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Through the Gateway: Copper – Gateway to Renewable Energy

Whatever your views on global climate change – there is no denying that we find ourselves in the midst of a green energy transition.  As David Sandalow, former under secretary of energy and assistant secretary for policy and international affairs at the U.S. Department of Energy (DoE), notes in the New York Times this week, “[s]olar power is booming. Globally and in the United States, installations grew at least 28 percent last year.”

At the same time, cost reductions courtesy of technological advances have afforded the United States global leadership status in wind energy production.

Renewable energy may not be the first thing that comes to mind when you think of Copper, but it’s an undeniable fact that its properties – superior thermal and electrical conductivity as well as durability and efficiency — have turned this traditional mainstay industrial metal into an indispensable building block for green energy projects.

Wind turbines, CIGS-based photovoltaic cells, and electric vehicles all require significant amounts of copper.  As one market analyst phrased it last year:

“Each megawatt of wind power capacity, for instance, uses an average of 3.6 tonnes of copper. Electric trolleys, buses and subway cars use about 2,300 pounds of copper apiece. Where we’ll see the most significant growth, though, is in the production of hybrid and electric cars, which use two to three times more copper than internal combustion engines.”

These electric vehicles require 25 percent more copper than gas-fueled cars, and Tesla Motors’s Model 3, pre-sales for which have reached the $10 billion mark, is estimated to consume 65 kg of copper per car alone.

The Copper Development Alliance has put together some great graphics visualizing how the red metal is greening our energy future:

thumb-Energy-Storage-Infographic thumb-Motors-Infographic thumb-Solar-Infographic thumb-Wind-Infographic

And this only paints a partial picture.  Copper’s role as a gateway metal — providing us with access to tech metals like Selenium or Tellurium, as well as (potentially) Rare Earths — only underscores Copper’s relevance to Renewable Energy, and reinforces its status as a critical mineral.  We’ll be further exploring Copper co-products Selenium and Tellurium and their green tech applications in coming posts.