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Swapping Copper for Rare Earths in Electric Vehicles

As we close off Copper Month, if you needed proof that copper is more than a metal limited to industrial-era uses, here it is: The Copper Development Association (CDA) is working with several international companies to develop new AC induction motors with copper rotors that would enable manufacturers to build electric vehicles (EVs) without permanent magnets requiring large amounts of Rare Earths.

While all substitution efforts are challenging, costly and time-consuming endeavors — and in many cases simply aren’t technologically feasible — in this particular case, the new motors could help reduce manufacturers’ dependence on Rare Earths.

And yet, as readers of this blog know, when substituting one metal for another, resource supply issues don’t vanish into thin air.  As we’ve pointed out before, compared to the near total dependence on foreign REE imports, America’s reliance on foreign copper imports, currently at 30 percent, may not seem like a big deal; yet, dating back 20 years — when the U.S. Government began selling its copper stockpile — our copper dependency was a tiny 7 percent.

Toss in geopolitical challenges associated with copper mining, and the underlying issue becomes clear: The U.S. must do more to explore and develop our own mineral riches to ensure an ongoing supply of critical minerals.  If we don’t, we’ll only be substituting one form of dependency for another.