Copper concentrates constitute 30% of copper by weight and the remaining consists of sulfur and iron. It is generally produced by removing the water content from the copper solution. They are used as raw material in the copper smelting and are processed to prepare processed and refined copper.

What are the different methods to extract copper from copper concentrates?

There are two preferable methods of extracting copper, which are:

  • Pyrometallurgy

Pyrometallurgy is a method of extracting and purification of metals by deploying various processes, which involves application of heat. In this method, copper concentrate is smelted by pouring it into airtight blast furnace, reverberatory, electric furnace, or flash furnace. The smelted copper concentrate is then put into a converter where it is turned into a blister copper. Following the conversion, it is oxidized and refined with the help of electrolysis, which leads to the formation of electrolytic copper with the grade of 99.9%.

This process is short and has high copper recovery rate of 95%, which makes it effective in the copper concentrate industry. However, the escape of sulfur gas during the process increases the burden on environment. Some of the Pyrometallurgy processes that are utilized for the extraction of copper are Noranda process, Japan’s Mitsubishi process, and the silver method, among others.

  • Hydrometallurgy

Hydrometallurgy utilizes aqueous solution for metal recovery from copper concentrates. It is suitable for low-grade copper oxide. This method is not a replacement for pyrometallurgy as it is dependent on sulfuric acid (smelter acid) for the extraction of cooper. Mostly, this method is used in the location where smelter acid is not available in abundance. As compared to pyrometallurgy, it has lesser environmental impact, as aqueous solution contains the waste. Moreover, it is expected to reduce the smelting costs in the coming years.

This method is gradually  equipped with latest technology for the extraction of copper, which includes bacterial leaching. This process includes administrating the material with appropriate bacteria and maintaining the same under controlled conditions. However, this process has been confined to the extraction of ore and is undergoing innovations to expand its processing horizon.

What are the factors that is expected to impact the dynamics of the market?

As per the data published by Growth Market Reports, the global copper concentrate market was valued at whopping USD 81 Billion in 2019 and is estimated to reach USD 93 Billion by 2027, expanding at a CAGR of 2.5% during the forecast period, 2020-2027.

Market Drivers

  • Growing adoption of copper in the household products owing to its health benefits is anticipated to propel the market growth.
  • Rising demand for copper-based alloys owing to increasing awareness about its properties is expected to spur the growth of the market during the forecast period.
  • Rapid industrialization and urbanization is speculated to augment the construction activities, especially in emerging economies. This, in turn, is expected to proliferate the demand for copper concentrates and create remunerative opportunities for industry players.
  • Increasing demand for electricity and rapid growth in the electronics industry is anticipated to burgeon the demand for copper-based alloys. This is attributed to positively influence the growth of the copper concentrates market.

Market Restraints

  • Stringent regulation policies regarding the release of toxic gases can impede the market growth.
  • Availability of alternatives to copper can hinder the growth of the market in the foreseeable future.
  • Implementation of heavy taxes is predicted to negatively impact the growth of the market.

Market Opportunities

  • Growing initiatives to encourage and implement green mining practices is anticipated to create reimunerative opportunities for industry players in the market. Furthermore, the increasing investment on smart and green mining technologies is speculated to positively impact the market growth.

Impact of COVID-19 pandemic to the market

The coronavirus pandemic has disrupted the mining and manufacturing industry. This is due to the imposed restrictions in the manufacturing facilities that resulted to halt the production of copper-based alloys. Moreover, the trade tension between the US and China negatively impacted the global trade practices. According to the article posted by S&P Global in February 2021, the wages paid to smelters by mine owners to process copper concentrate into copper cathode was double prior to the pandemic.
In February 2021, the market witnessed aggressive bids from Chinese end-users. This came after China’s copper concentrate import plummeted 1.1% in 2020 and is showing no signs of recovery in the first quarter of 2021. The country’s import fall was due to the logistical challenges faced in South America and due to the ban of Australian concentrate. Moreover, the increase in the imports from US and price of copper in the global market resulted in decline of imports from China.

The market witnessed an unexpected recovering when China’s import from the US surged from 18,000 mt of copper to 192,000 mt of copper in 2020. This is expected to boost the growth of the global market and is anticipated to reach the pre-COVID level soon. The article further added, the European market also witnessed the demand for refined copper. According to the Copper Study Group, the copper ore and concentrate production is anticipated to increase by 4.6% in 2021; however, the market is anticipated to experience logistical constraints until the end of 2020.

Market Segmentation Insights

Based on types, the market is segmented into pyrometallurgical and hydrometallurgical. The pyrometallurgical segment held a dominant position in 2019, in terms of volume. Pyrometallurgy method accounted for more than 80% of the total copper concentrate output in 2019 owing to its wide adoption. However, the hydrometallurgical segment is anticipated to exhibit a higher CAGR than the former segment owing to the increasing investment on the R&D activities as well as the development of latest technologies to reduce the environmental impact. Industry payers are now engaging in sustainable and green practices, which is anticipated to create improved processes in both pyrometallurgy and hydrometallurgy methods.

On the basis of applications, the copper concentrate market is fragmented into electrical industry, mechanical industry, industrial machineries & equipment, military & defense, and others. In 2019, the electrical industry segment dominated the market owing to the increasing adoption of copper in power transmission lines, consumer electronics, building wiring, and computer chips. On the other hand, the military & defense segment is expected to grow at a substantial rate due to the increasing expenditure of government in the military & defense industry.

In terms of regions, the market is divided into North America, Europe, Asia Pacific, Middle East & Africa, and Latin America. Asia Pacific accounted for a significant share of the market in 2019, in terms of volume and revenue. China accounts for more than 50% of the global copper concentrate treatment and refining market. Rapid industrialization and urbanization is anticipated to boost the demand for copper-based alloys for power transmission, building electrical connections, and manufacturing industries. Conversely, the market in North America held a considerable share due to the growing demand for copper in aircraft and heavy machineries.

Competitive Scenario in the Market

 The prominent players of the market are:

  • Anglo American plc

In April 2020, Anglo American plc, a British multinational mining company, reported a 25% decline in copper production at Los Bronces in Chile. Meanwhile, it had put its Quellavecco development project in Moquegua on halt for three months due to lockdown. The company’s Quellavecco project is anticipated to produce 300,000 tons of copper annually. According to its website, it has two major operations in Chile: 50.1% interest in Los Bronces and a 44% share in the Collahuasi mine.

  • Glencore

In July 2019, Glencore, an Anglo-Swiss multinational company, started copper concentrate blending facility in Taiwan. This blending facility aims to clean the material and make it suitable to ship to China. The country’s legal import limit is arsenic under 0.5% in copper concentrates. According to the Reuters, the company has opened the facility due to the low treatment and refining charges (TC/RCs). In 2019, Katanga Mining of Glencore announced the plans to acquire land rights from Gécamines.

  • Jiangxi Copper Concentration

In July 2019, the Chinese copper producer Jiangxi Copper signed a deal with Chilean miner Antofagasta for the first half of 2020. Another Chinese competitor Tongling Nonferrous Metal Group also signed a deal with the same miner. In the copper’s price rally, Jiangxi Copper gained over 20% in Hong Kong on February, 20, 2021, highest since 2012.

Conclusion

The decrease in the TC/RCs and the rising copper prices across the globe has created an intense competitive scenario in the market. However, the growing demand for copper across several industries is expected to drive the growth of the market. Major industry players are engaging in acquisitions, mergers, collaborations, and partnerships to expand their market share. Furthermore, the increasing investment in the development of the advanced smelting process to reduce the environmental impact is expected to proliferate the growth of the market.