Copper might not have the same value as gold and silver, but it is still a valuable ore. And when it comes to the largest copper mines, Chile is on top. Escondida in Chila is the world’s biggest copper mine. There are two open-pit operations in the Atacama Desert. In Spanish, the word Escondida translates to hidden. And that is a great way to describe the mine’s remote location.
Escondida produces more than 1 million tons of copper per year, which is about 5% of the global production. That is even more than the entire copper produced in Zambia, a country well known of its copper production and mines.
The deposits in Atacama Desert was discovered in 1990. Since then, the mine was built. It consists of two quarries, developed at an altitude of 3000m above sea level. The mine became the world’s largest and biggest copper mine in 2011.
Copper vs. Silver vs. Gold
We said before that copper doesn’t have the same price as gold and silver In fact, gold is 9000 times more expensive than copper. The copper price is approximately $6 per 1kg. On the other hand, gold costs more than $48,724 per kg, while silver costs more than $550 per kg. However, copper is in extremely high demand right now. Why? Here are some reasons for that.
- Electric vehicles use much more copper than ICE vehicles
- Charging infrastructure for electric vehicles will need a lot of copper
- If we want to replace oil with electricity, we will need a lot more copper, as well as other metals like nickel, cobalt, and lithium
- Right now, we do not produce enough copper to meet the anticipated demand
On the other hand, people buy silver and gold when they are afraid about the global economic situation and the level of debt.
Escondida geology and reserves
Escondida is located in Chile, in the Atacama Desert. The place is geologically related to three porphyry bodies intruded along the major Chilean West fissure fault system.
There are two quarries, Escondida and Escondida Norte. The total reserves of the copper mine are projected at 3,900Mt. That includes the Escondida Norte project. With the current pace, mining operations can go for more than 30 years. If the demand for copper increases, and the production mines more, the ore might exhaust its reserves faster.
Escondida is a conventional open-pit operation. The mine processes sulphide and oxide ores. The mining fleet of Escondida consists of nine Bucyrus 495-B Erie loading shovels, 24 Caterpillar 793B, 28 Komatsu 830-E and 23 Caterpillar 793C dump trucks. The trucks have a 218ft capacity.
The mine uses eight Bucyrus 49-R and 49-RII electric drills plus an Ingersoll Rand DM2 diesel drill. The mine ore is hauled to two semi-mobile in-pit crushers for a primary reduction before conveyed to the coarse ore stockpiles.