As we go about checking our phones for the latest updates, watching our favorite television shows, or even cooking our daily meals, we often don’t think about the uses of copper and other metals that fuel, power, and drive our modern lives.
From electrical appliances to jewelry, healthcare, and transport—we use copper everywhere–and its applications are only growing as the world moves towards sustainable technologies.
The Material for a Modern Economy
Today’s infographic comes to us from Trilogy Metals and shines a light on the varied uses of copper and the important role it plays in enabling a cleaner, greener future.
Understanding the Role of Copper Today
Modern economies rely on infrastructure, transportation, healthcare, construction, and energy utilities. Copper is critical to each one of these industries—supporting economic growth, urbanization, higher living standards, and a sustainable future.
How does copper do all this?
The element has five key properties that make it an integral part of the modern economy:
- High conductivity
- Pressure resistance
- Corrosion resistance
- Antimicrobial properties
Let’s look at how these properties factor into major uses of the red metal today.
Copper Builds: Construction and Infrastructure
The construction and infrastructure industries use more than 40% of all copper produced. Copper’s properties make it the optimal choice for various construction activities:
- Roofing: Copper’s wind resistance, aesthetic appeal, and sustainability make it a great roofing material.
- Tubing: Residential heating and water systems use copper tubes for copper’s high thermal conductivity and antimicrobial properties.
- Electric grids: The generation, transmission, distribution, and consumption of electricity all rely on copper wiring for its electrical conductivity and malleability.
In addition, copper lightning conductors are the longstanding protectors of buildings when lightning strikes—a further testament to its electrical properties.
Despite its widespread usage, copper remains highly affordable. Without copper, powering, wiring, and protecting our homes would prove costly and difficult.
Copper Moves: Transportation
From gas-powered cars and electrical vehicles (EVs) to trains and airplanes, copper is an essential part of our daily commute.
Here are some interesting uses of copper in transportation:
|Means of Transportation||Where Copper is Used||Copper's Role|
|Airplanes||Wiring and equipment||
|Electric Vehicles (EVs)||Wiring, voltage transmission, and motors||
|Cars and other modes||Wiring, radiators, brake-tubing, and motors||
As the global population grows, more transportation services will be required—and copper will continue to play a crucial role.
Copper Cares: Healthcare and Hospitals
Did you know that copper can kill 99.9% of E.Coli within two hours of exposure?
This, alongside the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, makes copper’s antimicrobial properties and healthcare applications more important than ever.
Copper helps us lead healthier lives in many ways.
|Where Copper is Found||Copper's Role|
|Hospitals||Copper’s ability to kill bacteria improves the safety of high-touch surfaces such as doorknobs and bed handles.|
|Daily Diets||Copper is vital to the normal development of the brain, and adults require 1-2mg of copper in their daily diets.|
More than 500 antimicrobial copper alloys are registered with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. With further research, copper could play an even bigger role in healthcare.
Copper Strengthens: Jewelry and Coinage
Copper’s durability and aesthetic appeal make it ideal for usage in jewelry and coinage, where it’s present in significant quantities.
For instance, 18K gold jewelry typically contains 75% gold, 15% silver, and 10% copper. Not only does copper strengthen gold and silver jewelry, but its alloys (brass and bronze) are also commonly used to make jewelry items that are affordable and appealing.
Furthermore, many of the coins we use are made from copper and its alloys. To be precise, two properties of copper are key to producing durable and safe coins:
- Corrosion Resistance: Copper-nickel alloy coins do not tarnish.
- Electrical Conductivity: Copper-nickel coins have specific electronic signatures that help prevent fraud in vending and coin-handling machines.
Copper Comforts: Homes and Households
The average single-family home contains around 200 kilograms (439 lbs) of copper.
Here’s how it breaks down, along with the amount of copper in general appliances:
|Appliance/Material||Amount of Copper Contained (kg)|
|Plumbing tubes and fittings||68.5|
|Built-in appliances and other hardware||21.0|
But that’s not all.
In addition to home appliances, copper also plays an important role in objects that we use on a daily basis. According to BBC, a typical iPhone contains 15 grams of copper on average—approximately 10% of the phone’s weight.
Copper is an integral part of the modern economy today. Its unique properties enable urbanization and economic development at low costs—and the story doesn’t end here.
Why Copper Tomorrow?
As the world transitions towards a cleaner energy mix, copper will be an essential material in empowering a more sustainable future.
Copper in Renewable Energy
According to McKinsey, a whopping 73% of global power generation will come from renewable energy sources by 2050—and copper has a significant role to play in this transition.
Solar and wind energy farms are heavily dependent on copper. Cabling and heat-exchange in solar and wind farms are the primary applications of copper in renewable energy generation.
