Freeport Project Selected to Receive $80 Million from U.S. Department of Energy

The team who helped craft Freeport’s proposal to the Department of Energy pose for a photo while in Washington D.C. to discuss the project.

March 22, 2024 - Freeport-McMoRan has been selected to receive $80 million through a cooperative agreement with the U.S. Department of Energy for a project to use geothermal energy to heat leaching stockpiles in Morenci and Safford and integrate battery energy storage and microgrid operations to improve electrical reliability in Morenci.

By using geothermal energy, the project aims to generate clean, industrial-scale heat to enable the recovery over time of billions of pounds of residual copper through the company’s Leach to the Last Drop initiative from already mined material previously considered unrecoverable. The project could increase copper recovery by 25 million pounds or more annually, depending on the geothermal resources.

The microgrid and battery elements represent about half of the cost and only will be at the Morenci mine. They will add reliability to the electrical distribution system in Morenci, Clifton and potentially the regional grid, and provide battery storage for back-up during power outages.

The total cost of the project, including the geothermal and power grid elements is approximately $175 million, including the DOE contribution. The work is scheduled to take about five to seven years to complete.

Kathleen Quirk, President of Freeport-McMoRan, said the partnership with DOE will advance the company’s innovative work to boost copper production from existing stockpiles.

“Now, we are bringing to this project a clean energy element to facilitate extraction of copper that was previously thought to be unrecoverable,” said Quirk in a conference call with reporters and other grant recipients. “So, we are finding new sources of copper that can be cleaner than what we’ve produced in the past in a way that’s beneficial to the entire community and beneficial to what we’re trying to do as a company – to bring more copper into the U.S. market to help facilitate the clean energy future.”

The geothermal project will enhance Freeport’s Leach to the Last Drop efforts by providing a clean source of energy to add heat to the stockpiles. Leaching at higher temperatures is a demonstrated way of improving copper recovery.

When combined with the microgrid technology and battery energy storage, the project will decrease the mines’ reliance on onsite backup generators, reduce its greenhouse gas emissions and improve the resilience of the local communities in Morenci and Clifton.

“This DOE partnership allows us to continue to build on this success, utilizing clean geothermal heat to drive further increased recovery of copper in alignment with our commitment to responsible production,” said Cory Stevens, President, Freeport-McMoRan Mining Services.

Twenty percent of the award scoring was based on the company’s Community Benefits Plan, which includes creating 121 construction and 12 full-time jobs at the operations. In addition, the company will continue strengthening its partnerships with high schools, technical and community colleges and universities to help students access skills to help them participate in this project and other economic benefit opportunities. The company also will continue to provide 300 annual scholarships for Native Americans to help ensure access to clean energy and other quality jobs that may be indirectly spurred by this project. The company also plans to increase investments in multiple new climate resilience projects.

The cooperative agreement is one of five projects selected to receive up to $475 million in total DOE funding to accelerate clean energy deployment on current and former mine land. Others selected are in Pennsylvania, West Virginia, Kentucky and Nevada. The money is part of the bipartisan infrastructure law that passed in 2021.

“These projects will advance energy and environmental justice and help ensure the benefits of the clean energy transition flow directly to impacted communities,” said U.S. Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm. She added they will help meet the Biden administration’s ambitious clean energy and climate goals and accelerate clean energy solutions that are critical to reducing pollution and creating healthier communities.

The team who helped craft Freeport’s proposal to the Department of Energy pose for a photo while in Washington D.C. to discuss the project.

Photo(above): The team who helped craft Freeport’s proposal to the Department of Energy pose for a photo while in Washington D.C. to discuss the project.