Copper demand to double with decarbonisation: BHP

BHP president of minerals for the Americas Ragnar Udd has expressed his optimism for growing copper demand in the future at the CRU World Copper Conference in Chile.

With an extensive career in mine, rail and port operations, as well as with iron ore, manganese, coal and copper, Udd said he had never been as positive about the future of a job as he was about leading some of BHP’s future facing commodities, copper and potash.

Udd put such positivity down to three factors: a richness of opportunity, population growth and a demand for decarbonisation.

“A great example is electric vehicles. Policy signposts for rapid electric vehicle (EV) adoption were distinctly favourable over the last (12) months and we have revised our internal EV penetration forecasts upwards,” Udd said.

“These vehicles use four times as much copper as petrol-based cars, and they will also need more infrastructure to connect charging stations to the grid.”

Udd said BHP expected the world’s Paris-aligned emissions reduction targets to more than double the demand for copper and quadruple for nickel over the next 30 years.

“The commodities we produce are the building blocks of the modern world. And they always have been,” Udd said.

“Everything from railroads to bridges, aeroplanes to batteries, and mobile phones to medical instruments require the resources that we produce. The simple truth is that we cannot build a better world without a reliable supply of these natural resources.”

Udd continued in saying BHP had invested about $US11 billion ($14.39 billion) in Chile alone.

BHP owns a copper asset in Chile and co-owns another. The Escondida mine is 57.5 per cent BHP-owned and produced 1.19 million tonnes of copper in 2020.

Meanwhile, the wholly owned Pampa Norte mine produced 243,000 tonnes in the same year.

On sustainability, Udd said the Chilean operations had pumped much effort into transitioning from groundwater resources.

“In December 2019, we successfully stopped withdrawing water from underground aquifers for operational use and transitioned to desalinated water. This was a huge milestone for us and involved a financial commitment of $US4 billion dollars,” Udd said.

“As a result, we now operate the biggest copper asset in the world with 100 per cent desalinated water.”

BHP’s Chilean copper operations aim to displace over three million tonnes of carbon emissions per year and are on track to achieve absolute renewable energy supplies by the mid-2020s.

Udd closed with an acknowledgement of BHP’s importance to the sustainability of the world’s future.

“BHP (has) been producing resources for more than 130 years, and our contribution will be even more important over the next 130 years,” he said.

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