The top five list of copper mining countries is dominated by two South American nations, Chile and Peru. Here we look at these and the rest, profiling their operations.
Mining copper is expensive ― both to extract and refine. The high costs involved in financing a major facility is evident by the fact that many copper mines in countries with high production rates are either owned by governments or large multinational mining corporations.
This malleable and ductile element with a high electrical and thermal conductivity (only second to silver) was the first metal to be used by man. The first time copper was used instead of stone was around 8,000 BC. Copper is mostly found in igneous and sedimentary rocks and as a primary mineral in basaltic lavas.
Copper consumption ranks third in the world, behind iron and aluminium. Most of the metal produced is used for electrical applications.
Recent US Geological Survey data reveals the world’s copper production touched 20 million metric tonnes in 2019, just 2% less than the 20.4 million tonnes recorded in 2018.
NS Energy profiles the world’s top five copper mining countries
Here we look at the top five copper mining countries and the leading companies and mines operating within the sector.
1. Chile – 5.6 million tonnes
With a total 5.6 million tonnes of copper mined in 2019, Chile leads our list as the world’s biggest copper producer. This production figure is however slightly less than the 5.8 million tonnes the nation generated in 2018. The fall was attributed to an inferior grade of ore, water scarcity and operational obstacles.
Top copper producers include the Chilean government-owned Codelco, BHP Group, Glencore, Anglo-American and Antofagasta.
Chile’s top copper mines include:
- Chuquicamata (Codelco-owned and the second deepest as well as one of the largest open-pit mines in the world)
- Escondida (owned by BHP Group, Rio Tinto and Japan Escondida)
- El Teniente (operated by Codelco and the world’s largest underground mine)
- Collahuasi (Chile’s second-largest copper mine and owned by Anglo-American, Glencore, Mitsui and JX Holdings)
- Los Bronces (owned by Anglo American, Mitsubishi Corp., Codelco, and Mitsui)
- Los Pelambres (owned by Antofagasta Plc, Nippon Mining and Mitsubishi Materials)
- Radomiro Tomic (operated by Codelco).
2. Peru – 2.4 million tonnes
Second in our list is Peru with 2.4 million metric tonnes of copper produced in 2019. This figure is a small step back from the 2.44 million tonnes extracted in 2018.
Most of Peruvian copper is shipped to China, Japan, South Korea and Germany. Although experiencing phenomenal growth of more than 97% in its copper output between 2008 and 2019, Peru’s 2020’s pandemic-hit production has so far been just 20% of that in the same period last year.
Peru’s major copper mines include:
- Quellaveco (operated by Anglo American)
- Cerro Verde (operated by Freeport-McMoRan)
- Antamina (jointly owned by BHP, Glencore, Teck, and Mitsubishi Corp)
- Las Bambas (owned by Minerals and Metals Group or MMG, Guoxin International Investment Corporation Limited, and CITIC Metal Company)
- Tia Maria, Toquepala and Cuajone (operated by Southern Copper Corp.)
3. China – 1.6 million tonnes
The world’s biggest buyer and consumer of copper, China is also one of the mineral’s top producers. Copper production rose slightly from 2018’s 1.56 million metric tonnes to 1.6 million tonnes in 2019.
China’s leading metal producer Zijin Mining Group owns the gold-copper mines Zijinshan and Shuguang.
4. DRC – 1.3 million tonnes
Fourth-placed Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) improved its production in 2019, growing from the 1.23 million metric tonnes produced in 2018 to 1.3 million tonnes.
One of the major copper mines in DRC with rising production capabilities is the Kamoa-Kakula project (a joint venture involving Ivanhoe Mines, Zijin Mining Group, Crystal River Global and the Government of DRC).
Another notable mine is the underground Kamoto facility, first unveiled in 1969 by the state-owned company Gécamines. Restarted in 2007, under majority ownership of Katanga Mining LTD (75%, with 25% still owned by Gécamines), Katanga itself is majority-owned by Glencore.
5. USA – 1.3 million tonnes
The USA runs almost on par with DRC as it ties for fourth place with regard to copper mining. American copper output saw a jump in production from 1.22 million metric tonnes in 2018 to 1.3 million tonnes in 2019. The US Geological Survey states that the reason for this rise was due to higher ore grades alongside higher mining and milling rates.
Most of the copper (almost 99%) in the US is produced from 15 mines in Arizona, Nevada, Utah, New Mexico, Montana, Missouri and Michigan.
Among the major copper mines in the US are Arizona’s Morenci (the largest copper mine in North America, operated by Freeport-McMoRan which jointly owns the mine with affiliates of the Sumitomo Corporation) and Utah’s Bingham Canyon Mine or Kennecott Copper Mine (Kennecott being the sole owner and operator).