The World's 20 Largest Copper Mines
The top mines produce about 40 percent of the world's copper
The world's 20 largest copper mines produce nearly 9 million metric tons of the precious metal a year, about 40 percent of the world's total copper mine capacity. Chile and Peru, alone, account for about half of the copper mines on this list, but the U.S. does make the cut, with two mines among the top 20.
Copper is expensive to mine and refine. The high costs of financing a major mine are reflected in the fact that seven of the top ten mines are jointly owned by major mining corporations. Despite the high costs of production, copper mines still account for about 80 percent of total refined copper production annually. The remaining 20 percent comes from recycled scrap sources.
The list below is compiled from the International Copper Study Group's World Copper Factbook 2017. Beside each mine's name are the country that it is located in and its annual production capacity in kilotons. A metric ton is equal to about 2,200 pounds. A metric kiloton (kt) is 1,000 metric tons.
Escondida - Chile (1.27 Kt)
The Escondida copper mine in Chile's Atacama desert is jointly owned by BHP Billiton (57.5 percent), Rio Tinto Corp. (30 percent), and Japan Escondida (12.5 percent). The massive Escondida mine accounts for 5 percent of total global copper mine production. Gold and silver are extracted as by-products from the ore.
The Grasberg mine, located in the highlands of Indonesia's Papua province, is the world's largest gold mine and second-largest copper mine. Operated by PT Freeport Indonesia Co., the mine is a joint venture between Freeport McMoRan (90.64 percent) and the Indonesian government (9.36 percent).
The Morenci mine in Arizona is the largest copper mine in North America. Operated by Freeport McMoRan, the mine is jointly owned by the company (85 percent) and Sumitomo Affiliates (15 percent). Morenci opened for operation in 1872 and is now made up of three mining pits.
Buenavista, also known as Cananea copper mine, located in Sonora, Mexico, is the world’s second-biggest copper mine by reserve. The open-pit mine contains 27 million metric tons of copper reserve.
Opened in 1899, Cananea is one of the oldest open-pit mines in North America and is currently owned and operated by the Southern Copper Corporation (SCC), a subsidiary of Grupo Mexico.
Cerro Verde copper mine, located 20 miles southwest of Arequipa in Peru, is the seventh-largest copper mine in the world. The open-pit mine contains an estimated 12.9 million metric tons of recoverable copper.
Cerro Verde has been operational since 1976. Freeport-McMoRan (FCX), holding a 53.56 percent interest, is the mine's operator. Other stakeholders include SMM Cerro Verde Netherlands, a subsidiary of Sumitomo Metal (21 percent), Compañia de Minas Buenaventura (19.58 percent), and public shareholders (5.86 percent).
Chile's second-largest copper mine, Collahuasi, is a owned by a consortium of Anglo American (44 percent), Glencore (44 percent), and Mitsui + Nippon (12 percent). Collahuasi mine produces copper concentrate and cathodes as well as molybdenum concentrate. Most of the concentrate produced at Collahuasi is sold to smelters in China for further refining.
The Antamina copper-zinc mine is located 170 miles north of Lima. Silver, bismuth, molybdenum, and lead are also separated from the ore produced at Antamina. Jointly owned by BHP Billiton (33.75 percent), Teck (22.5 percent), Glencore (33.75 percent), and Mitsubishi Corp. (10 percent), the mine is scheduled to cease production in 2019.
Las Bambas - Peru (450)
Las Bambas has mineral reserves of 7.2 million metric tons of copper and mineral resources of 12.6 million metric tons. The mine's operators estimate that in coming years, more than 2 million metric tons of copper will be produced in concentrate.
Mine operators had to move 75 million tons of material in 2014 before commencing mining operations. They estimate that the Las Bambas operation will last more than 20 years since its exploration potential is considerable; only 10 percent of the property has been explored so far.
Polar Division (Norilsk/Talnakh Mills) - Russia (450 Kt)
The mine is operated as part of the Polar Division of MMC Norilsk Nickel. Located in Siberia, you wouldn't want to work here unless you really like the cold. The underground nickel mine began production in the 1930s and is a source of cobalt, gold, silver, and platinum group metals, as well as copper.
