Copper Start-Up Appoints Mining Veteran Chip Goodyear To Board

Copper Start-Up Appoints Mining Veteran Chip Goodyear To Board

Reprinted from the FT – 16/08/2020

Jetti Resources claims to have solved the problem of how to economically extract copper from low-grade ore. Demand for copper is expected to grow in the switch to cleaner forms of energy, but much of the world’s reserves are contained in low-grade ore.

A natural resources start-up is set to appoint mining luminary Chip Goodyear to its board as it prepares to roll out a technology that it says could unlock huge deposits of copper, the world’s most important industrial metal. Jetti Resources claims to have found the answer to one of the biggest riddles in the copper mining industry — how to economically extract the metal from abundant but low-grade chalcopyrite ore.

“The industry has been looking at this for 50 years or more and we have never cracked the code,” Mr Goodyear told the Financial Times in an interview. “We spent millions at BHP.” Mr Goodyear ran BHP, the world’s biggest mining company, between 2003 and 2007. He will join Jetti as a non-executive director this week.

The Vancouver-based company was founded in 2014 by Mike Outwin and Andrew Perlman, two Silicon Valley venture capitalists. As well as looking to sell its technology, which is being tested by some of the largest copper mines in the world at operations in Chile, Peru, and the US, it also has ambitions to buy unwanted copper assets.

The first commercial deployment of its technology has been at Capstone Mining’s 53,000-tonne-a-year Pinto Valley copper mine in Arizona. “The results after year one of our partnership with Jetti Resources are exciting because it means we can generate high margin from material that would have been waste,” said Darren Pylot, chief executive of Capstone.

Jetti counts Mitsubishi as one of its shareholders while other investors include DNS Capital, Kleiner Perkins and Zoma Capital. In addition to Mr Goodyear it has recruited Trevor Reid, the-ex chief financial officer of Xstrata, and Ken Pickering, who ran Escondida, the world’s biggest copper mine, to its board.

Demand for copper is predicted to rise as the world shifts to cleaner energy systems, with most of the world’s big mining companies trying to find ways to increase their exposure to the metal. However, most of the easily mined copper in countries such as Chile has already been tapped with supply also being pressured by falling grades at ageing mines. Remaining deposits either require more technically challenging extraction or are in parts of the world where corruption is rife, or the political situation is difficult to navigate. “If we can’t get copper to be produced at a reasonable price it’s going to have an impact on the ability to electrify the economy,” said Mr Goodyear.

Almost two-thirds of the world’s copper resources are contained in low-grade primary sulphides, such as chalcopyrite. Most of this ore does not contain enough copper to justify traditional processing, and an alternative low-cost method of extraction — acid leaching — is not effective despite the best efforts of the industry.

Using a catalyst developed by scientists at the University of British Columbia, Jetti has been able to break through a coating — known as a passivation layer — that stopped the acid leach solution working. “The mining industry has long been pursuing a viable technology to leach low-grade chalcopyrite ores,” said Mr Pylot. Satoshi Koyama, head of Mitsubishi’s Mineral Resources Group, CEO Office, said Jetti’s technology was a “clever and smart way” to increase copper recoveries from existing mines. “Initially we didn’t really believe what they said because it sounded too simple. But actually, they tested the technology at Pinto Valley for about a year and half and they have had great results,” he said.