Copper and the Circular Economy

Copper is at the centre of many global trends, such as the increased use of energy-efficient equipment, the generation of renewable energy and electromobility. Energy efficient appliances—including distribution transformers, electric motors and air conditioners—mainly use copper. The forecast is for a material demand growth rate of 4.1% per annum, which will reach 9.7 million tonnes per year by 2035.

Wind and solar energy currently account for 12% of the global energy mix, and by 2035 each is expected to account for more than one terawatt of global capacity. The rapid growth of wind turbines, for example, will be a driver of demand for copper in the short term, and new plants are expected to use an average of 550 kilotons of copper per year by 2021.

Electric vehicles, which could account for about 34% of global sales by 2035, contain more copper than conventional vehicles due to additional wiring, electric motors and batteries. China is a leader in this growing market, thanks to the subsidies described in China’s 13th Five-Year Plan and Made in China 2025. The development of the global charging infrastructure will also contribute to a considerable demand for materials in the field of electromobility.

Copper is infinitely recyclable without loss of properties and is already contributing to the global circular economy and a sustainable future. Europe is a leader. Around half of its copper needs are covered by recycled materials.

According to the work of the Fraunhofer Institute commissioned by the International Copper Association, around 440 million tonnes of copper were used in 2015 worldwide. Nearly 27 million tons of material were used in 2015, including 8.5 million tons of recycled copper.

Recycling alone can not meet the growing demand for copper, but the contribution of recycling to global supply can be increased through improved collection and investment in the development and deployment of better separation technologies for discarded products.

By promoting innovative new technologies, recycling and recommissioning, copper plays an important role in creating a greener and more sustainable future for the world.