Researchers from Melbourne's Monash University have undertaken an analysis of worldwide copper resources to date.
The database, published in two peer-reviewed papers and compiled by environmental engineering researchers Dr Gavin Mudd and Dr Zhehan Weng and geosciences researcher Dr Simon Jowitt, was based on mineral resource estimates from mining companies.
Contrary to predictions estimating that supplies of copper would run out in about 30 years, the research determined that there were instead plenty more resources within the reach of modern technology.
"Although our estimates are much larger than any previously available, they're a minimum," Jowitt said.
"In fact, figures for resources at some mining projects have already doubled or more since we completed the database."
Mudd said the large volumes of available copper, a metal used in construction and power generation, meant the environmental and social issues which could hamper progress of developments and operations would not subside.
"Workers' rights, mining impacts on cultural lands, issues of benefit sharing and the potential for environmental degradation are already affecting the viability of copper production and will increasingly come into play," he said.
The Ok Tedi mine in Papua New Guinea was something of an exception, with mining continuing despite environmental degradation, however, non-economic factors have constrained some mining operations.
Mudd pointed to the Pebble copper-gold project in Alaska, which, after more than a decade still doesn't have the necessary approvals due to the environmental and cultural concerns of nearby residents hampering progress.
"Pressingly, we need to acknowledge that with existing copper resources we're not just going to be dealing with the production of a few million tonnes of tailings from mining a century ago - we are now dealing with a few billion tonnes or tens of billions of tonnes of mine waste produced during modern mining," Mudd said.
The researchers will move to undertake detailed modelling of the life cycles and greenhouse gas impacts of potential copper production, as well as better assessment of future environmental impacts of mining.
As well as expanding the research, similar databases for other metals such as nickel, uranium and rare earths will be created.