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Don’t write off mainstay metals – green technologies to fuel Chinese copper demand

The second-largest cable and wire maker in the world, Nexans SA (NEX), expects copper consumption growth in China to “rebound in the next few years on accelerating demand from the renewable energy sector and special industries.”

With the power sector accounting for almost half of consumption, China is the world’s largest copper user. In an interview with Bloomberg News, Satrijo Tanudjojo, president of Nexans (China) Wires & Cables C. made the following points:

  • While still a few percentage points shy of the double-digit growth in the past decade, the company expects Chinese copper consumption to climb 6 to 7 percent per year in 2013-2014.

  • This compares with a 4.7 percent growth this year.

  • Growth in copper demand will be largely fueled by China’s renewable energy efforts. Submarine cables to transport energy inland play a key role in offshore wind farming, which is one of the areas considered to have the maximum growth potential.

  • The company does not expect China to substitute copper with aluminum in wires and cable production anytime soon.
  • As the interview indicates, copper may be a mainstay metal, but its diverse applications in key growth industries (and key policy priorities for many countries, for that matter), such as renewable energy, continue to make it an indispensible critical mineral.

    Slowed growth in the Eurozone and the U.S. may have led to a dip in demand, but copper fundamentals remain strong, and supply challenges remain, as The Economist outlined last fall: Smaller, lower-ore-grade and less-accessible mines in riskier parts of the world, increased red tape for new projects, as well as infrastructural and technical problems are just the tip of the iceberg.

    With rare earths supply issues making frequent headlines these days, the reality that the U.S. must make future access to critical metals a priority may slowly begin to sink in. However, it is crucial for our policymakers to realize that our mineral supply challenges go beyond rare earths, and include mainstay metals like copper. A yet-to-be-formulated strategy must be comprehensive and long term.