The Largest Copper Mines in the World
Copper is one of the most-used metals in the world, for good reason.
Global copper production has expanded with populations and economies, especially in China, which consumed 54% of the world’s refined copper in 2020. Copper’s demand comes from various industries, ranging from construction to renewable energy.
But before copper reaches its array of end-uses, miners have to extract and refine from deposits within the ground. So where are the world’s largest copper mines, and just how large are they?
Types of Copper Deposits
The location of mines ultimately depends on the occurrence and discovery of copper deposits. There are two main types of copper deposits:
- Porphyry deposits:
These are copper ore bodies formed from hydrothermal fluids from magma chambers that lie deep below the deposit.
- Sediment-hosted deposits:
These deposits are formed when copper-bearing fluids mix with permeable sedimentary and volcanic rocks.
Copper is primarily sourced from porphyry deposits, which are concentrated in the Americas. Therefore, many of the world’s largest copper mines operate in this region.
Top 20 Copper Mines by Capacity
North, South, and Central America collectively host 15 of the 20 largest copper mines. These three regions combine the capacity for nearly 36% of global copper production in 2020.
|Rank||Mine||Country||Annual Production |
|Capacity as a %
|3||Buenavista del Cobre||Mexico 🇲🇽||525,000||2.6%|
|5||Cerro Verde II||Peru 🇵🇪||500,000||2.5%|
|6*||Polar Division||Russia 🇷🇺||450,000||2.3%|
|8||Las Bambas||Peru 🇵🇪||430,000||2.2%|
|10||El Teniente||Chile 🇨🇱||399,000||2.0%|
|11*||Los Bronces||Chile 🇨🇱||370,000||1.9%|
|11*||Los Pelambres||Chile 🇨🇱||370,000||1.9%|
|15||Radomiro Tomic||Chile 🇨🇱||330,000||1.7%|
|16*||Cobre Panama||Panama 🇵🇦||300,000||1.5%|
|18||Bingham Canyon||U.S. 🇺🇸||280,000||1.4%|
*Mines with equal capacities have the same rankings. †2020
The Escondida Mine in Chile is by far the world’s largest copper mine. Its annual capacity of 1.4 million tonnes means that it can produce more copper than the second and third-largest mines combined.
Porphyry copper deposits are often characterized by lower grade ores and are mined in open pits. As a result, some of the top copper mines are also among the world’s largest open pits. The Bingham Canyon Mine (seen below) in Utah, United States, is the deepest open pit with a depth of 1.2 km. It’s also the largest man-made excavation on Earth, spanning 4 km wide.
Chuquicamata and Escondida are the second and third-deepest open pits, respectively.
Indonesia’s Grasberg Mine is another notable name on this list. It produces both gold and copper on a massive scale and has the world’s largest known reserve of gold and the second-largest reserve of copper.
Overall, the top 20 mines have the capacity to produce nearly nine million tonnes of copper annually—representing 44% of global production in 2020. However, with demand for refined copper expected to rise 31% between 2020 and 2030, these existing sources of supply might not be enough.
Falling Grades, Rising Demand: New Mines on the Block?
According to the International Energy Agency, average copper ore grades in Chile have declined by 30% in the last 15 years. Since Chile’s mines produce more than one-fourth of the world’s copper, these falling ore grades could be a cause for concern—especially with a deficit looming over the market for refined copper.
New copper mining projects are becoming more valuable and it wouldn’t be surprising to see fresh names on the list of the largest copper mines. For example, the Kamoa-Kakula Mine, which started production in May 2021, is expected to churn out 800,000 tonnes of copper annually after expansion. That would make it the second-largest copper mine by capacity.
Mapped: Countries With the Highest Flood Risk
Recent floods in Pakistan have affected more than 33 million people. Where is the risk of flooding highest around the world?
Risk of Flooding Mapped Around the World
Devastating floods across Pakistan this summer have resulted in more than 1,400 lives lost and one-third of the country being under water.
