Sustainably sourced copper will be a crucial tool for decarbonising the global economy, Russian billionaire Alisher Usmanov wrote in an article for the World Economic Forum. Usmanov pointed to copper’s role in clean technologies such as electric vehicles (EVs), battery storage and renewable energy due to its high conductivity.
As metals demand booms, industrial players are trying to find new, less polluting ways to extract and process raw materials. Although metallurgy is one of the most carbon-intensive sectors – steel alone is responsible for 9% of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions – its products will continue to be necessary components in high-tech industries.
As a result of the increased use of copper, there may soon be more demand for the metal than the market can supply, according to Usmanov. He estimates that demand for copper by 2040 will be 2.7 times the current level, while existing copper mines are already close to full production capacity, and few new deposits are being discovered.
As a consequence of high demand and restricted supply, the copper price occasionally spikes. In October and April of 2021, the price for a tonne of copper hit almost $11,000.
Usmanov’s USM owns various metallurgical and mining companies, including Udokan Copper in Russia’s Far East, the world’s third-largest copper deposit, and Metalloinvest, the supplier of HBI, which is crucial for decarbonising the steel industry. He argued that investment in greenfield projects like Udokan will be necessary to cater to rising global demand and prevent a severe supply problem.
He also noted that meeting the growing demand also “places great responsibility on us to be sustainable ourselves”, citing as examples a greener extraction technology introduced at Udokan, establishing supply chains with the lowest carbon footprint and the use of alternative energy sources to feed the plant, the first stage of which would be achieved this year.
Usmanov has a record of pushing for the possibilities for green technologies, saying that he expects them to transform European industry. The mining of copper can be made more sustainable by developing new extraction technologies and expanding scrap copper recycling capacity. This is vitally important, given that copper will clearly be an indispensable component of the technologies which will help to decarbonise industry: according to the Bank of America, the compound annual growth rate (CAGR) in copper consumption caused by technologies needed to achieve net zero will be 3.6% by 2030.
In addition to EVs and batteries, copper is also used in carbon capture and storage (CCS). It has a substitution rate of below 1% of total copper consumption, implying that it is not likely to be replaced any time soon. This being the case, it is more important than ever to find sustainable ways of mining and processing the “new gold”.