Incorporating AI in Mines to Increase Copper Output
Sat, April 17, 2021

Incorporating AI in Mines to Increase Copper Output

Freeport-McMoran has now relied on the use of artificial intelligence to increase its yearly copper output. / Photo by: TTstudio via Shutterstock


Artificial intelligence is already changing the mining industry, such as in copper extraction. One of the biggest copper producers in the world Freeport-McMoran has now relied on the use of artificial intelligence to increase its yearly output. It said that they will be rolling out the technology in their different mines in the US so their copper output will reach 90,000 tonnes.

AI Model in Mines

The Arizona-based mining company shared that they have already tested the AI model in their Bagdad mine, which is located in Arizona. The move to introduce the same technology in all of their operations will improve their copper production by 5 percent, reports Financial Times. 

Freeport-McMoRan's chief executive Richard Adkerson said that their “aspirational goal” of increasing their copper output to 200m pounds comes with “little capital investment.” Most of the copper’s common use is in electrical equipment, including motors and wiring, because of its excellent electrical conductivity. It is also critical in renewable energy systems as the red metal is often used in batteries and wind turbines that power the charging points and electric vehicles.

How AI Is Used

In the company’s Bagdad mine, miners have to crush lower-grade rock to sustain their output. With the artificial intelligence model that was developed by the company with McKinsey consultancy, data are gathered from the sensors installed around the mine. The data will suggest the company and decision-makers on the new ways they can improve the performance, like in processing mills and of their stone crushers.

The company found out that using the system, they are producing seven types of ore (rock or sediment). They also realized that their method of processing, which usually involves using big flotation tanks, can be adjusted so they can recover more amount of copper by simply adjusting its PH level.

The Cost of a Copper Production With and Without AI

The mining company shares that without artificial intelligence, their project to develop 90,000 tonnes of copper would usually cost them nearly $1.5 billion to $2 billion. It would also involve purchasing ore crushing equipment, giant shovels, and new haul trucks. As a result, the 90,000 tonnes of copper produced would be worth $500 million in the market at the current price. Using artificial intelligence, they can save more. This is why Adkerson said it has been a “remarkable success” on their part as it helped them boost production in one mine alone. How much more if they incorporate the same technology in their other mines?


Freeport-McMoRan shares that without AI, their project to develop 90,000 tonnes of copper would usually cost them nearly $1.5 billion to $2 billion. / Photo by: Nebuto via Shutterstock


Mining vs. Other Sectors

While AI’s technological maturity in the mining industry is not as high as the other sectors, it is already beginning to change the industry. This is helpful as it faces pressure to reduce its physical footprint and carbon emissions in their endeavors. In a separate study titled CO2 emissions of global metal-industries: The case of copper, authors Wilhelm Kuckshinrichs from German research center Forschungszentrum Jülich and team explain that the range of greenhouse gas emission was at an average of 2.6 t CO2-e/t Cu. The energy use in operations comes in two forms: (1) electricity for grinding, pumping water, and crushing and (2) diesel for movement of ore and rock from pits.

Freeport-McMoRan added that they have two other major initiatives aside from the use of a machine learning programme. The other initiative is their new copper development called Lone Star and the second one is a change to underground mining in its Grasberg mine located in Indonesia. The moment their change to underground mining becomes complete next year, the mine is expected to produce over 700,000 tonnes of copper yearly and it will become the world’s second-biggest mine. Considering the volume of copper mentioned, it would be sustainable for two decades or even beyond, the Freeport-McMoRan’s CEO added.

Automating Operations

Chile-based mining company Chuquicamata, also one of the biggest copper producers in the world, revealed its plan earlier this year to use AI in its mines so they can monitor the health of their equipment and ensure that their operations are running efficiently. They believe it is a way of “revitalizing” mines that are already centuries old.

IT service management company Gartner, meanwhile, shares that 37 percent of organizations in the world have already incorporated artificial intelligence in their establishments in some form or another. Compared to the data in the last four years, that would be a 270 percent increase in usage. The worldwide spending on AI systems will also reach $35.8 billion as this year's end. Such an amount is about 44 percent increase compared to the worldwide spending on AI in 2018. Gartner further pointed out how 80 percent of the emerging technologies will have artificial intelligence foundations by 2021.

Just as the demand for AI systems increases, the demand for AI talent has also doubled. But despite the demand, talent “remains short,” says capital market company MMC Ventures in its research titled "The State of AI: Divergence."