It is make-or-break time for the United States’ domestic minerals supply chains if we want to regain competitiveness on a global scale. As the energy transition gears up, mined materials and minerals will be essential to rebuilding infrastructure, electrifying transportation, and advancing technologies across industries and continents. This is especially true for copper, a critical element to our everyday lives, and demand for it shows no signs of slowing down.
Goldman Sachs predicts that by 2030, copper demand will increase nearly 600 percent from the growing needs of the energy transition. But because of the unnecessarily long mining permitting processes in the United States, America’s copper import dependence has once again increased year over year. This must change. The U.S. has trillions in copper reserves that we cannot access at the pace that our supply chain needs require.
Growing Demand and Importance of Copper
Copper and copper alloy products are essential to our modern way of life, from building construction and transportation equipment to electrical and electronic products to consumer goods and even medical products. Copper is widely used because it is malleable, has excellent electrical and thermal conductivity, and is also antimicrobial.
Several trends have emerged supporting the growing demand for copper. The reason is simple. Copper is an irreplaceable element needed in advanced energy technologies like electric vehicles (EVs), wind turbines and solar panels. The International Energy Agency (IEA) projects copper demand doubling in coming years thanks to the growing need of these advanced technologies. For instance:
- EVs require four times more copper in the manufacturing process than gas-powered vehicles.
- A single wind turbine requires 4.7 tons of copper and the growth of offshore wind is expected to account for nearly 40 percent of future copper demand.
- As solar technology advances, the IEA expects solar will require 68 times the amount of copper it currently uses by 2040.
Power grids receiving electricity from wind, solar and hydro sources also need copper – more than the industry is currently producing.
And a recent Atlantic Council study found that the Biden administration’s goal of deploying 500,000 new EV charging stations by 2030 could immediately add 4,000,000 kg of infrastructure-related copper demand to the market. This new charging infrastructure, both public and private, will require extensive amounts of copper.
On a recent CNBC broadcast, Richard Adkerson, Freeport McMoran CEO and chairman, predicted copper demand will continue to boom and start to strain the supply side. To deliver the future of advanced energy, the U.S. needs a strong and stable supply of copper.
The U.S. Can Contribute to In-demand Copper Supply
In the United States, mined copper production remained unchanged from 2020 to 2021, but our copper import-reliance increased from 37 percent to 45 percent from 2020 to 2021 according to a U.S. Geological Study (USGS) report – leaving the U.S. dependent on countries like Chile, Canada and Mexico for copper. This is not for a lack of resources – the U.S. has more than 48 trillion tons of copper reserves inside our borders in states like Arizona, Montana, Nevada, New Mexico and Utah.
Many companies are ready to support this growing demand for copper. Freeport-McMoRan produces copper across seven domestic mines, with its newest project on track to exceed 200 million pounds of copper a year. Taseko’s Florence Copper has developed a copper recovery process that is expected to produce an average of 85 million pounds of copper per year over 20 years, all with minimal environmental impact. Rio Tinto’s Resolution Copper Mine and Hudbay’s Rosemont Copper Mine are two proposed copper mines that have been tied up in permitting delays but stand ready to supply future copper needs.
America Could Lead with Copper Mining
If the United States is serious about regaining global leadership and rebuilding infrastructure, we must prioritize mined-in-America materials. Policymakers must act decisively to improve regulations and legislation to break our foreign reliance and make domestic mining more accessible and economically viable. The U.S. has the resources in its own backyard and the hardworking people who are ready to get to work. Now is the time for the United States to rebuild a secure, reliable and responsible minerals supply chain here at home.