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Image credit: Jetti Resources via BMW Group.

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Jetti Resources Attracts Investment From BMW i Ventures

Jetti Resources has found a way to double or triple the output of a conventional copper mine while using less energy and water.

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There is a lot of talk these days about the skyrocketing price of battery grade lithium, but many other battery materials such as copper are also experiencing significant upward pressure. In fact, some people are warning there is not enough copper left in the world to meet the extra demand the transition to electric cars will create. Jetti Resources is a startup company that says it has the answer to copper shortage concerns, one that is environmentally friendly as well.

Jetti Resources says, “Our technology enables the production of copper from low grade ores that contain 70% of the world’s remaining copper resources, which until now could not be economically processed. Jetti has developed and commercially deployed a catalytic technology that allows for the efficient and effective heap and stockpile leach extraction of copper trapped in these ores. We can achieve this by working with existing operations in a way that uses less water and energy than traditional production processes.”

Jetti Resources Interview With S&P Global

In an interview with S&P Global earlier this year, Jetti co-founder Mike Outwin said his company has been operating a prototype of its copper recapture system at Capstone Mining’s Pinto Valley mine in Arizona for the past three years. During that time, it has doubled copper production from the leach operation compared to the first year of operations.

Jetti’s technology inserts a catalyst into a company’s normal processing flow to extract copper from low grade primary sulfides, such as chalcopyrite, which are abundant but not economical to process and often disposed of as waste. The conventional low cost method of leaching copper material from ore is generally ineffective on primary sulfides, he said.

The company commissioned a 2021 study by CRU Group, which estimated its technology could tap into a total addressable market of roughly 234 million tonnes of copper worth an estimated $2.4 trillion. That study forecast that a transition to cleaner energy will drive a gap between copper supply and demand of up to 10.9 million tonnes annually by 2050. If Jetti’s technology were to meet 100% of its estimated total addressable market, it would result in enough copper to close that gap.

Outwin told S&P Global, “In the copper industry, you’ve got declining grades. So, there’s less copper per ton of ore that’s getting mined at operations these days. That’s not going to get better. Grades are going to continue to decline. Mining companies aren’t finding super deposits like they used to in the 20th century and even at the beginning of this one.

“So, the mining industry has to look somewhere for copper. The mining industry for a very long time has considered this one option — which is the low-grade material that they don’t put through a concentrator — as being a potential source of additional copper pounds.

“The reason why it has been called the holy grail — primary sulfide leaching or chalcopyrite leaching — is because the industry for a lot of years has installed leaching capacity at mines around the world to process easy-to-access copper mineralogy such as oxides and secondary sulfides. Those things leach easily. You’ve got all this infrastructure that has been built to process those materials, and they account for about 20% of global copper production annually.

“It’s thought of as the low cost method for processing copper ore. It’s really the only option you’ve got for low grade material because you can’t justify the crushing and energy expenditures for concentration on the low-grade material. So, the industry has just been very intent on finding a way to use leaching for primary sulfides, yet they haven’t been able to find it.

“Technology after technology has failed. There’s been this kind of aura around primary sulfide mineralogy, being able to leach it. Because if you did unlock it, then you’re opening up very serious amounts of additional pounds of copper, and you’re doing it in a relatively low cost way.”

Ten Years In The Making

Outwin and co-founder Andrew Perlman began sponsoring research at the University of British Columbia ten years ago. He says that “tens of millions of dollars and a decade later, we were able to figure it out. It’s not like it happened overnight or that it was something easy. It was extraordinarily hard. But we now have a mature technology that is very much commercial and produces extra tons of cathode every single day.”

“One of the advantages of Jetti’s technology is that it’s very, very simple from an implementation and deployment standpoint. There are no process flow sheet changes that the existing operation has to make. We plug in directly to the existing leaching infrastructure. You don’t have big [capital expenditure], and you don’t have the permitting hurdles to get through because we’re using an existing leach system and not adjusting it other than the addition of a catalyst.

“Every single technology that’s been tried out over the last 30 to 40 years by the mining industry on the chalcopyrite problem has faltered because of either high capex, difficulty in terms of integrating into existing flow sheets, the operation, environmental issues, or technical problems such as energy balance.

“For the same emissions, you’re getting more copper. We’re helping the industry drive for the production of what you could consider greener copper. The industry wants to do this; they truly want to produce cleaner copper.

“We’re all about resource optimization. We’re not talking about 5% increases in copper production or 10% increases. We’re talking about literally 100% to 200% additional copper production from leach in many situations as a result of our technology for the same emissions and water consumption that you would have without us.”

BMW Invests In Jetti Resources

Image credit: Jetti Resources via BMW Group

BMW thinks there may be something to all this copper reclamation stuff. In a December 1 press release, it said it has taken an undisclosed stake in Jetti Resources through its BMW i Ventures fund. The goal is to foster responsible and resource-conserving copper extraction to address rising demand in a more sustainable way. ‘This new process has the potential to improve the environmental footprint and integrity of our supply chain, even with growing demand for resources like copper,” said Wolfgang Obermaier, head of raw materials for BMW Group.

Material previously stored in dumps and considered waste can now be tapped into with this new form of resource-conserving extraction, BMW says. This process enables the recovery of previously trapped copper resources, thus significantly increasing the output and lifespan of existing copper production facilities. It makes copper extraction substantially more efficient and reduces its environmental impact, with 40% fewer CO2 emissions compared to traditional raw material extraction while using only 50% as much water.

The Takeaway

The anti-EV crowd like to wring their hands and moan about how awful the transition to electric transportation will be. There’s not enough lithium, not enough copper, and the grid won’t be able to handle the additional demand. They prefer to run around in circles and decry anything that smacks of a departure from the known, the ordinary, the tried and true.

But a curious thing happens when technological progress takes place. New requirements lead to new opportunities and pretty soon a new normal descends upon the land. A new technology that doubles or triples copper production with lower emissions while using less water sounds like just what the world needs at a time of critical supply shortages. Advances in battery recycling will also help. When there is a need, someone will always find a way to meet it.

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Steve writes about the interface between technology and sustainability from his home in Florida or anywhere else The Force may lead him. He is proud to be "woke" and doesn't really give a damn why the glass broke. He believes passionately in what Socrates said 3000 years ago: "The secret to change is to focus all of your energy not on fighting the old but on building the new."


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