Don’t you just love trends? They can tell us so much about the world by painting a small picture of larger events. Case in point… one day in 2020, three men decided to illegally access a shaft of the Central Mine complex in the Upper Peninsula in Michigan through a man-made mine cap meant to help hibernating bats. Far from a sight-seeing trip, these three burglars were on the prowl for hundreds of pounds of copper.
Fast forward to now, the three are finally seeing justice served, and the rest of us are learning that this event was far from isolated. According to Conservation Officers with the Department of Natural Resources, the copper ore taken is valuable if sold once treated and cleaned. Officials assert this robbery is part of a larger trend of thieves breaking into old mines due to a renewed interest in, and growing demand for, copper.
Innovating Around Supply Shocks
Turns out, there are plenty of reasons for this. Electric power and telecommunications require copper, for starters. In fact, electrification requires lots of copper. Current projections sit at a doubling of copper consumption by 2035, with the electrification share of the global energy sector set to increase to 40% of total copper consumption by 2043. This is just the tip of the iceberg, and it’s without even talking about geopolitics… so let’s do that briefly.
Just this week, a political crisis in Peru has cut access to 2% of the world’s copper supply, causing some to speculate about raising global copper prices as protests shut down Peruvian mines. On the first day of this month, the Chinese-owned Las Bambas halted production and demonstrators have promised not to let up until their demands are met, so we’ll see. According to a Peruvian mining association, this has left around 30% of Peru’s copper production at risk.
This means we’ll see options being explored, like with Gates-backed start-up KoBold Metals, which will use AI to accelerate copper exploration. The mining startup has agreed to invest $150 million in a Zambian project (Zambia produces 6% of the world’s copper) to help meet green-energy transition goals. As we see more and more demand for copper for electric vehicles, solar farms, and high-voltage cables, mining companies are reminding everyone that they’ve been warning us this was coming.
Back here on American soil, we’ve got some companies cooking up ideas for unlocking American copper value with out-of-the-box thinking… our favorite. We’re specifically talking about Jetti Resources, which has recently completed a $100 million Series D funding round. The company is exciting because they’ve been working on breakthrough copper extraction technology, which they are rapidly deploying at large copper mines.
Until now, technologies to transform copper just weren’t happening, but Jetti is pretty sure they’ve solved that problem. They expect to unlock millions of tons of new copper with their technology, because It seems that there’s quite a bit of unextracted copper just sitting, waiting to be tapped. This copper is trapped in ore that has a design that makes the copper too costly to get out, but not for Jetti.
What they’ve done is develop a specialized catalyst to disrupt the design and free the copper… and what they use is exactly the type of thinking we are drawn to like a magnet. They allow rock-eating microbes to do the work, and it’s brilliant. Why work harder when you can work smarter, right? They seem to be onto something, because they’ve garnered the attention of the likes of BHP Group, which rumored has it has been negotiating a trial plant at a prized copper mine in Chile.
The Demand Story
Copper is used in plenty of things we take for granted every day… from cables, to phones and computers, to water pipes. So, the demand for this metal isn’t going away, especially as we continue to ramp-up electrification efforts. From what we understand, most of the world’s great deposits have been fished dry, with over half the world’s 20 largest mines discovered at least a hundred years ago. So… now we get creative.
How do we do that? By doing what Jetti is doing… we work with what we have and make the most of it. Part of this will be a shift in our thinking from a throw-away mindset, to one where we work what we have from every angle. We leverage the world around us, like with the rock-eating microbes, to hammer the daylights out of what we have, and squeeze out every drop of value. Come back next week, we’ll have more from the exciting world of IPOs.