BHP microsoft AI deal for escondida copper mine

BHP Group – the world’s largest miner and operator of the world’s largest copper mine Escondida – has partnered with Microsoft to improve the yields at the aging copper mine using AI.

While AI has always been used across the mining value chain – right from exploration to production planning and safety – the partnership between BHP and Microsoft shows how AI is finding end uses even as many see the current rally in AI stocks as mere hype.

As for Escondida, BHP is the majority owner and operator of the vast copper deposit in Chile with Japan’s JECO Corp and Rio Tinto as minority partners.

BHP has been trying to increase the recoveries at the mine which is now aging and the partnership with Microsoft is another step in that direction.

In her prepared remarks, 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.”

Notably, not many new copper mines have been discovered over the last decade which is putting pressure on existing mines to ramp up production.

Tyler added, “We expect the next big wave in mining to come from the advanced use of digital technologies. As grades decline at existing copper mines and fewer new 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 Partners with Microsoft to Use AI for Increasing Copper Recoveries

According to Microsoft, by clubbing real-time data from Escondida with AI-based recommendations from Microsoft Azure, the concentrator operators at the mine would be able to adjust operational variables affecting ore processing and grade recovery.

John Montgomery, CVP, AI Platform at Microsoft said, “We are excited to partner with BHP on this transformative project that demonstrates the power of AI, machine learning and cloud technologies.”

BHP is among the top three copper miners globally and has operated the Escondida mine for over 30 years now. The plant produced over 1 million tons of copper in the fiscal year that ended last June – which is around 4.5% of the global copper production.

BHP estimates that the world would need double the amount of copper in the next thirty years as compared to the preceding thirty years if it has to meet the decarbonization targets.

Countries across the world are investing in green energy as they transition to a low-carbon future.

Copper Demand is Expected to Surge in the Coming Years

Copper demand is expected to soar in the next decade as the copper intensity is much higher in electric cars as compared to internal combustion engine cars, with some reports suggesting that an EV needs four times the copper as a gasoline car.

Similarly, the copper intensity of renewable energy projects is higher than that of non-renewable plants.

Along with copper, demand for commodities like lithium and cobalt has risen amid the EV pivot – leaving miners scrambling to secure supplies.

While miners and EV companies look at ways to satiate the ever-rising demand for battery metals like copper, the AI deal between Microsoft and BHP shows how AI can help the pivot towards green energy.

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