For starters, wind farms can contain anywhere between 4 to 15 million pounds of copper. Moreover, solar photovoltaic farms require 9,000 pounds of copper per megawatt of energy. To put that into context, India’s solar power generation capacity is 31,696 megawatts—which alone would require about 322 million pounds of copper.
Copper in Electric Vehicles
As the standard benchmark for electrical conductivity, copper is indispensable for EVs. The growing EV market could bolster copper demand in the near future.
Copper is used in EV batteries, coils, wiring, and charging stations. As per current growth projections, by 2030, more than 250,000 tonnes of copper will be needed as part of the windings in electric traction motors in on-road EVs.
The transition to clean energy, coupled with urbanization and economic development, implies that copper is critical for the future.
However, copper’s importance to the future is a double-edged sword and raises concerns about the sustainability of its supply—will there be enough?
Copper Forever: Sustainable Material
From the 5.8 trillion pounds of known copper resources, only 12% have been mined throughout history—and thanks to copper’s recyclability, almost all of that is still in circulation.
Not only does recycled copper offer the same quality and benefits as newly mined copper, but it also saves a massive 40 million tonnes of CO2 emissions annually. Additionally, copper recycling uses 80-90% less energy than mining, and a total of 8.5 million tonnes of the red metal are produced from recycled scrap each year.
Copper’s recyclability makes it reusable for years to come, complementing the path to sustainable development.
Copper: Critical Today, Tomorrow, and Forever
The exceptional properties of copper allow for widespread applications, which continue to grow as the world shifts towards clean energy.
And since we need copper for all aspects of life, its demand will always persist.
Visualizing the Global Silver Supply Chain
Nearly 50% of global silver production comes from South and Central America. Here’s a look at the global silver supply chain.
Visualizing the Global Silver Supply Chain
Although silver is widely known as a precious metal, its industrial uses accounted for more than 50% of silver demand in 2020.
From jewelry to electronics, various industries utilize silver’s high conductivity, aesthetic appeal, and other properties in different ways. With the adoption of electric vehicles, 5G networks, and solar panels, the world is embracing more technologies that rely on silver.
But behind all this silver are the companies that mine and refine the precious metal before it reaches other industries.
The above infographic from Blackrock Silver outlines silver’s global supply chain and brings the future of silver supply into the spotlight.
The Top 20 Countries for Silver Mining
Although silver miners operate in many countries across the globe, the majority of silver comes from a few regions.
|Rank||Country||2020 Production (million ounces)||% of Total|
|8||United States 🇺🇸||31.7||4.0%|
|18||Papua New Guinea 🇵🇬||4.2||0.5%|
|19||Dominican Republic 🇩🇴||3.8||0.5%|
|N/A||Rest of the World 🌎||34.2||4.4%|
Mexico, Peru, and China—the top three producers—combined for just over 50% of global silver production in 2020. South and Central American countries, including Mexico and Peru, produced around 390 million ounces—roughly half of the 784 million ounces mined globally.
Silver currency backed China’s entire economy at one point in history. Today, China is not only the third-largest silver producer but also the third-largest largest consumer of silver jewelry.
Poland is one of only three European countries in the mix. More than 99% of Poland’s silver comes from the KGHM Polska Miedź Mine, the world’s largest silver mining operation.
While silver’s supply chain spans all four hemispheres, concentrated production in a few countries puts it at risk of disruptions.
The Sustainability of Silver’s Supply Chain
The mining industry can often be subject to political crossfire in jurisdictions that aren’t safe or politically stable. Mexico, Chile, and Peru—three of the top five silver-producing nations—have the highest number of mining conflicts in Latin America.
Alongside production in politically unstable jurisdictions, the lack of silver-primary mines reinforces the need for a sustainable silver supply chain. According to the World Silver Survey, only 27% of silver comes from silver-primary mines. The other 73% is a by-product of mining for other metals like copper, zinc, gold, and others.
As the industrial demand for silver rises, primary sources of silver in stable jurisdictions will become more valuable—and Nevada is one such jurisdiction.
Nevada: The Silver State
Nevada, known as the Silver State, was once the pinnacle of silver mining in the United States.
The discovery of the Comstock Lode in 1859, one of America’s richest silver deposits, spurred a silver rush in Nevada. But after the Comstock Lode mines began declining around 1874, it was the Tonopah district that brought Nevada’s silver production back to life.
Tonopah is a silver-primary district with a 100:1 silver-to-gold ratio. It also boasts 174 million ounces of historical silver production under its belt. Furthermore, between 1900 and 1950, Tonopah produced high-grade silver with an average grade of 1,384 grams per tonne. However, the Second World War brought a stop to mining in Tonopah, with plenty of silver left to discover.
Today, Nevada is the second-largest silver-producing state in the U.S. and the Tonopah district offers the opportunity to revive a secure and stable source of primary silver production for the future.
