The company, presently the only copper producer in South Africa, recycles previously dumped mining waste through overground processing at the decommissioned Okiep Copper Mine, now the site plant in Nababeep, Northern Cape. At the core of its mission, a restorative environmental cleanup that will return the area to its pre-exploitation state upon exhaustion of the waste stockpile.
Chief Executive Jan Nelson said: “Our philosophy centers around mutualistic symbiosis, an operation to benefit all stakeholders, environmentally, commercially and for the local community.” Nelson added that copper becomes the catalyst in this instance for financial, social and environmental gains that will create a better life for all in the near and long-term. “It manifests the principles of a circular economy and answers the call of the United Nations Development Goals of People, Planet and Profit.”
Copper is also a key metal and driver of the green economy. Nelson said: “While the metal has played a crucial role in the old energy economy, it will play an even more important role in the green economy. Whether used to transmit energy from solar or wind-powered electricity generating sources or as a component in energy storage systems like batteries, there is no doubt that copper is one of the most critical elements in the development and use of renewable energies.” Electric vehicles contain on average 85kg of copper in each unit.
Copper is mooted the metal of the future with demand side expected to grow by 600% (Goldman Sachs, 2021) by 2030 while production is set to drop to 12 million tons from current levels of around 20 million tons due to resource exhaustion and presently no new mining activities planned. Said Nelson: “We expect prices to continue rising concomitant to growing scarcity while demand growth will sustain its upward trajectory,”
Big Tree Copper intends to list before the end of 2022. Initially, the company endeavoured to list in 2021 but it was delayed due to a focus on its production capability. Big Tree Copper produced its first copper plate in October 2020. It plans to produce 474 (in excess of 5000 tons annually) tons of copper every month within 3 years, building on its current base of 90 tons per month.
The commercial success of Big Tree Copper will fund several community driven projects, too. Unemployment in Nababeep stands at 70% of the local population. And Nelson is passionate about turning this around. He said: “Our medium to long-term goal is to engage the community in programmes that not only develop useful skills, but to encourage the development and blossoming of local business and injecting energy into the local economy.” This, Nelson said is at the top of Big Tree’s agenda along with its ongoing restoration of the environment. The company’s ambition is to leave no trace of prior mining or its own activities over time.