Copper production growing by 1m tonnes a year

Global copper production capacity at mine level through 2019 is expected to grow at a robust average annual rate of 4% to reach 26.5 million tonnes (mt) a year in 2019, according to a new report by the International Copper Study Group.

In its bi-annual directory of copper mines and plants, the Lisbon-based research group said the estimated 2019 annual production represents an increase of more than 3.9mt or 17% compared to the 2015 total.

According to the study concentrate output will represent more than 83% of the expansion with production growing by 3.9mt through 2019 to 21mtpa. Roughly 670,000t of solvent-extraction/electrowinning capacity will be added over the same period to reach 5.5mtpa in 2019.

Peru is projected to account for 25% of the additional capacity from new mine projects and expansions through 2018, followed by Zambia, the DRC, China and Mexico

Compared with ICSG's previous estimate published in December, anticipated annual mine production capacity for 2018 and 2019 was revised down by 200,000t and 500,000t, respectively, owing mainly to continued delays for many expansion and greenfield projects.

"Peru is projected to account for 25% of the additional capacity from new mine projects and expansions through 2019, followed by Zambia, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, China and Mexico," the ICSG said. "Together these five countries will represent 65% of the world growth."

Projects are also being planned in countries that currently do not mine copper, including Afghanistan, Ecuador, Ethiopia, Fiji, Greece, Israel, Panama, Sudan and Thailand.

"By 2019, total expected copper production capacity from projects starting in these new copper mining countries could reach 330,000tpa, and capacity could continue to increase well above 1mt/year if projects under evaluation in these countries are developed," ICSG analysts said.

Concurrently, production from countries that started mining copper in the last decade is seen as increasing from zero in 2000 to around 400,000tpa this year. ICSG notes "increased
interest in seabed copper exploration with some projects being evaluated, the first one of which is expected to start in 2018 in the Bismarck Sea, off Papua New Guinea."

Annual copper smelter capacity growth is projected to lag behind the growth in concentrate capacity, growing by an average of almost 3% per year to reach 22.8mtpa in 2019, an increase of 2.4mt compared to 2015.

China's copper smelting capacity quintupled in the period 2000-2015 increasing by around 4.7mtpa and is expected to increase by a further 1.5mtpa by 2019. Outside of China, a new copper smelter started last year in Zambia and others are expected to be built in India, Indonesia, Iran, Kazakhstan, Mexico and Mongolia according to the ICSG directory.

Copper was last trading at $2.23 a pound ($4,915 a tonne) in New York, recovering from a near six-year low hit mid-January and up 4.7% so far in 2016.