Gates, Bezos-backed KoBold Metals says Zambia copper find largest in a century

KoBold Metals is involved in nearly 60 explorations projects across three continents. (Image courtesy of KoBold Metals.)

KoBold Metals, backed by a coalition of billionaires including Bill Gates and Jeff Bezos, said on Monday its Mingomba asset in Zambia is the country’s largest copper deposit in a century and that it plans to fast-track its development.

The California-based startup has been drilling at its Zambian permit for a little over a year. During this time, KoBold president Josh Goldman said they have confirmed the “huge” size of the deposit.

Mingomba is shaping up to be “extraordinary,” he said, adding that the potential of the discovery compares to that of the Kamoa-Kakula mine, owned by Ivanhoe Mines and China’s Zijin Mining. This operation, located just across the border in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), produced almost 400,000 tonnes of copper last year. 

“The story with Mingomba is that it’s like Kakula in both the size and the grade,” Goldman said on the sidelines of Indaba mining conference in South Africa, according to Bloomberg. “It’s going to be one of the highest grade, large underground mines.”  

President Hakainde Hichilema said that, according to government figures, Mingomba will produce “well over” 500,000 to 600,000 tonnes once at full tilt.

In comparison, Escondida mine in Chile, the world’s biggest copper operation, produced more than a million tonnes of the metal last year and Grasberg, in Indonesia, churned out about 770,000 tonnes of copper in 2022.

KoBold bought into the project two years ago, via a joint venture with its existing owners – Australian private equity firm EMR Capital and Zambia’s state-owned mining investment vehicle ZCCM-IH (LON: ZCC).

KoBold still plans to have the $2 billion underground copper mine in Zambia built within the decade, with first production in the early 2030s, but it needs to update resource estimate and complete feasibility studies before it makes the decision to go ahead.

Goldman is not worried about securing capital. “The issue globally, is not a lack of availability of capital. It is a lack of availability of high quality projects and where there are returns, there is capital,” he said. “For a great project, there will be capital.”

If built, the Mingomba project would align with the vision of Zambia’s President Hakainde Hichilema to increase the nation’s copper production to three million tonnes by 2032 to help the country reduce its debt burden.

From Canada to the world

The company is not just focused on copper, but rather all minerals and metals considered critical for the energy transition.

It began its quest for battery metals began three years ago in Canada, after it acquired rights to the area in northern Quebec, just south of Glencore’s Raglan nickel mine, where it detected lithium.

The start-up now has about a dozen exploration properties in places including Zambia, Namibia, DRC, Quebec, Saskatchewan, Ontario, and Western Australia, which have resulted from joint ventures with BHP (ASX: BHP) and with BlueJay Mining (LON: JAY) to explore for minerals in Greenland. 

It also has exploration activities underway in South Korea and the United States and, in December, it launched a four-continent search for lithium deposits.

Using artificial intelligence, Kobold aims to create a “Google Maps” of the Earth’s crust, with a special focus on finding copper, cobalt, nickel and lithium deposits. 

It collects and analyzes multiple streams of data — from old drilling results to satellite imagery — to better understand where new deposits might be found.  

Algorithms applied to the data collected determine the geological patterns that indicate a potential deposit of cobalt, which occurs naturally alongside nickel and copper. 

The technology, KoBold said, can locate resources that may have eluded more traditional geologists and can help miners decide where to acquire land and drill.

Goldman noted the company was considering going public in the next three or four years.