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Assessment of undiscovered copper resources of the world, 2015

December 3, 2021

The U.S. Geological Survey completed the first-ever global assessment of undiscovered copper resources for the two most significant sources of global copper supply: porphyry copper deposits and sediment-hosted stratabound copper deposits. The geology-based study identified 236 areas for undiscovered copper in 11 regions of the world. Estimated amounts of undiscovered copper resources are reported at different levels of probability. The results of the assessment indicate that a mean of at least 3,500 million metric tons (Mt) of undiscovered copper associated with these deposit types may exist worldwide, exceeding the 2,100 Mt of identified copper resources tabulated for these deposit types.

Porphyry copper deposits contain 1,800 Mt of identified copper resources and are estimated to contain a mean of at least 3,100 Mt of undiscovered copper resources. South America is the dominant source for both identified and undiscovered porphyry copper resources. However, several regions of Asia, including China, have significant potential for undiscovered porphyry copper resources. The amount of mean undiscovered porphyry copper resources that may be economic to extract varies as a function of likely depth to a deposit and quality of local infrastructure that could support mining.

Sediment-hosted stratabound copper deposits contain 310 Mt of identified copper resources and are estimated to contain a mean of at least 420 Mt of undiscovered copper resources. The sedimentary basins that may contain significant undiscovered copper resources are the Katanga Basin in central Africa, the Southern Permian Basin of Poland and Germany, the Chu-Sarysu Basin of Kazakhstan, and the Kodar-Udokan area of Russia. Sedimentary basins in the Northwest Botswana Rift in Botswana and Namibia, the Benguela and Cuanza Basins of Angola, and the Cambrian rocks of Egypt, Israel, and Jordan are recognized as having significant potential for undiscovered copper resources in sediment-hosted stratabound copper deposits; however, these areas require additional research, analysis, and evaluation before quantitative resource estimates can be made.

The estimate of at least 3,500 Mt of undiscovered copper in two deposit types provides a basis for long-range planning for this important commodity. U.S. copper consumption is 2 Mt per year, world consumption is about 20 Mt per year, and global production from these two deposit types is about 12 Mt per year. Total global copper production from all deposit types from 1879 to 2012 was about 600 Mt. The world’s use of mineral resources, such as copper, will continue to increase in the foreseeable future to support a growing world population and increasing standards of living. The world has sufficient copper to last for decades. However, increases in exploration and growth in mining capacity will be necessary to identify and develop undiscovered resources to supply projected demand.