Last week I had the pleasure of introducing you to one of the most versatile and dynamic metals on earth – copper. As I continue to write this biography, we will take a further look at its function in various sustainable energy technologies; including a brief gallop through the various sub-categories of electrical components that it powers, and where in the globe resources of this new energy metal can (and will) be found.
GLOBAL RESOURCES OF COPPER
In last week’s blog, I briefly skimmed over the world’s top producers of copper. To give us a better visual on where our currently identified copper deposits are located, we can look to the graph below.
Taken from the World Copper Factbook, which was published by the International Copper Study Group in 2018, it comes as little surprise that South America (more specifically, Chile) possesses the lion’s share of identified copper reserves. But what about the as yet unidentified copper resources?
According to the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS), a 2013 international assessment of global copper resources resulted in some interesting findings. Based upon the two most prolific types of copper (porphyry copper and sediment-hosted stratabound copper), the USGS estimated that a global total of 3,500 Mt of copper are as yet undiscovered.
The graph below, also published by the 2018 World Copper Factbook, gives us a fascinating glimpse into where our future reserves of copper will most likely come from.
EMERGING & GROWING ECONOMIES
In 2018, over 100 participants partook in theMineral Engineering Conference (MEC). Held in Poland, the prestigious European conference is described as somewhere “mineral engineering science and industry can meet and exchange ideas.” During the conference a number of papers were presented to attendees, including one titled Trends In Global Copper Mining, which the IOP conference series has published here.
Penned by authors S. Pietrzyk and B. Tora of Krakow’s AGH University of Science and Technology, the paper reported “It is expected that the technological development and the positive demographic growth only in Asia will create an additional demand for more than 30 million tons of copper by 2030.”
COPPER IN PUBLIC TRANSPORTATION & INFRASTRUCTURE
Much of this anticipated “copper boom” is due to growing demand for more sustainable energy technologies such as electric car batteries, which is being driven in great part by growing and emerging economies.
In my previous blog I spoke at length about the massive amounts of copper used in various components of wind turbines, but because of copper’s ability to conduct heat and electricity it is used in virtually every “green energy technology,” including electric car batteries.
While lithium and cobalt are major components of electric car batteries, copper is essential both to its technology but also the infrastructure needed to power a generation of these vehicles. The Copper Development Association Inc. reports that copper is used throughout EVs, as well as its charging stations and supporting infrastructure. Don’t forget that this includes public transportation vehicles such as electric buses.
Consider that in March 2019, Chilean President Sebastián Piñera announced that the country’s capital city of Santiago would add another 100 new electric buses, in effect doubling its present fleet. “The goal for 2022 is that 80 percent of the public transportation buses will be electric,” said Piñera in a public speech.
COPPER IN EV BATTERIES
Rewind to the recently published paper Trends In Global Copper Mining again, which notes that “New high-class copper ore deposits are required to meet the growing global demand for copper.”
In essence, the authors go on to say that the increase of copper ore will be informed in coming decades by electric car production, as well as power generation from renewable resources and new infrastructure in growing and emerging economies.
But just how much copper do these new technologies use?
A hybrid car consumes 40 kg of copper, which is twice the amount of a gas-powered car. Electric cars on the other hand, use 3 to 4 times that amount; approximately 90 kilos of copper or more. And demand for electric cars is only projected to rise.
Depending on your source, the estimate for the future of electric cars is anywhere from good to extraordinary. A journal presented at the 2018 MEC conference cited that “the global fleet of electric cars will increase from the present one million vehicles to around 140 million by 2035.”
To state the obvious: that’s a lot of copper.
A METAL FOR ALL SEASONS
Our power grid, transportation vehicles’, and telecommunication devices all use copper and there’s little doubt that will change in our lifetime, if ever. Copper’s just too good at what it does.
As we look to a low-carbon future, copper features profoundly in our global vision. To learn more about the history of copper, visit me again next week when I will take a brief departure from the future of copper to glance towards its past.