By Matt Whittaker / NewsBreak Denver
DENVER, Colo.—As companies scramble to secure supplies of minerals that make renewable energy and electric vehicles possible, Denver’s Newmont Corp., the biggest gold mining company in the world, is doubling down on copper.
In May, Newmont said it had agreed to buy Australian gold miner Newcrest Mining for roughly $19 billion in a deal expected to close in the last three months of this year. It’s the biggest-ever acquisition of a gold mining company.
If the deal goes as planned, Newcrest’s holdings will bring Newmont’s gold production to about 8 million ounces from roughly 6 million ounces in 2022. Meanwhile, the merger will increase Newmont’s annual copper production by more than four times, from 84 million pounds last year to 350 million pounds.
“Creating a new energy economy through renewable power generation and electrification of our transportation systems will require massive increases in the production of minerals such as copper, zinc, cobalt, lithium, amongst others,” Newmont CEO Tom Palmer said at a mining industry gathering in Australia late last month.
Copper, in particular, is crucial to the world’s energy transition.
“The energy transition is basically a bunch of electronics,” said Samantha Reese, an analyst at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory in Golden, whose research focuses on clean energy supply chains. “Electronic stuff takes copper.”
Electric vehicles use more of the metal than traditional internal combustion engines. The same applies to wind farms and solar photovoltaic arrays when compared with coal- and natural gas-fired power plants. And electric grids will have to be updated to handle more distributed sources of power and increasing demand as more houses, vehicles and businesses go electric. Copper cables are commonly used to deliver those electrons.
“Anybody would be interested in buying some copper deposits as they are expected to be more of a thing in the future,” said Ian Lange, director of the mineral and energy economics program at the Colorado School of Mines in Golden. “It conducts electrons, and we expect to be electrifying everything”
Citing a study from S&P Global, Palmer said in his speech that demand for copper is forecast to nearly double from today to about 50 million tons by 2035. Still, even that increase will leave the world short by 10 million tons.
“By 2050, the world will only be producing 20 percent of the copper needed to meet the net-zero climate goals,” he said. “Bridging this gap will require significantly more copper mines, copper recycling and enhanced copper leaching processes.”