Potential copper production through 2035 in Chile


In the long term, primary and secondary supply of refined copper satisfies demand. Numerous models exist to explain and predict demand and secondary supply; however, the projection of primary supply relies mostly on detailed knowledge of potential mining projects and on existing ore reserves and resources. Much discussion has occurred historically regarding the availability of resources and reserves for the future. Chile, being the largest copper producer, also has the largest reserves in the world; therefore, it retains its potential to be a key player in future supply. This article explores some of the most relevant resource and technological challenges that may emerge with an accelerated development of brownfield and greenfield copper mining projects in Chile through 2035, without considering economic, regulatory, and environmental constraints. A “Full Scenario” was created to accommodate these conditions and restrictions. It includes estimates of future ore reserves, copper production, plant capacity, ore grades, energy and water consumption, greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, and generation of tailings. Maximum production would exceed 10 million tons of contained copper from 2027 to 2030, with a resulting decrease of ore grades and the growth of energy and water consumption. The growth of indirect GHG emissions through 2035 is estimated at 18.4% less than copper production growth, because all new electric energy for this scenario would be based on renewable energy. Also, all new water used by 38 out of the 42 mining projects considered would be seawater, and some of the continental water used in 2019 would cease to be used in mining.

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  1. 1.

    Only a couple of oxide operations in Chile are based on exotic copper deposits that do not have a sulfide orebody below them: Mina Sur in Chuquicamata district and El Tesoro in Centinela district.

  2. 2.

    This scenario includes conventional renewable energies.


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We thank the many people in industry and academia that commented on the potential mining projects that could be constructed in Chile in the period through 2035. We specially thank comments by Diego Hernandez of the National Society for Mining (Sonami), Nelson Pizarro of Codelco (former CEO), Gerhard von Borries of Codelco, Ricardo Alvarez of Mitsui, Juan Carlos Román of Anglo American, Rodrigo Moya of Antofagasta Minerals (AMSA) and Robert Mayne Nichols of Empresa Nacional de Minería (Enami), and Professors Julio Beniscelli, Juan Carlos Salas and Patricio Lillo of the Department of Mining Engineering at the Pontificia Universidad Católica de Chile.


This research was funded by the Mineral Economics Program of the Pontificia Universidad Católica de Chile.

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Correspondence to Gustavo Lagos.

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Lagos, G., Peters, D., Lima, M. et al. Potential copper production through 2035 in Chile. Miner Econ (2020). https://doi.org/10.1007/s13563-020-00227-2

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  • Copper production
  • Chile
  • Scenario 2035
  • Energy
  • Water
  • GHG