BHP Billiton Ltd. [BHP-NYSE, BHPLF-OTCPK] said Tuesday it is using artificial intelligence and machine learning in a new collaboration with Microsoft Corp. [MSFT-NASDAQ]. The aim is to improve copper recoveries at the Escondida mine in Chile, which ranks as the world’s largest copper mine.
BHP Chief Technical Officer Laura Tyler said that by augmenting new digital technology capabilities with new ways of working, the team at Escondida is well positioned to generate more value from an existing resource.
“We expect the next big wave in mining to come from the advanced use of digital technologies,’’ she said. “As grades decline at existing copper mines and fewer economic discoveries are made, next generation technologies like artificial intelligence, machine learning and data analytics will need to be used to unlock more production and value from our existing mines.”
BHP estimates that the world needs to double the amount of copper produced in the next 30 years to keep pace with the development of decarbonization technology such as electric vehicles, offshore wind and solar farms.
Finding and building new mines is costly, difficult and can take upwards of a decade. So miners are looking to the next generation technologies to reap more metal out of existing mines and processes.
“We are excited to partner with BHP on this transformative project that demonstrates the power of AI, machine learning and cloud technologies,’’ said John Montgomery, CVP, AI Platform at Microsoft.
“By using real-time plant data from the concentrators in combination with AI-based recommendations from Microsoft’s Azure platform, the concentrator operations at Escondida will have the ability to adjust operational variables that affect ore processing and grade recovery.’’
BHP is a top three global producer of copper and has the largest copper endowment of any company globally. BHP has operated Econdida, an open pit mine located in the Atacama Desert in the Antofagasta Region of northern Chile, for over 30 years.
Meanwhile, published reports say the price of copper has dipped amid fresh signs that China’s disappointing economic recovery hit demand amid increasing hope that US Congress will pass a debt-accord agreement to head off a default.
Copper was trading at US$3.66 a pound on Tuesday, down from US$4.16 a pound in early March, 2023.
BHP has operations in more than 60 locations, including throughout Australia, Chile, the U.S. and Canada. The Canadian operations include the Jansen Potash project, located approximately 140 kilometres east of Saskatoon, Sask. The company has announced a US$5.7 billion investment in the Jansen Stage 1 project, of which BHP owns 100%. Once Stage 1 is complete, Jansen is expected to produce approximately 4.35 million tonnes of potash annually.
Approximately 3,500 jobs will be created at peak construction, the company has said.