RANKED: World’s top copper mines
Last year approximately 21 million tonnes of copper were produced around the world (source: Statista). More than a quarter of that came from Chile, home to some of the world’s biggest copper mines.
BHP’s Escondida mine continues to lead the way as the top copper operation on the planet. The mine complex produced a grand total of 1.2 million tonnes last year (see table above), adding over 300,000 tonnes — essentially a whole mine’s worth of production — from the previous year.
Collahuassi, also in Chile, overtook Indonesia’s Grasberg as the second-biggest producer, despite the latter boosting production by over 100,000 tonnes.
Not all copper mines enjoyed strong results in 2018. The Las Bambas mine in Peru, which has been the target of local community protests over recent months, saw production drop 15%. The Morenci mine in Arizona and the Buenavista mine in Sonora, Mexico, also experienced production declines during the year.
Nevertheless, worldwide production is expected to continue its upward trajectory over the next few years. Recent reports show that global copper production is forecast to grow at an annual rate of 3.5%.
Using data provided by Mining Intelligence, we have compiled a list of the world’s top 20 copper operations ranked by 2018 production. Seven of them are located in Chile, three in Peru, two in the US, two in Zambia, with the remaining spread across the rest of the world. These 20 mines produced nearly half of last year’s total copper output.
1. Escondida – Chile
At 1.21 million tonnes, the Escondida copper mine in Chile’s Atacama Desert was by far the biggest producer in 2018, and it continues to be the world’s largest copper operation. Escondida is majority owned and managed by BHP (57.5%), with Rio Tinto (30%) and Japan Escondida (12.5%) the other joint owners. The mine accounts for about 5% of global copper production.
2. Collahuasi – Chile
Collahuasi, the second-largest copper operation in Chile, is jointly owned by Anglo American (44%), Glencore (44%) and Mitsui (12%). The mine is located at high altitude — between 3,000 and 5,000 metres above sea level. Most of the concentrate produced at Collahuasi is sold to smelters in China for further refining. Last year, production at Collahuasi totalled 559,000 tonnes, overtaking Grasberg as the second-biggest producer in 2018.
3. Grasberg – Indonesia
Located in the highlands of Indonesia’s Papua province, Grasberg is not only the world’s largest gold mine but also one of the biggest copper mines. The mine is a joint venture between Freeport McMoRan and the Indonesian government. Production at Grasberg reached 557,000 tonnes in 2018.
4. Cerro Verde – Peru
Another Freeport-owned mine, Cerro Verde is an open-pit copper and molybdenum mining complex located about 20 miles southwest of Arequipa, Peru. Apart from Freeport, other stakeholders of the mine are SMM Cerro Verde Netherlands, a subsidiary of Sumitomo Metal (21%), Compañia de Minas Buenaventura (19.58%), and public shareholders (5.86%).
5. El Teniente – Chile
El Teniente is currently the world’s largest underground copper mine and one of the largest by reserve size. It is located about 2,300 metres above sea level in the Andes of central Chile. Chilean state copper miner Codelco, which owns and operates El Teniente, plans to boost production at the mine to more than 500,000 tonnes per year by 2025.
6. Morenci – USA
Located in Greenlee County, Arizona, Morenci is the largest copper mine in North America.It is jointly owned by Freeport and Sumitomo, with Freeport being the majority owner and operator. Last year production at the open-pit mine fell to 431,000 tonnes, a 7% drop from 2017.
7. Antamina – Peru
The Antamina open-pit mine is located in the Andes mountain range, about 270 km north of Lima, Peru. It is jointly owned by BHP (33.75%), Glencore (33.75%), Teck Resources (22.5%) and Mitsubishi (10%). The mine is scheduled to cease production in 2019.
8. Buenavista – Mexico
One of the largest copper mines in the world by reserve, Buenavista, also known as Cananea, is located approximately 35 km south of the US-Mexico border in Sonora state. Owned by Grupo Mexico, it is one of the oldest open-pit mines in North America.
9. KGHM – Poland
The Polish copper operation produced 385,000 tonnes in 2018, 7% higher than the previous year. Rudna — one of KGHM’s three mining areas — is one of the deepest copper ore mines in the world. The other two mining areas are Lubin and Polkowice-Sierszowice.
10. Las Bambas – Peru
Las Bambas is a joint venture between China’s MMG Ltd. and CITIC Metal Co. Ltd. The open-pit mine contains mineral reserves of 7.2 million tonnes and mineral resources of 12.6 million tonnes. MMG estimates that more than 2 million tonnes will be produced in concentrate in the coming years.
Rounding out the top 20 are: 11. Los Bronces (Chile); 12. Los Pelambres (Chile); 13. Polar Division (Russia); 14. Radomiro Tomic (Chile); 15. Chuquicamata (Chile); 16. Kansanshi (Zambia); 17. Sentinel (Zambia); 18. Bingham Canyon (USA); 19. Mutanda (DRC); and 20. Olympic Dam (Australia).