The Covid-19 global lockdown during 2021 led to a decline in capacity utilisation rates of copper mines and plants from around 85% to 81.7 %, according to the International Copper Study Group (ICSG).
The fall in capacity is one of the key findings of the organisation’s biannual Directory of Copper Mines and Plants which also looks at likely trends until 2026. It incorporates updates on capacity, project development and ownership for more than 1 300 individual copper mines, smelters and refineries.
ICSG notes that the pipeline of major copper mine projects is improving after virtually no new major mines from 2017 to 2020 due to unfavourable trends in capital expenditure and delays in project development.
‘In part, this led to an agglomeration of major new projects and expansions starting in the period 2021-2024,’ the directory concludes. ‘Over the period 2022 to 2026, world mine capacity is expected to increase by an average of 3.4% per year, with concentrates representing 88% of the total growth in world mine capacity.’
From 2022 to 2026, annual copper smelter capacity is expected to grow at an average rate of around 3% per year. As ever, China’s economy and investment strategy is seen as key. Capacity development linked to Chinese overseas investments, mainly in Africa, continues although, domestically, smelting capacity is growing at a slower pace than before.
China’s annual capacity is more than seven times higher than in 2000 and is expected to increase by a further 23% by 2026, accounting for 50% of expected world copper smelting capacity growth in this period. The proportion of smelters using Chinese technology has increased from 2.5% to around 15% in the last 10 years.
Over the period 2022 to 2026, annual copper refinery capacity is expected to grow at an average rate of around 2% per year. ICSG says the growth in capacity for both electrolytic refinery and electrowinning is projected to average 2%. About 84% of the growth in global refined capacity until 2026 is expected to come from electrolytic refineries.
Looking to innovative technologies, the directory says projects for exploring seabed mining are being evaluated but development is said to be slow.
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