Prepare for flood of copper concentrate

Prepare for flood of copper concentrates

Tintaya concentrator Peru. Source: Glencore

Global copper production capacity at mine level through 2018 is expected to grow at an average annual rate of 6% to reach 27.4 million tonnes (mt) a year in 2018, 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 concentrate output will represent more than 80% of the expansion with production jumping by 4.8mt to 21.7mt in 2018.

More than 900,000t of solvent-extraction/electrowinning capacity will be added over the same period to reach 5.7mt capacity.

Compared with ICSG's previous estimate published in January, anticipated annual mine production capacity for 2017 and 2018 was revised down slightly by 330,000t and 140,000t, respectively, owing mainly to continued delays for many projects.

"Peru is projected to account for 26% of the additional capacity from new mine projects and expansions through 2018, followed by Zambia, Mexico, Mongolia, China and the Democratic Republic of the Congo," the ICSG said. "Together these six countries will represent 66% 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 2018, total expected copper production capacity from projects starting in these new copper mining countries could reach 150,000t/year, and capacity could continue to increase well above 1mt/year if projects planned beyond 2018 in these countries are developed," ICSG analysts said.

Concurrently, production from countries that started mining copper in the last decade is expected to increase to 550,000t/year by 2018 from only 4,000t/year in 2003.

Annual copper smelter capacity growth is forecast to lag behind mine output expansion, growing an average 3.1%/year to reach 22.5mt/year in 2018, an increase of 2.6mt or 13.1% from 2014.

"China is continuing to expand its smelting capacity and will account for 60% of the expected world growth through 2018," ICSG said. "China's copper smelting capacity increased by around 4.4mt/year in the 2000-2014 period and is expected to increase by a further 1.6mt/year by 2018.

ICSG tabulations indicate that world copper refinery capacity will reach 30.2mt/year in 2018, an increase of 2.9mt/year or 10.6% from 2014.