Bill Gates-backed firm uses AI to find copper riches in Zambia

Bill Gates. Image: Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation

KoBold Metals, a Bill Gates-backed mining start-up that uses artificial intelligence to explore for materials key to the green-energy transition, said it’s discovered a huge copper deposit in Zambia.

Mingomba is shaping up to be “extraordinary”, according to KoBold president Josh Goldman. He compares its potential to that of the Kakula mine, developed by Ivanhoe Mines and China’s Zijin Mining Group just across the border in the Democratic Republic of Congo. That mine produced almost 400 000t of copper last year.

“The story with Mingomba is that it’s like Kakula in both the size and the grade,” Goldman said in an interview before the mining Indaba conference in Cape Town. “It’s going to be one of the highest-grade, large underground mines.”

San Francisco Bay Area-based KoBold has been drilling at its Zambian permit for a little over a year. While the company is targeting its first output early next decade, it still needs to publish an updated resource estimate and complete feasibility studies that will inform the decision on whether to build a facility that Goldman estimates could cost US$2-billion.

KoBold’s shareholders include Breakthrough Energy Ventures – backed by Gates, Jeff Bezos and other billionaires – as well as T Rowe Price Group, Bond Capital, Andreesen Horowitz and Equinor.

Focused on projected long-term shortages of materials like cobalt, nickel and lithium, KoBold isn’t worrying about the low prices currently wreaking havoc with some battery metal projects around the world.

Most advanced

“We capitalise the company to be able to make long-term investments,” Goldman said. “We care enormously what the price of these commodities is in 2035 and we don’t care what it is in 2024.”

Mingomba is the most advanced project in KoBold’s portfolio, but the company is also exploring more than 60 other areas, with much of that activity centered on Australia, Canada and the US. The firm announced in December it had discovered several prospective lithium deposits in locations including Namibia, Quebec and Nevada.

Read: CSIR receives R88-million in funding from Gates Foundation

KoBold spent close to $100-million on exploration last year and expects to exceed that figure in 2024 – allocations on the “same scale as the majors” like BHP Group and Rio Tinto, according to Goldman.

Mingomba could help the government of Zambia, Africa’s second biggest copper producer, reverse years of decline and further its goal of tripling output within a decade.  — William Clowes, (c) 2024 Bloomberg LP

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