Article first published in GBR Arizona Mining 2022 Report, October 2022. Reprinted with permission.
Could you introduce our audience to Ausenco’s main areas of expertise in Arizona?
We began working in Tucson in 2019 with Hudbay’s Rosemont project. Since then, our local team has grown from one to 30. Despite the Covid-19 pandemic, we have been busy in our office and able to support other Ausenco offices worldwide, doing everything from studies to execution, including detailed engineering.
What are some examples of work Ausenco has taken on in Arizona?
Faraday Copper’s Copper Creek project is a very exciting prospect that will bring a historic mining district back into production. We are one of the consultants providing the mine-to-mill assessment. We are the technical lead for the optimization of the processing plan, impoundment facilities and associated infrastructure design, including economic modelling and the metallurgical review. We are also helping Hudbay on the PFS for their Copper World project.
It’s always exciting to be involved early in a project as this is where we can add the most value by effecting our principles of fit-for-purpose design during the preliminary studies and then take the project to execution. That is what we did at the Las Chispas project in Mexico - we took it from a feasibility study to an EPC contract with price, schedule and performance certainty. The project was commissioned ahead of schedule in May 2022.
How does Ausenco leverage new technologies within the copper space?
We have an entire team at Ausenco that focuses on emerging technologies, particularly maximizing the return on investment and minimizing energy usage in the case of declining ore grades. We are also looking at alternate technologies to refine copper concentrates. Historically, these have been smelted, but smelter capacity is limited in the southwest. There is a drive to look at alternative technologies such as concentrate leaching. A couple of our clients are exploring this technology to produce finished copper without ever transporting their concentrate to a smelter – this is critical from an environmental standpoint.
What is your outlook on copper fundamentals and the role Arizona can play in future copper production?
We are moving towards electrification and green energy but I’m not sure everyone has thought about where the metals necessary for this transition, like copper, are going to come from. Our infrastructure must grow exponentially to support what’s needed in electric cars. The demand for copper will continue to be strong, and Arizona will be a key part in this solution.
Other metals that support the green conversion, include lithium, cobalt and nickel. For these projects to advance we will likely need to see more funding and permitting reform at the federal level.
Given your company’s global perspective, how would you compare Arizona to other mining jurisdictions?
The Western US is an exciting place for mining right now. Arizona is at the forefront of mining activity, the largest copper producer in the US, and currently one of the best places to operate a mine. We see opportunities from junior minors, but also from operating mining companies that need consultants like us. It is a great place for the up-and-coming miners.
How does Ausenco comply with increasingly demanding ESG standards, and what are the steps needed to reinforce gender parity in the mining industry?
ESG is just a new name for doing the right thing – something we’ve always done. At Ausenco, a huge part of our business is sustainability – through our dedicated Sustainability practice, but also in the way we do all our projects. We have historically done excellent ESG work in Canada and South America and have recently committed to growing our efforts in Arizona by hiring someone dedicated to supervising our ESG practices. This will allow us to focus on remediation, mine closure and tailings. Water management is also an important component of our work in Arizona.
Tucson is a great example of what’s possible when we focus on diversity and inclusion. Half of our staff are English-Spanish bilingual and almost half are women. By this time next year, we look to double our headcount, and we anticipate many of our new hires will be women. We are very proud to have such a diverse team and are keen to do more.
Questions? Please contact Jim Norine.