05/15/2019

Energy Metals 101, Copper – The New Energy Metal With a Big Future, Part I

Humans may have discovered copper thousands of years ago, but it has hardly gone out of fashion. To the contrary; copper’s ability to conduct heat and electricity has only fueled an increasing demand for the metal in our modern world. And judging by what the economists are saying, it’s going to continue on this trajectory for some time to come. 

Whether you’re a curious investor or a curious cat, if you’re interested in learning more about the new energy metal with a big future, this blog is as good a place to start as any.

COPPER – WHERE FOR ART THOU?

Copper occurs naturally in the Earth’s crust where you can find it wearing a number of different hats. These include sulfide, carbonate and silicate. In addition, copper is one of the few metals that can be used in its pure form; which probably explains why humans have been using it for so long.

Chile is the world’s top producer of copper, with a significant lead over every other country. After Chile, the top copper producing countries are Peru, China, the United States, the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), Australia, Russia and Zambia. 

To give you an idea of just how much copper the top countries produce, it might be helpful to look at some numbers.

Copper Production by Country for 2018.*

Chile– 5.83 million metric tonnes.

Peru– 2.45 million metric tonnes.

China– 1.6 million metric tonnes.

US– 1.2 million metric tonnes.

One metric ton is equal to 1,000 kilograms or 2,205 pounds. 

By way of a more interesting example, let’s convert the mass of copper Chile produces annually to, say, polar bears. According to Live Science, the largest male polar bear ever recorded weighed a whopping metric ton. Multiply that bear by 5.83 million and, well…you see where I’m going with this.

That’s a lot of copper.

COPPER’S MOST ATTRACTIVE QUALITIES

Copper in its natural state is quite soft, making it a highly flexible metal. This is an attractive feature as it means that the metal can be easily formed, shaped or otherwise manipulated to serve a wide variety of purposes. 

Copper is anti-corrosive, which makes it the ideal building material for things like tubing, plumbing and piping. The Romans figured this out early on and used the material extensively for their aqueducts.

Copper is an excellent conductor of heat and electricity. This makes the metal perfect for everything from telecommunications and electronics to transportation and aviation.

Copper is antimicrobial. You will see the metal used often in hospitals, health-care clinics and high traffic areas to help stop the spread of germs; including the airport in Santiago, Chile!

COPPER AS AN ENERGY METAL

While its applications are virtually infinite, we have taken to calling copper an energy metal because it is a critical component in a number of sustainable energy technologies. This includes electric car batteries, solar panels and wind turbines.

Let’s consider the quantities of copper that are necessary to build some of our more familiar structures.

WIND TURBINES

UK based Wood Mackenzie reportsthat a typical wind turbine contains approximately 3.6 tonnes of copper per megawatt. Having a hard time trying to picture what that looks like? Let’s break it down further.

According to a research report published in 2018 by senior research analysts at Navigant Research(North American Wind Energy Copper Content Analysis), “Of the just over 7 GW installed in the US in 2017, the average wind turbine size was 2.37 MW.” 

At 2.37 MW, that means the average wind turbine has somewhere in the neighbourhood of 8.5 tonnes of copper.

I should mention that these numbers reflect onshore wind turbines, where current sizes in the US are 2.0 MW, 2.1 MW, 3.0 MW and 3.6 MW, while the average Canadian turbine in 2017 was around 3.08 MW. Offshore wind turbines are often much larger. 

Copper is used throughout wind farms in significant quantities for cabling as well as a number of other components. As evidenced by a graph generously shared by Navigant Research below, it’s easy to see copper usage by application.

COPPER WHOPPER

My own fascination with (and appreciation for) copper began as a child growing up in one of Chile’s most famous mining districts, and it has only grown over the course of my career in mineral exploration. I hope that this blog has whet your appetite to learn more about this incredible and versatile metal and its place in the new energy metal revolution.

Join me again next week when I will continue to riff on the wunderkind of new energy metals, and hopefully entertain you a bit in the process.

New Energy Metals’ Recommended Resources:

For those interested in learning more, here is a brief playbill of some of our favourite resources.

The World Copper Factbook

Prepared by the International Copper Study Group (ICSG), this 58 page report covers everything you ever wanted to know about this versatile metal. From copper resources and production to trade, usage and recycling, The World Copper Factbook is a comprehensive source of information for newcomer and seasoned copper investor alike.

International Copper Study Group

As defined on their website, the ICSG is “an intergovernmental organization of copper producing and using countries that serves to increase copper market transparency and promote international discussions and cooperation on issues related to copper. 

*Statistics from different sources.

Cesar Lopez

Cesar Lopez
President & CEO