Copper Trends and the Circular Economy

Copper is at the heart of many global trends, such as increasing the use of energy-efficient equipment, renewable energy generation and electromobility.

Energy-efficient equipment—including distribution transformers, electric motors and air conditioners—is a major user of copper. A combined material demand growth rate of 4.1% per annum is forecast, reaching an annual figure of 9.7 million tonnes of demand by 2035.

Wind and solar power currently constitute 12% of the global energy mix, and it is estimated that each will account for over one terawatt of global capacity by 2035. The rapid growth of wind-power installations, for example, will be a short-term copper demand driver, with new installations expected to use an average 550 kilotonnes of copper per annum up to 2021.

Electric vehicles—which could account for some 34% of global sales by 2035—contain more copper than conventional vehicles due to additional wiring, electric motors and batteries. China is leading the way in this growing market thanks to subsidies outlined in China’s 13th Five Year Plan, and Made in China 2025. Worldwide charging infrastructure development will also contribute to significant material demand in the field of electromobility.

Infinitely recyclable without loss of properties, copper already contributes to the global circular economy and a sustainable future. Europe leads the way, with around half its copper demand met by recycled material.

According to work commissioned by the International Copper Association, and carried out by the Fraunhofer Institute, approximately 440 million tonnes of copper were in use worldwide in 2015. Nearly 27 million tonnes of material went into service in 2015, including 8.5 million tonnes of recycled copper.

Recycling alone cannot satisfy rising demand for copper, but the contribution of recycling to global supply can be increased through improved collection and investment in the development and use of better separation technologies for discarded products.

Copper flow model

From powering innovative new technologies, through recycling and back into service, copper has a significant role to play in creating a greener and more sustainable future for the world.

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