Mitsubishi, Sumitomo said to be after Teck’s Quebrada Blanca mine

Quebrada Blanca open pit mine is nearing the end of its life, but an expansion would keep it producing for at least another 25 years. (Image: Teck.)

Japanese trading Mitsubishi and Sumitomo are said to be interested in becoming a partner of Teck Resources (TSX:TECK.A | TECK.B)(NYSE:TCK) at Canada’s largest diversified miner’s Quebrada Blanca copper mine in northern Chile.

Teck, which last month received regulatory approval for a $4.8-billion extension of the mine, has been looking for a development partner that could invest $2billion for up to 30% to 40% stake in the project.

Other companies interested in partnering with Teck include Freeport-McMoRan, China’s Aluminum Corp of China (Chinalco) and Canada’s base metals miner Lundin Mining.

Other than Mitsubishi and Sumitomo, companies that could bid for a stake in the project include Freeport-McMoRan (NYSE: FCX), the world’s largest publicly-traded copper company, China’s state-owned Aluminum Corp of China (Chinalco), and Canada’s base metals miner Lundin Mining (TSX:LUG) , which recently abandoned its quest for fellow miner Nevsun (TSX, NYSEMKT:NSU), sources with knowledge of the matter told Reuters.

In the past two years, Japanese trading companies have been grabbing assets and increasing their stakes on a few of them thanks to higher commodities prices, which have boosted their profits.

They have been particularly keen on copper assets as demand of the metal is expected to significantly outstrip supply from 2020, due to increasing demand for power generation and electric vehicles (there’s 300kg of copper in an electric bus and nine tonnes per windfarm megawatt).

Early this year, Mitsui & Co. increased its stake in Chile’s Collahuasi copper mine to 11.03%. In June, Mitsubishi Corp upped its interest in Anglo American’s Quellaveco copper project in Peru by 21.9% for $600 million, taking its holding to 40%.

Last year, Quebrada Blanca produced 23,400 tonnes of copper, generating a $182 million-revenue.

The upgrade for which Teck wants a partner is expected to boost mine production to 300,000 tonnes of copper a year. The project includes building a new 140,000-tonne-per-day concentrator and the first large-scale use of desalinated seawater for mining in Chile’s arid Tarapacá region.

The Vancouver-based miner owns 90% of the mine and the country’s national mining company — ENAMI — holds a 10% preference share interest in it, which does not require the state agency to fund capital spending.

Copper, one of four business units at Teck besides steelmaking coal, oil and zinc, is considered a company priority.