WSJ News Exclusive | Copper Boom Has BHP, Freeport Picking Through Waste

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An obscure mining business part-owned by members of the Pritzker and Walton families is getting some new heavyweight investors: BHP Group Ltd. BHP -0.07% and Freeport-McMoRan Inc., FCX -1.97% two of the world’s biggest miners.

The investment in Jetti Resources LLC, which extracts copper out of mine waste, comes amid growing interest and rallying prices for the metal used in construction and manufacturing, as well as to conduct electricity. Demand for copper is expected to outstrip supply in the coming years, with more of the metal needed as the world transitions to a lower-carbon economy.

Jetti said that BHP, Freeport and Japan’s Mitsubishi Corp. 8058 -0.10% were among a group that had agreed to invest a total of $50 million in the company to help fund the rollout of the business. It didn’t disclose the value of the company, or the size of its new investors’ holdings.

Jetti’s current owners include DNS Capital, the family office of Gigi Pritzker, a movie producer who is one of the heirs of the family behind the Hyatt hotel chain. Ben Walton, whose family founded Walmart Inc., also owns a stake. Both will remain investors.

Laura Tyler, BHP’s chief technical officer, said in a statement that the miner expected global copper demand to double over the next 30 years as more of the metal is used to support renewable technologies and decarbonization goals.

Boulder, Colo.-based Jetti uses a type of leaching technology, whereby chemicals help separate ore from its surrounding earth, to extract copper that would otherwise be too difficult to get out using conventional methods.

Miners typically abandon earth they have dug out where the ore is perceived to be of too low a grade to make it worthwhile to extract.

Copper treated through Jetti’s leaching technique at the Pinto Valley mine in Arizona.

Photo: Jetti Resources

Jetti says that this so-called lost copper could ease a looming shortage of the metal.

“There is a shortfall of copper in the future. We are able to help fill that up… by being able to process the massive amount of wasted material that the industry has in its mines,” said Mike Outwin, Jetti’s chief executive.

While a mine can take 10 years to develop, Mr. Outwin said his method can produce copper more quickly because it is working on stockpiles of earth that have already been built up.

Jetti says it has a pipeline of 23 projects at various stages with one already producing copper through this process in Pinto Valley, Ariz.

Big miners like BHP, the world’s largest, and Arizona-based copper giant Freeport typically have huge piles of waste that came from extracting copper.

Jetti estimates there are around 234 million metric tons of this so-called contained copper, which could be processed between now and 2050. It says that material would be worth about $2.4 trillion at current market prices.

Recycling mine waste from old mines to get new resources isn’t new. The gold-mining industry has been doing it for years, while the U.S. government is financing research into how rare earths, key minerals in various technology products, can be extracted from coal ash and waste.

A copper and gold mine operated by a subsidiary of Freeport-McMoRan near Timika, Indonesia.

Photo: antara photo agency/Reuters

Jetti says its technology makes extracting copper from mine waste commercially viable for the first time.

Copper prices have almost doubled over the past 12 months to a record of $10,762 a metric ton last month, buoyed as the global economy bounces back from Covid-19, governments increase spending on infrastructure and supply stutters for some resources.

Potential shortages of copper are seen as particularly acute and a possible problem for some green technologies, like electric vehicles and energy storage, that use the metal.

The total demand for copper is forecast to increase 40% by 2030—with so-called green demand jumping as much as 900%—according to Goldman Sachs, leaving a supply shortfall of 8.2 million metric tons. Even as copper prices have rallied over the past 12 months, no material new mines have been approved, it added.

Write to Alistair MacDonald at

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