Shining Spots in Chilean Copper
March 2019
When it comes to copper produced in North and South America, Chile is the clear leader of the pack. Not only does it hold four of the top five copper mines in the world—and the only non-Asian copper smelter in the top ten, Las Ventanas—it also holds the world’s largest underground copper mine and some of the world’s largest copper resources. Copper accounts for around 60% of its exports, and it produces 25% of the world’s mined copper. It is, without a doubt, the copper country.


As the world’s largest copper mine, Escondida produces 6% of the world’s mined copper, primarily shipped to China for refining. It tops a lot of lists: it’s the only copper mine to come even close to producing 1Mtpa of copper in concentrate, and it is forecast to be able to keep up that level of production for half a century. This is largely because it sits on top of the world’s largest tonnage of contained copper, at 51Mt.

It has a theoretical production capacity of 1.2Mtpa, fed by two open-cut mine pits, three concentrator plants and two leaching plants—and as such produces both concentrate and copper cathode, which it produces at a certified 99.999% purity. It is fed by two desalination plants, producing over 250ML of water per day to keep the site’s copper concentrators running. In total, the site consumes more than 13GWh per month.

While declining ore grades may lead to a reduction of annual production over time, the site is likely to keep its position as the largest producer for the next decade.




Collahuasi is Chile’s—and the world’s—second-largest copper site, but it is a significant step down from Escondida, and its position is closely contested by the Indonesian Grasberg mine. In fact, once past the first spot, all subsequent mines in the top ten are relatively closely matched—all producing between 2% to 3.3% of the world’s copper, or between 320-550ktpa of copper in concentrate.

The mine produces slightly more than half what Escondida does: 540Mtpa. It is located in a district that has seen mining activity since 1880, though the Rosario and Ujina deposits, which the Collahuasi site is built upon, were discovered in the 1970’s and 90’s respectively. Current operations produce a copper concentrate of around 27% copper. 

While not one of the highest mines in the world—with all of the top-ten highest-altitude mines sitting between 4.7-4.9km above sea level, including the Grupo Cenizas copper mine in Chile—Collahuasi’s operations sit around 4.3km above sea level.

The site has recently applied for permits for a US$3.2bn investment in the site, however, aiming at increasing its production and reactivating a currently-dormant cathode production plant. If approved, the expansion could raise its production up to 710Mtpa, and secure its position as the second-largest copper mine in the world.



El Teniente

This mine is remarkable not only for being the world’s fourth-largest copper mine, but for being the world’s largest underground copper mine. It is also owned by Codelco, the world’s largest copper producer. The project has been operational since 1905, and now consists of over 3,000km of underground tunnels.

Sitting at an annual production of 468Mt for 2018, El Teniente is a significant copper producer, accounting for 2.8% of the world’s copper.

It is currently undergoing a large-scale US$5.4bn expansion project that, in addition to extending the mine for another 100m below its current main haulage level, will allow access to around 2bn extra tonnes of ore graded at 0.86% copper—extending the mine’s life for another 50 years and keeping it in the top-five producers. Completion was expected originally in late 2018, but delays and geological conditions have stretched completion out to at least 2021, and possibly 2023 for full production ramp-up.