Thursday 22nd August 2019

Resource Clips


‘The great enabler’

A new era of energy depends on mining and especially copper, says Gianni Kovacevic

by Greg Klein

A new era of energy depends on mining and especially copper, says Gianni Kovacevic

 

Gold and precious metals can attract people seeking wealth or beauty, while diamonds and other gems convey an intrigue of their own. But who becomes downright passionate about a base metal? To those who’ve head him talk, Gianni Kovacevic quickly comes to mind. Copper’s his metal of interest but his real fascination is the future—that, and a vision of the importance this metal holds to a new era of energy history.

Chairperson of CopperBank Resources CSE:CBK, an authority on energy systems and author of My Electrician Drives a Porsche?, he’s an especially engaging public speaker who’s possibly more effective than anyone in communicating mining’s importance to non-mining people.

A new era of energy depends on mining and especially copper, says Gianni Kovacevic

The era of electrification offers promise to both
developed and emerging economies, says Kovacevic.

But those in the industry find his message captivating too. He calls mining, metals and especially copper “the great enabler” of electrification. And electrification’s the key to a new era in which copper usage will grow by magnitudes, he declares.

That’s happening already as developed countries wean themselves off fossil fuels and emerging countries use more and more electricity for consumer items and transportation or—from village to village and home to home—as they adopt electricity for the first time.

Among other vital metals are aluminum, lithium, vanadium and cobalt. “I like anything that enables electrification,” Kovacevic explains. “The sensitive one is cobalt. If people are talking about reducing cobalt in batteries or eliminating it altogether, who wins? Nickel. But no question about it, we will require hundreds of millions, in fact billions, of new battery cells.”

Overall, approximately 19% of energy use now comes from electricity, he says. But he expects the number to reach about 50% by 2050. His data for current and planned copper production, however, shows alarming shortfalls in capacity.

Half of the world’s primary copper production now comes from 25 mines. Just two countries, Peru and Chile, provide a combined 45%. One major copper mine, First Quantum Minerals’ (TSX:FM) Cobre Panama, has commissioning planned this year. Nothing else over 110,000 tonnes is expected until around 2022.

A new era of energy depends on mining and especially copper, says Gianni Kovacevic

First Quantum’s Cobre Panama will be the only
major new copper mine until about 2022, Kovacevic says.

In 2010 the 15 largest copper producers boasted average grades around 1.2%. The 2016 average was 0.72% and falling. Over the next half-century he expects average grades to slip below 0.5%.

Clearly more copper production will require much higher prices to make lower grades economic, Kovacevic emphasizes. He’s not alone in that outlook. Among others extolling the metal’s virtues is Robert Friedland, who also considers copper the key to electrification and maintains that declining grades will require higher prices.

Over the last nine months, however, prices haven’t co-operated. In late May spot copper approached a five-year high in the range of $3.30 a pound, but fell steeply after June 1. Current prices sit around $2.60 to $2.65, although that’s well above levels seen through most of 2015 and 2016. But Kovacevic says warehouse inventories suggest the market has reached a supply deficit.

Two decades of prices show an ironic connection with the commodity that fueled the previous energy era, he adds. “Copper’s never left its long-term bull market but it’s been pushed around by oil, because 90% of the time it’s correlated with oil. But now the prices have to decouple. Copper has to go much, much higher.”

Referring to himself as a “realistic environmentalist,” Kovacevic says the metals and mining crucial to the new energy era also remain crucial to emerging societies. Blocking new mines from development hinders new economies from development. “I can’t say to someone in India, for example, that they’re never going to have electricity or running water in their homes. You can’t say ‘build absolutely nothing anywhere near anyone.’ People want basic human progress. Fortunately, as we go into this new pivot of energy we’re going to bypass the old ways of receiving energy in many applications.”

Kovacevic expands on his message in an illustrated keynote speech and also hosts a lithium investment panel discussion at the Vancouver Resource Investment Conference on January 20 and 21. To avoid the $30 admission fee, click here for free registration.


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