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One-fifth of global copper smelter capacity inactive in May 2024

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13 June 2024 – London – Latest data from Earth-i‘s SAVANT real-time Global Copper Monitoring Index shows that an average of 20.8% of global copper smelter capacity (covering 90% of the total) was inactive in May 2024, compared with 17.4% and 16.2% recorded in May 2023 and 2022 respectively.

SAVANT Global Inactive Capacity Index – 1 April 2022 – 31 May 2024

Global inactivity reached 25.4% on 8th May, with a higher level of 26.6% registered that day at smelters outside China. By the end of the month global inactivity sat at 20% with seasonal maintenance closures remaining a key feature.

SAVANT Inactive Capacity Index – Global (Excl. China)1 April 2022 – 31 May 2024

In China, three smelters that were closed for maintenance at the end of April – Qinghai, Hongsheng and Sanmenxia – have since resumed…

SAVANT Smelter Activity – Individual Sites – June 2022 – May 2024

Yellow = Active / Blue = Inactive / Grey = No reading

…while the Xingguang Copper (400,000 tonnes per year (tpy)), Shandong Fangyuan (400,000 tpy) and Hunchun (150,000 tpy) facilities now appear shut. Elsewhere, the 120,000 tpy Chinese-owned Lualaba smelter in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) also looks to be in a maintenance phase.

SAVANT Smelter Activity – Individual Sites – (June 2022 – May 2024)

Yellow = Active / Blue = Inactive / Grey = No reading

In a time of heightened concerns about limited supply growth and burgeoning demand from the energy transition, updates surrounding copper smelter activity have taken on more significance, even though for now refined output in China remains close to record highs helped by increased scrap processing.

SAVANT Inactivity Monitor – Global (excl. China) v China – May 2024

Sources recently told Reuters that Grupo Mexico-controlled Asarco plans to restart its idled 136,000 tpy Hayden copper smelter in the United States, along with the firm’s neighbouring mines and its Amarillo refinery.  Were various obstacles overcome, such a move would help the country reduce its reliance on imported material. This is crucial at a time when nations are striving for greater self-sufficiency in essential materials.  Earth-i will monitor the site closely for future signs of activity.

SAVANT Smelter Activity – Individual Sites – June 2016 – May 2024

Yellow = Active / Blue = Inactive / Grey = No reading

Interesting also to note reports from some sources late last year that the La Oroya polymetallic smelter in Peru had resumed. The plant, a small producer of copper, had been closed for more than a decade, having long been plagued by financial and environmental difficulties. Earth-i checks do not observe hotspot activity at the site and currently assume the restart does not extend to smelting activity.

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Earth-i’s SAVANT platform monitors up to 90% of the smelting capacity for copper, nickel and steel around the globe and provides indicators of smelter activities around the globe, in an easy-to-understand format, covering multiple metals and minerals.

The Inactive Capacity Index is derived from binary observations of a smelter’s operational status as being either active or inactive. The capacity weighted global and regional indices show the percentage of smelter capacity that is inactive, with readings displayed in the chart below as a weekly rolling average.  A reading of zero would indicate 100% smelting capacity.

Data is collected and analysed using advanced algorithms derived from Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning techniques. Data is taken from several different Earth Observation satellites and our global and regional indices are updated daily to give consistent, insightful and dependable results.

Two types of indices are provided: smelter activity levels and periods of shutdown or inactivity. With daily monitoring capability, SAVANT provides data on a near real-time basis for up to 95% of global smelting capacity, including China, about individual smelters, regions, countries and companies.

Activity is scientifically measured using a consistent methodology. Over eight years of historical data is available.

About Earth-i:

Earth-i is a geospatial intelligence company using machine learning, artificial intelligence and Earth Observation data to provide unique and relevant insights, derived from diverse geospatial data, that deliver clear decision advantage for businesses, governments and other organisations.

Earth-i provides advanced analytics using automated interpretation of a range of geospatial Earth Observation data sources including colour imagery, colour video, infra-red and radar from a range of sources including satellite, drone, aerial and ground-based sensors. This data is fused with additional data sources to extract factual understanding and generate predictive insights across a range of markets such as commodities, supply chain, agriculture, infrastructure and defence.

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