Copper in the Intermountain West

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Copper in the Intermountain West

For people living in the Salt Lake Valley, the Bingham Canyon Copper Mine is a familiar part of their landscape. Now known as Rio Tinto Kennecott, the open pit mine is reportedly the largest manmade excavation on earth, and can even be spotted from space. An obvious landmark, the mine is also productive. Last year alone, it generated almost 160,000 tons of copper, along with considerable amounts of the important byproducts silver, gold, and molybdenum.

 Rio Tinto Kennecott is surrounded by over one million people who rely on its primary product. Copper is an extremely efficient conductor of heat and electricity, and this, combined with its ability to be shaped into wires or hammered into thin sheets, makes it an indispensable component of our electronics and electrical systems. Our modern lifestyle absolutely depends upon copper.

 While Utah plays a big role in the nation’s copper production, it is second to its neighbor to the south. Arizona supplies about 75% of our country’s copper, and the state’s flag sports a copper-colored star to indicate its number one status as a producer of the mineral. New Mexico, Nevada, and Montana complete the top 5 copper producers in the nation, cementing the importance of the Intermountain West to the industry.  

 There are signs that copper production in these states is more important than ever. As governments and businesses seek to lower their CO2 emissions by moving towards renewable energy sources, they’re favoring clean energy technologies that use copper as a fundamental component. A 2021 report from the International Energy Agency ranks copper “high” as a critical mineral need for solar, wind, bioenergy, electricity networks, electric vehicles, and battery storage.

 Mining industries are working to meet this increased demand. In September, Rio Tinto Kennecott announced that it is starting underground mining and expanding its copper production by 30,000 tons over the next five years. As Nate Foster, the mine’s Interim Managing Director, noted, that amount of copper is enough to provide electricity to 1.2 million U.S. homes. In acknowledgement of the clean energy technologies that are spurring increased production, Rio Tinto Kennecott is trying out all-electric mining vehicles in the underground mine, with the explicit goal of reducing carbon emissions.

 Foster also pointed out that almost all of Rio Tinto Kennecott’s copper production remains within North America. Reliable, domestic sources of the mineral, such as those found in the Intermountain West, are critical to ensuring that the U.S. reaches its economic and renewable energy goals.

 Industrial Supply is proud to serve the Intermountain West’s mining industries. With eight locations in Utah, Nevada, Wyoming, and a current expansion into Arizona, we look forward to supporting the copper industry.

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