The structure of Europe’s copper industry
The front end of Europe’s copper industry comprises three sectors: miners, producers and semi-fabricators. It is made up of around 500 companies, has an estimated turnover of about €45 billion and employs around 50,000 people.
In addition, ‘downstream’ sectors based on the added value achieved through the use of copper products (e.g. energy utilities, electricians, automotive companies, electronic equipment manufacturers, plumbers and roofers) employ several million people and represent a substantial part of the EU’s industrial base.
Miners extract naturally occurring ores and convert them into concentrates, made up of roughly one third copper, one third sulphur and one third iron silicate.
In 2016, around 916 kilotonnes of copper were mined within the EU, accounting for 4.6% of the world’s total production (source: ICSG). The EU’s main copper mines are in Finland, Poland, Portugal, Spain and Sweden. On a global scale, Chile was the largest mining country, with a 32% share, followed by China (8%), Peru (8%), USA (7%) and Australia (6%).
Copper mining also provides many valuable by-products that can be used in advanced material applications. For example, it is responsible for the production of almost 500,000 tonnes of cobalt, molybdenum, rhenium, selenium, tellurium and rare earth elements, in addition to volumes of silver, tungsten, gold, lead and zinc.
Producers—referred to as smelters and refiners—convert concentrates, imported intermediate materials and end of life scrap into copper metal. This process also generates important quantities of many other valuable metals, including gold and silver.
In 2016, the EU28’s refined copper production was around 2.6 million tonnes, representing around 12% of worldwide production (source: ICSG). The main production sites are in Germany, Poland, Spain, Sweden, Finland, Belgium and Bulgaria.
Semi-fabricators convert the metal produced by smelters and refiners and convert it—along with clean scrap—into products, such as wire-rod, tubes, sheet and strip, for use further down the value chain.
The 2016 production of semi-fabricated copper and copper alloy products was 4.4 million tonnes (source: ICSG) which is around 20% of worldwide production. The range of semi-fabricated products consists primarily of rods, profiles, wires, tubes, sheet and strip.
Where is copper used?
Copper applications are diverse, covering sectors such as electrical engineering, automobiles, construction, machinery, shipbuilding, aircraft, precision instruments, watches and clocks. Copper is a key material for innovation in areas such as renewable energy supplies, energy efficiency, sustainable buildings and transport systems.
Breakdown of copper usage
The future of Europe’s copper industry
The demand for copper has doubled in the last 25 years and is projected to go up further. A recent report from McKinsey Global Institute predicts that copper consumption will rise by 43% by 2035. This is likely to be partly driven by green technologies, such as solar and wind power and electric vehicles.
To meet future demand, we both need to continue to mine and improve recycling rates even further. Europe’s copper industry already leads the world in terms of recycling with nearly 50% of its copper demand through the recovery and recycling of value-chain offcuts, plus end-of-life products.
Visit the Benefits of Copper section to learn more about the benefits delivered by copper and copper alloy products across multiple end-uses.
ECI’s members include the EU’s top producers of copper, leading manufacturers of semi-fabricated copper products, and downstream companies exploiting copper’s benefits in end-use applications and innovative technologies.
The International Copper Association conducts a wide range of copper-related market intelligence studies and is a leading authority on copper end use and the fundamentals of long-term copper demand. This page offers a selection of resources focusing on copper-end-use markets, including studies and presentations, fact sheets and related press releases.