SANTIAGO – Copper production in Chile, the world’s largest source of the metal, could decline sharply after 2025 due to lack of appropriate technology, a Chilean Copper Commission, or Cochilco, report said.
The study found that the location and shape of Chile’s huge copper mines could complicate their expansion after 2025.
The report, prepared with assistance from the Catholic University, examined the lifespan of current mines, the status of major mining projects and extraction levels.
The country might increase its copper output from the current 6 million tons a year to almost 10 million tons annually of fine copper by 2025, but there would be a decline afterward as a result of different factors, Cochilco said.
The report noted the lack of new discoveries of large copper deposits, the exhaustion of oxide reserves and diminishing extraction rates in northern Chile.
The lower-yield ore and growing technological challenges for extraction have combined in recent years to increase operating costs from an average of 90 cents per pound in 2005 to $2.17 per pound in 2014.
The study estimated that Codelco’s Andean Division will have a production capacity of 244,000 tons per day, taking into account the limitations stemming from the vertical shaft model of the mine and available technologies.
In the case of the privately owned Escondida mine, the world’s largest copper operation, the study projected capacity expansion up to 437,000 tons of ore per day by 2023, providing a supply for its three refining plants.
Escondida is located 1,868 kilometers (1,160 miles) north of Santiago.
But a further expansion of Escondida seems unlikely because it would require the removal of an enormous amount of material, totaling almost 1.5 million tons a day by 2023 and 2024, the report said.
The authors said Chile’s big copper mines have reached the limits of known technologies, and a future model for the mining industry would develop around mines with limited copper output.