This raises the question: which nations and their populations are the most vulnerable to the risk of flooding around the world?
Using data from a recent study published in Nature, this graphic maps flood risk around the world, highlighting the 1.81 billion people directly exposed to 1-in-100 year floods. The methodology takes into account potential risks from both inland and coastal flooding.
Asian Countries Most at Risk from Rising Water Levels
Not surprisingly, countries with considerable coastlines, river systems, and flatlands find themselves with high percentages of their population at risk.
The Netherlands and Bangladesh are the only two nations in the world to have more than half of their population at risk due to flooding, at 59% and 58%, respectively. Vietnam (46%), Egypt (41%), and Myanmar (40%) round out the rest of the top five nations.
Besides the Netherlands, only two other European nations are in the top 20 nations by percentage of population at risk, Austria (18th at 29%) and Albania (20th at 28%).
|Rank||Country||Flood risk, by population exposed (%)||Total population exposed|
|#12||🇸🇸 South Sudan||32.5%||5,437,000|
|#15||🇨🇬 Republic of the Congo||29.3%||1,170,000|
The Southeast Asia region alone makes up more than two-thirds of the global population exposed to flooding risk at 1.24 billion people.
China and India account for 395 million and 390 million people, respectively, with both nations at the top in terms of the absolute number of people at risk of rising water levels. The rest of the top five countries by total population at risk are Bangladesh (94 million people at risk), Indonesia (76 million people at risk), and Pakistan (72 million people at risk).
How Flooding is Already Affecting Countries Like Pakistan
While forecasted climate and natural disasters can often take years to manifest, flooding affected more than 100 million people in 2021. Recent summer floods in Pakistan have continued the trend in 2022.
With 31% of its population (72 million people) at risk of flooding, Pakistan is particularly vulnerable to floods.
In 2010, floods in Pakistan were estimated to have affected more than 18 million people. The recent floods, which started in June, are estimated to have affected more than 33 million people as more than one-third of the country is submerged underwater.
The Cost of Floods Today and in the Future
Although the rising human toll is by far the biggest concern that floods present, they also bring with them massive economic costs. Last year, droughts, floods, and storms caused economic losses totaling $224.2 billion worldwide, nearly doubling the 2001-2020 annual average of $117.8 billion.
A recent report forecasted that water risk (caused by droughts, floods, and storms) could eat up $5.6 trillion of global GDP by 2050, with floods projected to account for 36% of these direct losses.
As both human and economic losses caused by floods continue to mount, nations around the world will need to focus on preventative infrastructure and restorative solutions for ecosystems and communities already affected and most at risk of flooding.
How Is Aluminum Made?
Aluminum is one of the world’s most widely used metals, but producing it is a complex process. Here’s a look at where it comes from.
How is Aluminum Made?
Aluminum is one of our most widely-used metals, found in everything from beer cans to airplane parts.
However, the lightweight metal doesn’t occur naturally, and producing it is a complex process.
The Three Stages of Aluminum Production
Each year, the world produces around 390 million tonnes of bauxite rock, and 85% of it is used to make aluminum.
Bauxites are rocks composed of aluminum oxides along with other minerals and are the world’s primary source of aluminum. After mining, bauxite is refined into alumina, which is then converted into aluminum.
Therefore, aluminum typically goes from ore to metal in three stages.
Stage 1: Mining Bauxite
Bauxite is typically extracted from the ground in open-pit mines, with just three countries—Australia, China, and Guinea—accounting for 72% of global mine production.
|Country||2021 Mine Production of Bauxite (tonnes)||% of Total|
|Saudi Arabia 🇸🇦||4,300,000||1.1%|
|Rest of the World 🌍||15,500,000||4.0%|
Australia is by far the largest bauxite producer, and it’s also home to the Weipa Mine, the biggest bauxite mining operation globally.
Guinea, the third-largest producer, is endowed with more than seven billion tonnes of bauxite reserves, more than any other country. Additionally, Guinea is the top exporter of bauxite globally, with 76% of its bauxite exports going to China.
