial for manufacturing batteries used in electric vehicles, electronic devices, and energy storage systems. The global demand for lithium-ion batteries is projected to increase tenfold between 2020 and 2030. Other companies, such as Vulcan Energy Resources in Europe, are also pursuing similar projects to industrialize lithium extraction from groundwater.

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Hydro’s Investment in Italy

Modernization of Atessa Plant

Hydro plans to invest nearly 15 million euros to modernize its Atessa plant in Italy, which produces aluminum profiles. The project aims to increase the plant’s scrap and waste processing capacity from 30,000 to 40,000 tons per year. The investment will be used to purchase advanced recycling equipment, including a line to remove varnish from aluminum scrap and a remelting furnace.

Market Presence and Sustainability

Atessa produces a variety of aluminum profiles for the construction industry under brands like Wicona, Technal, and Domal. These products are distributed throughout Italy and the European Union. The modernization aligns with numerous renovation projects in Italy, where old aluminum doors and windows will be replaced with new ones. This investment allows Hydro to expand its market presence and supply customers with low-carbon footprint products.

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Newmont’s Copper Ambitions with BHP Group

Proposed Joint Venture

Newmont, the world’s largest gold mining corporation, has proposed a joint venture with BHP Group to develop copper deposits globally. Newmont currently produces 150 thousand tons of copper annually and plans to increase this through new projects in Canada, Ghana, and Papua New Guinea. Additionally, Newmont aims to optimize its asset portfolio by selling several mines, including Australia’s Telfer, to generate over $3 billion in proceeds.

Strategic Partnerships and Expansion

Newmont’s proposal to partner with BHP Group follows a failed merger deal with Anglo American. While copper is traditionally a byproduct of Newmont’s gold mining operations, a partnership with BHP would enable Newmont to significantly expand its copper production capabilities.

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Technological Innovations in Mining

Muon Tomography for Exploration

BHP Group, in collaboration with Ideon Technologies, is developing and testing muon tomography to help locate new metal deposits and increase reserves at existing mines. Muons, elementary particles with a negative charge, travel near the speed of light and can penetrate deep into the Earth’s interior. This allows for high-resolution mapping of rock density changes, offering a more accurate alternative to traditional geophysical methods.

Prediction: Increasing Demand for Innovative Technologies

Advancements in muon tomography, which has been researched since the 1950s, now make its practical application in exploration possible. The technology provides better depth penetration and higher resolution, making it easier to identify metal deposits. The miniaturization of muon tomography instruments is expected to facilitate its widespread use in the mining industry.

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AI in Mineral Exploration

Another rapidly developing technology is artificial intelligence (AI). In 2017, BHP Group partnered with KoBold Metals to use AI for finding metal deposits in Australia. This technology interprets geological data and satellite images to predict the locations of metal deposits, even those buried deep underground. In 2024, KoBold Metals successfully discovered a copper deposit in Zambia using AI. icon

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