Everything You Need to Know About Copper Porphyries
Presented by Entrée Gold
What is a Porphyry?
Porphyry deposits are very large, polymetallic systems that typically contain copper along with other important metals. Much of today’s mineral production depends on porphyries: 60% of copper, 95% of molbdenum, and 20% of gold comes from this deposit type.
Where and How are Porphyries Formed?
Porphyries are most commonly found along the west coast of North and South America, as well as in the Southwest Pacific.
Porphyries are formed in tectonic plate convergent zones where oceanic crust has subducted beneath the continental crust, and in some cases the oceanic crust. As the plate subducts, the overlying upper mantle partially melts and the liquid magma rises to the surface. Hot fluids rise to the surface by flowing through cracks and fissures. Metals precipitate out of the solution as fluid cools and moves away from the heat source and pressure.
In porphyry mineralization, there are many economic minerals that can be found: copper, gold, molybdenum, silver, lead, zinc, tin, and tungsten. There are also associated mineral deposits that can form that depend on the host rock and the distance from the heat source. These include skarn, epithermal, and breccia type deposits.
Four Things to Know on Porphyries
- Polymetallic nature – Each porphyry is unique and holds different concentrations of minerals. Some deposits have such high concentrations of gold that they may be considered gold deposits rather than copper deposits. Others have barely any gold at all but may have plenty of molybdenum.
- Large Size, Low Grade – Porphyries typically have 100 million to 5 billion tonnes of ore with a lower grade (0.2% to >1% copper). It is the size of these deposits that allow for bulk mining and economies of scale.
- Long Mine Life – The size of porphyry systems usually mean that the life of the mine can be multi-decades long. This means that these deposits last through multiple market cycles, and are thus not as vulnerable to challenging market environments compared to other smaller mines.
- Infrastructure is Key – In order to process large amounts of ore, infrastructure can be a large part of initial capital expenditures (CAPEX). Access to power and water are key issues as large amounts of both are needed to process ore. The footprint of the mine and volume of tailings disposal can also make porphyries more challenging to permit.
Each year the Bingham Canyon Mine, located in Utah and owned by Rio Tinto and in production since 1906, produces approximately:
- 300,000 tons of copper
- 400,000 oz of gold
- 4,000,000 oz of silver
- 30,000,000 lbs of molybdenum
The value of the resources extracted to date from the Bingham Canyon Mine is greater than the Comstock Lode, Klondike, and California gold rush mining regions combined.
The Periodic Table of Endangered Elements
90 different elements form the building blocks for everything on Earth. Some are being used up, and soon could be endangered.
The Periodic Table of Endangered Elements
The building blocks for everything on Earth are made from 90 different naturally occurring elements.
This visualization made by the European Chemical Society (EuChemS), shows a periodic table of these 90 different elements, highlighting which ones are in abundance and which ones are in serious threat as of 2021.
On the graphic, the area of each element relates to its number of atoms on a logarithmic scale. The color-coding shows whether there’s enough of each element, or whether the element is becoming scarce, based on current consumption levels.
|C||Carbon||Plentiful supply / serious threat|
While these elements don’t technically run out and instead transform (except for helium, which rises and escapes from Earth’s atmosphere), some are being used up exceptionally fast, to the point where they may soon become extremely scarce.
One element worth pointing out on the graphic is carbon, which is three different colors: green, red, and dark gray.
- Green, because carbon is in abundance (to a fault) in the form of carbon dioxide
- Red, because it will soon cause a number of cataphoric problems if consumption habits don’t change
- Gray because carbon-based fuels often come from conflict countries
For more elements-related content, check out our channel dedicated to raw materials and the megatrends that drive them, VC Elements.
Mapped: The 10 Largest Gold Mines in the World, by Production
Gold mining companies produced over 3,500 tonnes of gold in 2021. Where in the world are the largest gold mines?
The 10 Largest Gold Mines in the World, by Production
Gold mining is a global business, with hundreds of mining companies digging for the precious metal in dozens of countries.
But where exactly are the largest gold mines in the world?
The above infographic uses data compiled from S&P Global Market Intelligence and company reports to map the top 10 gold-producing mines in 2021.
Editor’s Note: The article uses publicly available global production data from the World Gold Council to calculate the production share of each mine. The percentages slightly differ from those calculated by S&P.
The Top Gold Mines in 2021
The 10 largest gold mines are located across nine different countries in North America, Oceania, Africa, and Asia.
Together, they accounted for around 13 million ounces or 12% of global gold production in 2021.
|Rank||Mine||Location||Production (ounces)||% of global production|
|#1||Nevada Gold Mines||🇺🇸 U.S.||3,311,000||2.9%|
|#5||Pueblo Viejo||🇩🇴 Dominican Republic||814,000||0.7%|
|#6||Kibali||🇨🇩 Democratic Republic of the Congo||812,000||0.7%|
|#8||Lihir||🇵🇬 Papua New Guinea||737,082||0.6%|
|#9||Canadian Malartic||🇨🇦 Canada||714,784||0.6%|
Share of global gold production is based on 3,561 tonnes (114.5 million troy ounces) of 2021 production as per the World Gold Council.
In 2019, the world’s two largest gold miners—Barrick Gold and Newmont Corporation—announced a historic joint venture combining their operations in Nevada. The resulting joint corporation, Nevada Gold Mines, is now the world’s largest gold mining complex with six mines churning out over 3.3 million ounces annually.
Uzbekistan’s state-owned Muruntau mine, one of the world’s deepest open-pit operations, produced just under 3 million ounces, making it the second-largest gold mine. Muruntau represents over 80% of Uzbekistan’s overall gold production.
Only two other mines—Grasberg and Olimpiada—produced more than 1 million ounces of gold in 2021. Grasberg is not only the third-largest gold mine but also one of the largest copper mines in the world. Olimpiada, owned by Russian gold mining giant Polyus, holds around 26 million ounces of gold reserves.
Polyus was also recently crowned the biggest miner in terms of gold reserves globally, holding over 104 million ounces of proven and probable gold between all deposits.
How Profitable is Gold Mining?
The price of gold is up by around 50% since 2016, and it’s hovering near the all-time high of $2,000/oz.
That’s good news for gold miners, who achieved record-high profit margins in 2020. For every ounce of gold produced in 2020, gold miners pocketed $828 on average, significantly higher than the previous high of $666/oz set in 2011.
With inflation rates hitting decade-highs in several countries, gold mining could be a sector to watch, especially given gold’s status as a traditional inflation hedge.
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