After bauxite is out of the ground, it is sent to refineries across the globe to make alumina, marking the second stage of the production process.
Stage 2: Alumina Production
In the 1890s, Austrian chemist Carl Josef Bayer invented a revolutionary process for extracting alumina from bauxite. Today—over 100 years later—some 90% of alumina refineries still use the Bayer process to refine bauxite.
Here are the four key steps in the Bayer process:
Bauxite is mixed with sodium hydroxide and heated under pressure. At this stage, the sodium hydroxide selectively dissolves aluminum oxide from the bauxite, leaving behind other minerals as impurities.
Impurities are separated and filtered from the solution, forming a residue known as red mud. After discarding the mud, aluminum oxide is converted into sodium aluminate.
The sodium aluminate solution is cooled and precipitated into a solid, crystallized form of aluminum hydroxide.
The aluminum hydroxide crystals are washed and heated in calciners to form pure aluminum oxide—a sandy white material known as alumina.
The impurities or red mud left behind in the alumina production process is a major environmental concern. In fact, for every tonne of alumina, refineries produce 1.2 tonnes of red mud, and there are over three billion tonnes of it stored in the world today.
China, the second-largest producer and largest importer of bauxite, supplies more than half of the world’s alumina.
|Country||2021 alumina production (tonnes)||% of total|
|Saudi Arabia 🇸🇦||1,800,000||1%|
|Rest of the World 🌍||15,100,000||11%|
Several major producers of bauxite, including Australia, Brazil, and India, are among the largest alumina producers, although none come close to China.
Alumina has applications in multiple industries, including plastics, cosmetics, and chemical production. But of course, the majority of it is shipped to smelters to make aluminum.
Stage 3: Aluminum Production
Alumina is converted into aluminum through electrolytic reduction. Besides alumina itself, another mineral called cryolite is key to the process, along with loads of electricity. Here’s a simplified overview of how aluminum smelting works:
- In aluminum smelter facilities, hundreds of electrolytic reduction cells are filled up with molten cryolite.
- Alumina (composed of two aluminum atoms and three oxygen atoms) is then dumped into these cells, and a strong electric current breaks the chemical bond between aluminum and oxygen atoms.
- The electrolysis results in pure liquid aluminum settling at the bottom of the cell, which is then purified and cast into its various shapes and sizes.
China dominates global aluminum production and is also the largest consumer. Its neighbor India is the second-largest producer, making only a tenth of China’s output.
|Country||2021 Aluminum Smelter Production (tonnes)||% of total|
|United Arab Emirates 🇦🇪||2,600,000||4%|
|Rest of the World 🌍||9,400,000||14%|
As is the case for alumina production, some of the countries that produce bauxite and alumina also produce aluminum, such as India, Australia, and Russia.
Roughly a quarter of annually produced aluminum is used by the construction industry. Another 23% goes into vehicle frames, wires, wheels, and other parts of the transportation industry. Aluminum foil, cans, and packaging also make up another major end-use with a 17% consumption share.
Aluminum’s widespread applications have made it one of the most valuable metal markets. In 2021, the global aluminum market was valued at around $245.7 billion, and as consumption grows, it’s projected to nearly double in size to $498.5 billion by 2030.
The latest news from our sponsors:
Electrification12 months ago
Ranked: The Top 10 EV Battery Manufacturers
Real Assets2 years ago
Visualizing China’s Dominance in Rare Earth Metals
Misc2 years ago
All the World’s Metals and Minerals in One Visualization
Real Assets2 years ago
What is a Commodity Super Cycle?
Real Assets2 years ago
How the World’s Top Gold Mining Stocks Performed in 2020
Misc12 months ago
All the Metals We Mined in One Visualization
Real Assets11 months ago
The World’s Top 10 Gold Mining Companies
Real Assets2 years ago
Visualizing the Life Cycle of a Mineral Discovery