March 4, 2024

California-based KoBold Metals announced Monday (Feb. 5) that it has found an expansive copper deposit in Zambia. Backed by a group of billionaires including Bill Gates and Jeff Bezos, the mining startup uses artificial intelligence to discover critical minerals needed for the energy transition. The company told Quartz that the site will be “one of the world’s biggest, high-grade large copper mines.”

In a statement posted on X, KoBold Metals president Josh Goldman compared the deposit in size and grade to the Republic Democratic of Congo’s Kamoa-Kakula copper mine.

Canada’s Ivanhoe Mines, which own about 40% of the Kamoa-Kakula mine, said it produced nearly 400,000 tons of copper in 2023 and is now fourth largest copper resource in the world.

KoBold Metals is backed by Breakthrough Energy Ventures, a climate and technology fund founded by Bill Gates in 2015. Other backers of Breakthrough include Bezos, Bridgewater Associates executive Ray Dalio, and Virgin Group founder Richard Branson.

The startup had previously planned to build a copper mine in Zambia within the next decade. On the heels of the deposit discovery, though, it is now fast-tracking those plans. KoBold Metals executives told Reuters that the new mine could cost up $2 billion; the startup is open to new partnerships and is considering going public within a few years. Construction on the mine, the company added, may start as early as 2027.

AI for critical mineral exploration

KoBold Metals gathers data, including satellite imagery and drilling results, and then uses AI to build out maps of the Earth’s crust to search for potential deposits of copper, cobalt, nickel, and lithium. It’s these minerals that are used to build renewable energy infrastructure like windmills and solar panels, along with electric vehicles.

Meanwhile, current deposits are in short supply. The International Energy Agency has said that our access to these minerals—and the investments needed to obtain more—“fall short of what is needed to transform the energy sector.”

In 2022, the mining consulting analytics firm CRU estimated that the copper industry would need to invest $100 billion on new mines to meet an annual supply deficit of 4.7 million tons by 2030.

KoBold Metal spends about $60 million every year to explore 60 different sites on three continents. It has invested $200 million in Zambia, according to Jito Kayumba, a special assistant to the nation’s president.

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