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: U.S. Mineral Production Value by State in 2022
U.S. mineral production value increased by 4% YoY in 2022 to reach $98.2 billion. Which states contributed the most to domestic mineral production?
U.S. States Ranked by the Value of their Mineral Production
The U.S. produced $98.2 billion worth of nonfuel minerals in 2022, but which states made up the majority of the mining?
This map uses data from the USGS to map and rank U.S. states by the value of their nonfuel mineral production in 2022.
The ranking takes into account the mining of nonfuel minerals that are split into two main categories: metallic minerals (like gold, copper, or silver), and industrial minerals (like phosphate rock, various types of clay, and crushed stone).
The Top Mineral-Producing States in the U.S.
Arizona tops the list of mineral-producing states, with $10.1 billion worth of minerals which account for 10.3% of the U.S. total, largely due to the state’s prolific copper production. The state of Arizona accounted for around 70% of domestic copper production in 2022, and as a result also produces large amounts of molybdenum as a byproduct.
The state of Nevada was the next top mineral producer at $8.9 billion worth of minerals, thanks to its longstanding leadership in gold mining (accounting for 72% of U.S. gold production in 2022) and by having the only operating lithium project in America.
States in the Western region of the U.S. dominate the ranking of top mineral-producing states, holding the top two spots and making up half of the top 10 when it comes to total mineral production value.
|Rank||State||Mineral Production Value (2022)||Share of U.S. total|
*The value of these states is a partial total which excludes withheld values by the USGS to avoid disclosing company proprietary data. Rankings remain unaffected which is why some states may rank higher than others despite having a lower value.
Texas rounds out the top three at $8 billion worth of minerals produced in 2022, largely thanks to its dominant production of crushed stone. The state of Texas was the top producer of crushed stone in 2022 at more than $2.8 billion worth, nearly double that of the next largest producer, Florida, which produced $1.5 billion worth.
What Minerals is the U.S. Producing the Most of?
Nonfuel mineral production is categorized into two main categories by the USGS, metals/metallic minerals and industrial minerals.
While not as shiny, the produced value of industrial minerals far outweighs that of metallic minerals. While $34.7 billion worth of metals were produced in 2022, industrial mineral production value was nearly double at $63.5 billion.
Construction aggregates like construction sand and gravel along with crushed stone made up almost half of industrial minerals production at $31.4 billion, with crushed stone being the leading mineral commodity overall at $21 billion of production value.
Following crushed stone, the next top minerals produced but the U.S. were (in decreasing order of value): cement, copper, construction sand and gravel, and gold.
Although the value of metals production decreased by 6% compared to 2021, industrial minerals production increased by 10% year-over-year, resulting in an overall increase in America’s overall nonfuel mineral production of 4%.
Visualizing the Opportunity Cost of Unrecycled Metals in the U.S.
Exploring the quantity and dollar value of recycled metals in the U.S. by visualizing metal recycling ratios.
The Opportunity Cost of Unrecycled Metals in the U.S.
Metals are an essential resource for modern society, used in everything from construction and transportation to technology and medical equipment. As the demand for these minerals continues to grow, so does the amount of waste generated by their production and consumption.
Recycling this metal waste is not just a win for sustainability; it also has huge economic benefits. In the visual above, we explore the ratio of recycled vs. unrecycled metals in the U.S. using 2020 Recycling Statistics by the U.S. Geological Survey.
Metal Recycling in the U.S.
Opportunity cost is a concept that refers to the benefits that are forgone when choosing one option over another. In the case of unrecycled metals, the opportunity cost is the potential economic and environmental benefits that could have been achieved through increasing metal recycling ratios.
Below are the recycling rates for select metals in the U.S. in 2020.
|Metal||% of supply recycled|
|Iron & Steel||52|
The above recycled metals represented a dollar value of $26 billion in 2020. Their unrecycled counterparts, on the other hand, represented $28 billion.
Metals can either be recycled from scrap that results from the manufacturing process (known as “new scrap”) or scrap from post-consumer products (“old scrap.”) Regardless of the source, many of them, especially chromium, copper, and tin, have the potential to reap further sustainability and economic benefits by recycling a larger proportion of their scrap supplies.
The Case for Metal Recycling
When compared with the mining, processing and transport of new metals, recycling metals can provide a significantly less energy-intensive alternative, saving enough energy each year to power millions of homes in the U.S.
Recycling metals can also save natural resources, create more green jobs, and reduce a country’s dependency on mineral imports by supplementing its supply of raw materials.
Overall, the potential for metal recycling is vast, and taking steps to increase the amount of recycled metals in the U.S. can lead to even greater sustainability and economic benefits.
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