The International Copper Study Group (ICSG) is an intergovernmental organization that serves to increase copper market transparency and promote international discussions and cooperation on issues related to copper. The ICSG met in Lisbon, Portugal in October 2016 to discuss key issues affecting the global copper market. Here are a few highlights from the latest Copper Market Forecast 2016-2017:
- In 2017 ICSG forecasts a surplus of around 160,000 metric tonnes (t).
- In 2017 world mine production is expected to remain practically unchanged as although output from current operating mines is expected to improve, growth will be offset by a 6% decline in extraction-electrowinning (SX-EW) production and a lack of new major mine projects. Peru and Mexico are the main contributors to growth this year with Chile expected to contribute significantly to growth in 2017.
- For 2017, world refined copper production is expected to maintain a similar growth of around 2% with the anticipated decline in SX-EW output still limiting overall growth. In both years China will be the biggest contributor to world growth while total output in Chile is constrained by an expected decline in SX-EW production.
- For 2017, the growth in world apparent refined usage is expected at around 1%.
ICSG’s World Copper Factbook 2016 describes the constraints on copper supply, which include:
- Declining ore grades, a serious issue in developed copper areas such as the United States and Chile.
- Project finance issues such as the impact of prolonged economic and price volatility on cost of capital.
- Water supply, a critical issue in dry mining districts.
- Other cost issues such as lower capital expenditures and increasing operating costs.
On the domestic front, U.S. mine production of copper in 2016 increased slightly, to about 1.41 million tons, and was valued at about $6.8 billion according to the USGS 2017 Mineral Commodity Summary on Copper. Arizona, New Mexico, Utah, Nevada, Montana, and Michigan, in descending order of production, accounted for more than 99% of domestic mine production; copper also was recovered in Missouri. Twenty-four mines recovered copper, 17 of which accounted for about 99% of production.
Copper mining usually employs open pit mining techniques although there are also underground copper mining operations. Individual copper deposits may contain hundreds of millions of tons of copper-bearing rock. However, ore deposits are inconsistent, having high concentrations of metals in one area but much lower concentrations in other areas. The grade may be high at the surface, but diminish with depth, or vice versa. Geologists perform geochemical analysis to pinpoint the most profitable ore deposits and create models or maps of these locations so that they can make the most efficient and economical drilling and excavation decisions. Knowing how and where copper resources are deposited also helps target where undiscovered deposits may lie.
Field-portable x-ray fluorescence (FPXRF) instruments provide fast acquisition of geochemical data for mine mapping and ore deposit modeling. FPXRF is an established technique for easily determining elemental composition even for low concentration samples, and it is now recognized as an effective analytical tool for high grade ore concentrates and grade control as well.
For more information about copper mining, read Mining Copper: Meeting the Demand for the World’s Most Useful Metal. For even more copper talk, read our Copper Compendium articles on our sister blog, Analyzing Metals.