Blackrock Silver is working to bring silver back to the Silver State with exploration at its flagship Tonopah West project in Nevada.
A Complete Visual Guide to Carbon Markets
Carbon markets are booming. But how do they work? In this infographic, we show how carbon markets are advancing corporate climate ambitions.
A Complete Visual Guide to Carbon Markets
Carbon markets enable the trading of carbon credits, also referred to as carbon offsets.
One carbon credit is equivalent to one metric ton of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. Going further, carbon markets help companies offset their emissions and work towards their climate goals. But how exactly do carbon markets work?
In this infographic from Carbon Streaming Corporation, we look at the fundamentals of carbon markets and why they show significant growth potential.
What Are Carbon Markets?
For many companies, such as Microsoft, Delta, Shell and Gucci, carbon markets play an important role in offsetting their impact on the environment and meeting climate targets.
Companies buy a carbon credit, which funds a GHG reduction project such as reforestation. This allows the company to offset their GHG emissions. There are two main types of carbon markets, based on whether emission reductions are mandatory, or voluntary:
Mandatory systems regulated by government organizations to cap emissions for specific industries.
Voluntary Carbon Markets:
Where carbon credits can be purchased by those that voluntarily want to offset their emissions.
As demand to cut emissions intensifies, voluntary carbon market volume has grown five-fold in less than five years.
Drivers of Carbon Market Demand
What factors are behind this surge in volume?
- Paris Agreement: Companies seeking alignment with these goals.
- Technological Gaps: Companies are limited by technologies that are available at scale and not cost-prohibitive.
- Time Gaps: Companies do not have the means to eliminate all emissions today.
- Shareholder Pressure: Companies are facing pressure from shareholders to address their emissions.
For these reasons, carbon markets are a useful tool in decarbonizing the global economy.
Voluntary Markets 101
To start, there are four key participants in voluntary carbon markets:
- Project Developers: Teams who design and implement carbon offset projects that generate carbon credits.
- Standards Bodies: Organizations that certify and set the criteria for carbon offsets e.g. Verra and the Gold Standard.
- Brokers: Intermediaries facilitating carbon credit transactions between buyers and project developers.
- End Buyers: Entities such as individuals or corporations looking to offset their carbon emissions through purchasing carbon credits.
Secondly, carbon offset projects fall within one of two main categories.
Avoidance / reduction projects prevent or reduce the release of carbon into the atmosphere. These may include avoided deforestation or projects that preserve biomass.
Removal / sequestration projects, on the other hand, remove carbon from the atmosphere, where projects may focus on reforestation or direct air capture.
In addition, carbon offset projects may offer co-benefits, which provide advantages that go beyond carbon reduction.
What are Co-Benefits?
When a carbon project offers co-benefits, it means that they provide features on top of carbon credits, such as environmental or economic characteristics, that may align with UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).
Here are some examples of co-benefits a project may offer:
- Biodiversity: Protecting local wildlife that would otherwise be endangered through deforestation.
- Social: Promoting gender equality through supporting women in management positions and local business development.
- Economic: Creating job opportunities in local communities.
- Educational: Providing educational awareness of carbon mitigation within local areas, such as primary and secondary schools.
Often, companies are looking to buy carbon credits that make the greatest sustainable impact. Co-benefits can offer additional value that simultaneously address broader climate challenges.
Why Market Values Are Increasing
In 2021, market values in voluntary carbon markets are set to exceed $1 billion.
|Year||Traded Volume of Carbon Offsets (MtCO₂e)||Voluntary Market Transaction Value|
*As of Aug. 31, 2021
Source: Ecosystem Marketplace (Sep 2021)
Today, oil majors, banks, and airlines are active players in the market. As corporate climate targets multiply, future demand for carbon credits is projected to jump 15-fold by 2030 according to the Task Force on Scaling Voluntary Carbon Markets.
What Qualifies as a High-Quality Carbon Offset?
Here are five key criteria for examining the quality of a carbon offset:
- Additionality: Projects are unable to exist without revenue derived from carbon credits.
- Verification: Monitored, reported, and verified by a credible third-party.
- Permanence: Carbon reduction or removal will not be reversed.
- Measurability: Calculated according to scientific data through a recognized methodology.
- Avoid Leakage: An increase in emissions should not occur elsewhere, or account for any that do occur.
In fact, the road to net-zero requires a 23 gigatonne (GT) annual reduction in CO₂ emissions relative to current levels. High quality offsets can help meet this goal.
Fighting Climate Change
As the urgency to tackle global emissions accelerates, demand for carbon credits is poised to increase substantially—bringing much needed capital to innovative projects.
Not only do carbon credits fund nature-based projects, they also finance technological advancements and new innovations in carbon removal and reduction. For companies looking to reach their climate ambitions, carbon markets will continue to play a more concrete role.
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