Copper: the real precious metal

What does the glamour of motor racing, renewables and mining have in common? According to Antofagasta’s Chief Executive Officer Ivan Arriagada, quite a bit.

“One of the things that has happened in Chile is that we’ve seen a significant transformation in the energy world towards renewables and in our case we’ve increased our percentage of power that comes from renewables.

“Today around 21 per cent of all our power comes from renewables, with that number increasing to over 50 per cent at our main site at Los Pelambres,” said Mr Arriagada during a presentation at the International Mining and Resources Conference (IMARC) in Melbourne today.

Even more impressive, the company’s Zaldivar Copper mine recently become the first mine to operate on completely on renewable energy through a long-term contract equivalent to about 87,000 vehicles per year.

“Prices for renewables in Chile have become much more competitive, so it makes economic sense, as well as environmental sense, to move towards these sources.

“In the north of Chile, we find one of the areas with best solar radiation in the world all year round, and therefore there is a tremendous opportunity to shift copper production to renewables over time, achieving competitive pricing and lowering emissions at the same time,”

Chile is now producing some of the cheapest energy in the world, fuelling hopes that it will become a solar version of Saudi Arabia. Having joined Mexico and Brazil among the top 10 renewable energy markets in the world, Chile is leading the clean energy transformation in Latin America, where investment in renewables has grown at double the global rate over the past decade.

Making the switch to clean energy will remove emissions equivalent to 350,000 tons of greenhouse gasses.

“More important than the percentage and the amount is the statement that we think that climate change is important and that we should be part of the solution,” said Arriagada.

On top of lowering emissions, the company is taking steps to reduce its water footprint,

“Water is critical for mining especially in the north of Chile. Around 45 per cent of our water is sourced from the sea across all our operations.

While this is a trend that the mining industry is adopting in greater numbers, the Chief Executive Officer is hesitant to label it as a silver bullet solution.

“We believe there are some instances for smaller mines where it is not economically viable to use seawater.

“In those cases where it is economically possible and environmentally sustainable to do so, those decisions should be made on facts and supported by science rather than ideology,” said Arriagada.

The head of Antofagasta who produced around 704 thousand tonnes of copper last year, said that the outlook for the metal is positive due to urbanisation, growing income levels in emerging markets and increased electromobility.

“Copper is a key component in electromobility and in electricity generation from renewable sources. For example, a conventional car uses 25 kilos of copper, while an electric car requires about 80 kilos.

It’s this point that has encouraged Antofagasta to throw its name behind a sport that's usually reserved for expensive watches and global beverage companies and take naming rights for the Formula E – a class of auto racing that uses only electric-powered cars – race in Santiago.

“Copper is required for the modern economy more than any other metal and especially for a cleaner and more sustainable world,” said Arriagada.