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BHP Group (BHP) & Microsoft Team Up to Use AI at Escondida

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BHP Group (BHP - Free Report) has collaborated with Microsoft (MSFT - Free Report) to use new digital technology such as Artificial Intelligence, machine learning and cloud technologies to improve copper recovery at the Escondida operation in Chile.

The Escondida mine is the world's largest producer of copper concentrates and cathodes. BHP owns 57.5% of the mine while the remaining stake is held by Rio Tinto plc (RIO - Free Report) (30%) and Japan-based JECO Corp (12.5%). Escondida’s two pits feed three concentrator plants, as well as two leaching operations (oxide and sulphide). It produced more than 1 million metric tons of copper per year. The concentrator circuit is responsible for extracting, floating and collecting the copper mineral from crushed and milled ore.

Through this collaboration, by using real-time plant data from the concentrators combined with AI-based recommendations from Microsoft’s Azure platform, the concentrator operators at Escondida will now be able to adjust operational variables that affect ore processing and grade recovery.  
Mining is a long, complex and capital-intensive process. Significant exploration and development to evaluate the size of the deposit, followed by the assessment of ways to extract and process the ore efficiently, safely and responsibly, precede actual mining.

Finding and building new mines are costly as well as difficult and can take more than a decade. With declining grades at existing copper mines and the lack of new economic and promising discoveries, miners are resorting to next-generation technologies like artificial intelligence, machine learning and data analytics to boost production and value from the existing mines.

Copper is the third most consumed industrial metal in the world. It is expected to play a crucial role in the achievement of global clean energy transition. The increasing global awareness regarding cleaner energy and the surge in electric car sales will be a key catalyst for copper demand in the long term. The red metal is an essential component in EVs and is utilized in electric motors, batteries, inverters and wiring. According to the International Copper Association (“ICA”), while conventional cars contain 18 pounds to 49 pounds of copper, plug-in hybrid electric vehicles use 132 pounds of copper and battery electric vehicles contain 183 pounds of the metal.

BHP estimates that over the next three decades, the global copper output has to double compared to the past 30 years to meet the surging requirement of the metal stemming from global decarbonization efforts such as electric vehicles, offshore wind and solar farms. BHP and other miners like Rio Tinto and Southern Copper (SCCO - Free Report) to name a few, are thus trying to boost their capacity to capitalize on this trend.  

Southern Copper's Michiquillay project is expected to become one of Peru's largest copper mines and will produce 225,000 tons of copper per year (along with by-products of molybdenum, gold and silver) for an initial mine life of more than 25 years and at a competitive cash-cost. Production is expected to commence by 2032. The Los Chancas project located in Apurimac, Peru is a copper and molybdenum porphyry deposit. The project envisions an open-pit mine with a combined operation of the concentrator and SX-EW processes to produce 130,000 tons of copper and 7,500 tons of molybdenum annually. The project is expected to commence in 2030.

Price Performance

BHP Group's shares have fallen 20.2% over the past year, compared with the industry’s 25.2% decline. 

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BHP currently carries a Zacks Rank #3 (Hold). You can see the complete list of today’s Zacks #1 Rank stocks here.

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