Published on 23rd September 2021
BHP Group will collaborate with KoBold Metals, a billionaire-backed AI exploration startup, to explore battery minerals such as copper and nickel in Australia and other parts of the world, the firms announced on Wednesday.
The world's largest miner is expanding its portfolio of "future-facing commodities" anticipating that demand for electric vehicles and renewable energy will determine which minerals will drive earnings in the coming years.
Privately owned and operated To find raw resources, KoBold employs machine learning and artificial intelligence. Breakthrough Energy Ventures, a climate, and technology firm supported by Microsoft's (MSFT.O) Bill Gates, Bloomberg founder Michael Bloomberg, and Amazon's Jeff Bezos, is one of its main investors.
In recent years, miners have shifted their focus to using machine learning to locate subterranean deposits, which has resulted in some significant finds, such as Rio Tinto's copper project Winu.
"Globally, shallow ore deposits have largely been discovered," said Keenan Jennings, vice-president of BHP Metals Exploration. "Remaining resources are likely deeper underground and harder to see from the surface."
"To find the next generation of essential minerals, we need new approaches," he added. "This alliance will combine historical data, artificial intelligence, and geoscience expertise to uncover what has previously been hidden."
According to KoBold CEO Kurt House, the alliance will cover an area of more than 500,000 sq km (193,000 sq miles) in Western Australia.
"Exploration success rates have been declining over the last couple of decades ... because the easy things have been found," House added.
He expects discovery zones to be found at depths ranging from 200 to 1,500 meters in the next 20 years.
"That’s the area that is very poorly explored (and) is likely to host a tremendous number of ore bodies."
KoBold is exploring for copper, cobalt, nickel, and lithium in roughly 20 places, including Sub-Saharan Africa, North America, and Australia, according to House.
Australia offers some of the best mapping data for potential minerals in the world, as well as a stable regulatory environment, according to House.
KoBold, on the other hand, said it is keeping a careful eye on the progress of a bill in Western Australia to protect Aboriginal history. Indigenous groups have objected to a draft of the bill because it denies them final control over the safeguarding of their sacred places, posing a governance problem for miners and investors.
In the next 12 months, KoBold plans to open an office in Australia and is searching for more exploratory partners.
"Inside the area of interest we are exclusive for BHP, but outside we are open for business."