Building America’s Energy Future with Domestic Copper

Author: Rich Nolan
copper, domestic, minerals

The global minerals race continues to tear full speed ahead. Demand is surging for a wide variety of essential minerals and now the metal at the very heart of electrification is getting its due. Copper has been recognized as a critical material by the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) and its shaky supply picture is increasingly in focus. Copper is a key determiner of how quickly, and at what cost, advanced energy technologies and the electricity grid of tomorrow can be deployed.

That focus couldn’t have come soon enough. Despite copper’s obvious importance, new supply is not materializing at nearly the speed or scale needed to meet the incredible new demand. S&P Global projects that copper demand – already extraordinarily large – is going to nearly double by 2035. By 2050, annual copper demand is expected to reach a level greater than “all the copper consumed in the world between 1900 and 2021.”

These astonishing projections are not outliers. The International Energy Agency also sees global copper demand doubling by 2030. With seemingly every energy technology of tomorrow requiring more and more copper, shortages of this essential metal are a mounting fear.

For example, solar and offshore wind need two times and five times, respectively, more copper per megawatt of installed capacity than power generated with natural gas. Or consider the production of just one electric vehicle (EV). An average, sedan-sized EV requires 183 pounds of copper – that’s four times as much as the average gas-powered vehicle. When you take that number and extrapolate it to reach the 26 million EVs that are projected to be on U.S. roads by 2030, you can see just how much more copper is going to be needed – and quickly.

But despite the growing recognition of the importance of copper to a future that seems to be coming ever faster, the urgency to increase supply is notably missing.

Self-Imposed Barriers

The U.S. has the copper resources to build the secure, reliable and responsible supply of tomorrow. In 2022, U.S. production of copper was valued at more than $1 billion and we have the potential to produce far more if we don’t get in our own way. Unfortunately, the Biden administration is doing just that. Despite super-charging demand for copper, the administration is either blocking or failing to advance one promising project after another.

  • In Minnesota, the PolyMet Project and the Twin Metals Project have both been stalled indefinitely.
  • The NewRange Copper Nickel Project, also in Minnesota, has been working for 18 years to meet ever changing permitting demands.
  • In Arizona, the Resolution Copper Project and the Copper World Project are both waiting in the queue.
  • Lundin Mining’s Eagle Mine project in Michigan is also awaiting approval.

This list represents significant untapped potential and time is not on our side. Investment, along with mine approvals of essential projects, are needed today to meet the demand that we know will be here nearly overnight.

The need for more copper – for more domestic copper produced under world-leading labor and environmental standards – is undeniable. These delays – this adversarial approach to domestic mining –is only increasing our alarming overreliance on mineral imports, blocking good-paying American jobs and threatening the supply deficits analysts warn will jeopardize the Biden administration’s very own energy goals.

If we are to meet the metal demands of our energy future – and not further deepen our overreliance on imports – the Biden administration must make ramping up domestic mining the centerpiece of its minerals’ strategy. Recognizing the staggering importance of copper with the DOE’s critical materials designation was an encouraging first step. Approving mines and supporting domestic production must come next.