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BHP strikes exploration deal with Jeff Bezos-backed data startup

To deploy its artificial intelligence technology to look for metals like cobalt, nickel and copper, which are used in electrical vehicle chargers and batteries.
Image: Ian Waldie/Bloomberg

BHP Group is joining forces to explore for metals crucial to the energy transition with a startup backed by a group of tycoons including Jeff Bezos and Bill Gates.

The world’s biggest miner has entered an alliance with Silicon Valley-based KoBold Metals Co. to deploy its artificial intelligence technology to look for metals like cobalt, nickel and copper, which are used in electrical vehicle chargers and batteries. The two companies will jointly fund and operate exploration programs — initially in Western Australia — and will each have the right to share in any identified prospects.

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KoBold has used data-crunching algorithms to build what’s been described as a Google Maps for the Earth’s crust. The technology can locate resources that may have eluded more traditionally-minded geologists, and helps miners to decide where to acquire land and drill, the company said.

The tie-up offers an opportunity to access exploration databases built up by BHP over many years, Kurt House, KoBold’s chief executive officer, said in an interview. “In Western Australia, there’s extensive information. A lot of this data is dark data – it hasn’t been used more than once.”

Shareholders of KoBold Metals also include Silicon Valley venture capital firm Andreessen Horowitz, Norwegian oil major Equinor ASA and Breakthrough Energy Ventures, a fund backed by a dozen high-profile investors including Bezos, Gates and Ray Dalio, as well as Michael Bloomberg, founder and majority owner of Bloomberg LP, the parent company of Bloomberg News.

“Globally, shallow ore deposits have largely been discovered, and remaining resources are likely deeper underground and harder to see from the surface,” Keenan Jennings, vice president at BHP Metals Exploration, said in a statement. “This alliance will combine historical data, artificial intelligence, and geoscience expertise to uncover what has previously been hidden.”

KoBold now has about a dozen exploration properties around the world that have resulted from joint ventures and tie-ups like the one with BHP, House said. “BHP engaged us, and we had many detailed discussions about KoBold’s technology,” he said. “Our approach is very different, and as such, various partners are keen to have ringside seats to see it deployed.”

© 2021 Bloomberg

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