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Through the Gateway: Copper – Far More Than Your “Old School” Industrial Metal

We’re kicking off our online informational campaign on Gateway Metals and their Co-products by taking a closer look at one of the most well-known industrial mainstay metals – Copper.

Lately, “old school” Copper – long acknowledged as an indispensable building block of the industrial age — has been undergoing turbulent times on the global commodity market stage.  Hard rock commodity prices have come down significantly over the past five years,  and copper is no exception.  In the long run, we can reasonably expect the self-corrective nature of the market associated with commodities cycles to work -

“Growth rates slow, supply exceeds demand, prices fall, producers idle their mines, postpone new projects and abandon exploration. Then, the economy works through the surplus production, demand returns, supply tightens – prices rise – and so does the incentive for investment in new exploration and development.”

In fact, some analysts already predict a looming global copper shortage as a cooling investment environment means fewer projects will come online.

But even current market trends notwithstanding – Copper remains critical for a number of reasons, as our very own Daniel McGroarty outlined three years ago:

National security.  Copper is the second most widely used metal by weight in U.S. defense systems.  According to a DoD study, lack of timely copper supply has already led to a significant weapons system delay.  An MIT study found that the “risk of copper disruption is significantly greater than for the other major metals… and is at or near a historical high.”

Alternative energy.   A single industrial wind turbine requires more than three tons of copper.  Next generation solar power looks to CIGS-based photovoltaic cells – where the C stands for copper and the S for selenium, 95 percent of which is derived from copper mining.  Electric vehicles require 25 percent more copper than gas-fed cars – more than a mile worth of copper wire per EV.”

As the field of materials science advances, new applications for Copper, at which we will take a closer look in a separate post, will undoubtably continue to be discovered and add to the metal’s relevance.

However, Copper’s status as a gateway metal must not be overlooked.

Versatility.  Copper is often extracted in conjunction with other critical metals, like rhenium, which is used in jet fighter turbines and to formulate lead-free gas.  Three-quarters of global Rhenium supply comes from the copper smelting process. And copper yields 95 percent of the world’s tellurium – like selenium, key to solar power cells.”

In addition to Rhenium, Copper processing also yields access to Molybdenum, Selenium and Tellurium, as well as (in small trace amounts) Rare Earths.

While we will first explore some of Copper’s uses and applications, as well as take a look at supply and demand for this gateway metal, we will begin zeroing in on its co-products – which are important tech metals in their own right – next week.