The world is on the verge of a catastrophic shortage of water. copper. Humans are more dependent than ever on a metal we’ve used for 10,000 years; new deposits are drying up, and the type of breakthrough technologies that transformed other commodities have failed to Materialize copper.

Until now.

In what could prove a game changer for global supply, a US startup says it’s solved a puzzle that has frustrated the mining world for decades. Jetti Resources’ discovery could lead to millions of tons of new resources if it is successful. copper to The deficit can be reduced or even eliminated by utilizing power grids, buildings sites, and car fleets all over the world.

At its simplest, Jetti’s technology is focused on a common type of ore that traps copper Behind a thin film it is too expensive and difficult to extract. This is how large quantities of metal have been left stranded over time in mine-waste heaps at the surface as well as untapped resources. Jetti developed a special catalyst to crack the code. to You can remove the layer by allowing rock-eating microbes. to Go to Release the trapped copper.

Technology is still needed to It must be proved on a large scale. But the riches at stake are pulling in some of the industry’s most powerful players.

BHP Group, the largest mining company, has been an investor for months and is currently negotiating for a trial facility at its crown jewel. copper According to mine, Escondida Chile to People familiar with the subject. US miner Freeport-McMoRan Inc. began implementing Jetti’s technology at an Arizona mine this year, while rival Rio Tinto Group is planning to roll out a competing but similar process.

Responding to the call of miners to It is becoming more urgent problem. Copper is ubiquitous today, used in everything from smartphones and computers to mobile phones and computers. to Water pipes and cables The global drive is also a great idea. to Decarbonize is about phasing out oil and coal. An electrified future will require more copper More than ever before

Despite its importance and global impact, there is a growing threat of supply shortages in the future. The most valuable mines are getting older and new discoveries are often made in difficult locations. to Operate, or face years and years of opposition to development.

History of commodity markets reveals that there is a tendency for looming deficits to New technologies and discoveries are being made. The US shale boom, which occurred in the 2010s, turned the oil market upside-down. However, breakthroughs in nickel processing have reshaped supply forecasts.

However, there are new discoveries every day copper are increasingly unlikely, given the long history of mining – evidence of copper It has been proven that the usage of this name can be traced back to 1880. to minimum 8,000 BC in what is now Turkey or Iraq. That means most of the world’s great deposits have already been found and exploited; more than half the world’s 20 biggest copper More than 100 years ago, mines were first discovered.

Waste dumps

But the long history copper Mining also implies that there is a lot of metal in the waste dumps. 

The reason is as old as mining itself: Ore is pulled from the earth and the easiest metal extracted. Anything too hard or costly is not allowed. to Process is discarded as waste. An estimated 43 million tonnes of waste has been generated in the past decade. copper They were mined, but not processed. At current prices, they are worth more than $2 trillion, which creates huge opportunities for those who can recover them.

To be sure, it’s not a new concept to Reprocessing mine waste is possible when technology improves or the prices rise. But that just hasn’t been feasible for certain types of ore. And the breakthrough has opportunities far beyond waste dumps – there are millions more tons still underground that haven’t been viable to mine.

Much depends on mining companies’ willingness to install Jetti’s plants. But if the technology becomes fully embraced by the industry, the company estimates that as much as 8 million tons of additional copper could be produced each year by the 2040s – more than one third of last year’s total global mine production. 

“The industry has accumulated this waste material forever,” said Jetti’s founder and chief executive officer, Mike Outwin. “They’ve been trying to come up with an answer for it on their own for a couple of decades and haven’t been able to.”

So far Jetti’s process has been running on just one mine, at Pinto Valley in Arizona. But the results have been so promising three of the world’s biggest copper miners — including BHP — have bought stakes in the company. The company’s most recent fundraising reached $2.5 billion.

Freeport, a copper giant, says it also has “initiated a commercial implementation this year at our Bagdad mine in Arizona to trial the technology and will assess the results and continue to dialogue with Jetti on other opportunities to work together.”

Copper ores

Then, what’s the? problem Jetti is searching to solve?

There are two types of copper-bearing rock. Sulfide ore, the most commonly used type, is typically crushed, concentrated and then made into pure. copper It is used in a fire refining process. But that method isn’t suitable for oxidic ores, and the industry’s last big innovation came in the mid-1980s when it adapted an electro-chemical process to Extract copper From oxide ores, giving a major boost to supply.

Now, Jetti aims to Use its technology to Recover copper from a common type of sulfide ore that couldn’t be economically processed via either route — the copper Content is too low to The refining cost was justified, but the non-reactive coating made it impossible to justify. copper You can extract it in the cheaper electro-chemical or “leaching” process.

Jetti worked for the University of British Columbia to Create a chemical catalyst that can break through the layer. copper You can get rid of them using leaching, without having to heat the water.

While Jetti’s process is the most advanced, Rio Tinto says it’s also cracked the challenge in lab trials. Rio offers Nuton technology to sweeten its products. to Rio invests in junior mining firms: If these smaller firms succeed in developing their mining projects, Rio will deploy Nuton. to Increase profitability It’s signed three such deals already this year.

“When you look at the size of the prize, the potential is enormous,” Adam Burley, the Rio Project’s director, said this. “It’s too big to leave on the table.”

Rio is looking for Nuton to About 500,000 tons were produced. copper by the end of this decade, with hopes that the business may one day produce the annual equivalent of one of the world’s top-five copper mines.

Other major miners including Freeport, Codelco and Antofagasta Plc have all been working on in-house solutions at their own mines, though so far there has been little disclosed information on how successful these projects have been.

There are also limitations to How much can be accomplished. North and South America are the main focus. The progress of the technology will be determined by whether it can be deployed across major mines.

Yet for BHP, the fact that it is even discussing the future of Escondida, the world’s single biggest source of copperA small start is enough to make a difference.

Negotiations have been underway for months, although one of the sticking points in the talks has been Jetti’s insistence that it installs and runs its own plant at the host mine, according to The people involved in the matter are well-versed. There are also discussions about how to Split the profits

Meanwhile, Rio, which is BHP’s junior partner at Escondida, is arguing that it wants the Nuton technology to Also, consider the following: to People familiar with this matter.

Jetti and BHP declined to comment on the specific negotiations or deals.

“Jetti is very real. It’s not lab tests or pilot plants. Jetti has been deployed commercially,’’ said Outwin. “Our partners will make extraordinary profits from being able to utilize our process, and Jetti will do well.’’

—With assistance from James Attwood and Mark Burton