OPINION: Copper critical to accelerating South Australia’s economic growth

BHP’s new ‘Copper Province’ strategy heralds in a new era of opportunity for South Australia.

With its $9.6 billion acquisition of OZ Minerals in 2023, BHP has made a significant investment in our State and for one very simple reason. The world needs copper and SA just happens to have significant copper reserves, representing 70% of Australia’s copper resources.

Global demand for copper has increased substantially in recent years, driven by the race to Net Zero and the transition to electrification. Electric cars require around 60kg of copper, three or four times as much as conventional cars, while a battery-powered bus requires close to 370kg of the highly sought after mineral.

Copper is also a critical component of many clean energy technologies including solar panels and wind turbines. It’s no surprise then that global annual copper demand is expected to reach 36.6 million tonnes by 2031, up from the current demand of around 25 million tonnes.

To help meet this demand, BHP is embarking on a substantial reimagining of its South Australian footprint, bringing together the operations of Olympic Dam, Carrapateena and Prominent Hill mines, and the Oak Dam project.

This new copper province has the potential to unlock long-term value and create synergies across BHP’s South Australian operations that will boost productivity, have flow-on impacts for local business and communities, and put SA on the global copper map.

At the heart of BHP’s plans is a proposed scale up of its domestic processing and smelting capabilities, which could boost copper production in SA to more than 500,000 tonnes per year. Put simply, if developed, it would enable more of SA’s high quality copper supply to be brought to global markets, more quickly.

This has the potential to create new jobs, drive new skills and generate enormous local business and supply-chain opportunities for the State, from the Gawler Craton all the way to the Adelaide CBD.

The realisation of this potential will require close and extensive collaboration and partnerships across industry, government, and community. As a State, we should be paying just as much attention to copper, and our resources sector in general, as we are to other high value sectors such as defence and construction.

The State Government’s Copper Taskforce and the progression of a business case for the proposed Northern Water Supply Project is a positive indication of SA’s copper capability. Government investment in a new desalination plant and a 600km pipeline to supply water for the Far North, Upper Spencer Gulf and Eastern Eyre Peninsula regions is critical to unlocking further economic potential in emerging green energy and hydrogen industries.

There are many decisions that still need to be made and it will be essential for BHP and government to continue to work closely every step of the way. Industry and academia will also have an important role to play in building skills, workforce, technology, infrastructure, and local supplies.

Collectively, we need to unlock the economic complexity and investment potential of South Australia by fostering innovation, strengthening local supply-chain capability, and boosting productivity.

BHP’s Copper Province Strategy is an example of just that, and if realised, will drive long-term and sustainable economic growth and prosperity for all South Australians to enjoy.

Sam Dighton, Chief Executive Officer, Committee for Adelaide

Image courtesy of BHP: Olympic Dam smelter operations.

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