The world's largest underground mine, El Teniente, is located in the Andes of central Chile. Owned and operated by Chilean state copper miner Codelco, El Teniente has been mined since the 19th century and is now comprised of more than 1,500 miles of tunnels.
Los Bronces - Chile (410 Kt)
Also located in Chile, the Los Bronces mine is jointly owned by Anglo American (75.5 percent) and Mitsubishi Corp. (24.5 percent). A $2.5-billion expansion project—completed in 2012—increased the mine's capacity to its current level of more than 400,000 metric tons per year.
Los Pelambres - Chile (400 Kt)
Located in central Chile's Coquimbo region, the Los Pelambres mine is a joint venture between Antofagasta Plc (60 percent), Nippon Mining (25 percent), and Mitsubishi Materials (15 percent). With an average grade of roughly 0.6 percent copper, the mine produces copper and molybdenum concentrate while providing gold and silver credits.
Chile's state-owned Codelco owns and operates the Codelco Norte (or Chuquicamata) copper mine in northern Chile. The world's largest open-pit mine, Chuquicamata has been in operation for over a century producing refined copper and molybdenum.
Radomiro Tomic copper mine, located in the Atacama Desert of northern Chile, is the eighth-largest copper mine in the world. The open-pit mine contains an estimated 12 million metric tons of fine copper.
Construction work for the Radomiro Tomic Copper Sulphide Mine Phase I was completed in June 2010 with an investment of $370 million. A crushing system was installed as part of this phase to haul up to 100,000 metric tons of sulfide ore per day from the mine to the concentrator plant located at Chuquicamata.
Sentinel - Zambia (300 Kt)
Construction of the Sentinel copper mine was completed in 2014, and the mine began producing copper in early 2015. Sentinel’s processing facility has a target throughput rate of 55 million metric tons of ore per year, including about 50 percent copper.
Ore is crushed in-pit and conveyed overland and onto a crushed ore stockpile ahead of two milling trains, each comprising a SAG mill and a single ball mill. Each train consists of five banks of flotation cells. Final concentrate at a grade of 24 percent copper is thickened and filtered in a concentrate handling facility.
Bingham Canyon - USA (280 Kt)
The Bingham Canyon Mine, more commonly known as Kennecott Copper Mine, is an open-pit mine southwest of Salt Lake City. Bingham suffered the "largest non-volcanic landslide in history" in 2012, according to Mining.com, but rebuilt in 18 months and is again producing 280 metric kilotons of copper a year. Six million tons of dirt had to be hauled out and new access roads built before mining resumed.
The largest copper mine in Africa, Kansanshi is owned and operated by Kansanshi Mining PLC, which is 80 percent owned by a First Quantum subsidiary. The remaining 20 percent is owned by a subsidiary of ZCCM. The mine is located approximately 6 miles north of the town of Solwezi and 112 miles to the northwest of the Copperbelt town of Chingola.
Minera Chinalco Peru operates the Toromocho mine, located in the District of Morococha, Yauli Province, in the Junin region. Through geological exploration, the firm's operators have found a reserve of 1,526 million metric tons of ore with an average grade of copper of 0.48 percent, an average grade of molybdenum of 0.02 percent, and silver of 6.88 grams per ton.
Olympic Dam - Australia (225 Kt)
Olympic Dam, owned by BHP, is a uranium oxide, copper, gold, and silver mine. Known more for its uranium—the mine has the largest known single deposit of uranium in the world—Olympic Dam also houses the planet's fourth-largest copper deposit. Mining giant BHP said in mid-2017 that it plans to spend about 600 million Australian dollars ($462 million) to lay the foundation for long-term growth.
The Mutanda Mine is an open-pit copper mine in the Katanga Province of the Democratic Republic of the Congo. In early 2017, Glencore bought a 31-percent stake in Mutanda Mine for $960 million. In 2015, Mutanda produced 216,100 metric tons of copper—a figure that jumped to 220 metric kilotons by 2016—and 16,500 metric tons of cobalt, more than any other mine in Congo. "The operation is considered one of Glencore’s main growth assets and a key operation in the DRC, largely thanks to its high ore grades and low expansion costs," according to Mining.com.