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Copper: Driving the Green Energy Revolution

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Copper: Driving the Green Energy Revolution

Copper: Driving the Green Energy Revolution

Copper is known as “man’s first metal”, and for over 10,000 years, it’s been used in applications ranging from architecture to coinage.

However, it was Michael Faraday’s discovery of electromagnetic induction in 1831 that turned demand on its head for the red metal. As the world used more and more electricity, copper became known as the obvious choice as an electrical conductor.

Every year, humans already gobble up around 28 million tonnes of the metal in uses mainly related to its electrical properties – and as we transition to a green energy paradigm, copper will be an even more vital ingredient to human progress than it is today.

Copper in Green Energy

Today’s infographic comes to us from Kutcho Copper, and it dives into copper’s applications with a focus on those in renewable energy.

Renewable energy systems consume approximately five times more copper than conventional power generation systems, making the metal essential for any successful transition to fossil fuel alternatives.

To understand why renewables are so copper intensive, consider that around two hundred 3-megawatt (MW) wind turbines are needed to replace one large steam coal or gas turbine.

Schroders, British asset manager

Looking at data per MW strengthens this case.

For every MW of wind power about 3.6 tonnes of copper is needed – and for every MW of photovoltaic solar capacity, about 4-5 tonnes of copper is required.

Further, roughly three times more copper is used for electric vehicles in comparison to conventional gas-powered vehicles. This alone could create a new major source of copper demand, and Schroders notes that if all 80 million new car sales were EVs today, that it would require 6 million tonnes of additional copper.

While this helps give a sense of perspective, let’s instead look at a less hypothetical case.

By 2035, Bloomberg projects a 43% penetration of EVs in the light-duty vehicle market, which will be roughly equal to 110 million cars. Using the above ratios, that’s about 3.6 million tonnes of extra copper demand – equal to about 15% of the current market.

New Copper Sources?

Despite more copper being needed for green applications, there are some questions around where this new metal may come from.

Copper projects are notoriously large-scale in size, and the pipeline of new projects is the lowest in a century. As a result, analysts are expecting that the long-anticipated supply crunch might come sooner than expected.

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Energy

Charted: Global Uranium Reserves, by Country

We visualize the distribution of the world’s uranium reserves by country, with 3 countries accounting for more than half of total reserves.

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A cropped chart visualizing the distribution of the global uranium reserves, by country.

Charted: Global Uranium Reserves, by Country

This was originally posted on our Voronoi app. Download the app for free on iOS or Android and discover incredible data-driven charts from a variety of trusted sources.

There can be a tendency to believe that uranium deposits are scarce from the critical role it plays in generating nuclear energy, along with all the costs and consequences related to the field.

But uranium is actually fairly plentiful: it’s more abundant than gold and silver, for example, and about as present as tin in the Earth’s crust.

We visualize the distribution of the world’s uranium resources by country, as of 2021. Figures come from the World Nuclear Association, last updated on August 2023.

Ranked: Uranium Reserves By Country (2021)

Australia, Kazakhstan, and Canada have the largest shares of available uranium resources—accounting for more than 50% of total global reserves.

But within these three, Australia is the clear standout, with more than 1.7 million tonnes of uranium discovered (28% of the world’s reserves) currently. Its Olympic Dam mine, located about 600 kilometers north of Adelaide, is the the largest single deposit of uranium in the world—and also, interestingly, the fourth largest copper deposit.

Despite this, Australia is only the fourth biggest uranium producer currently, and ranks fifth for all-time uranium production.

CountryShare of Global
Reserves
Uranium Reserves (Tonnes)
🇦🇺 Australia28%1.7M
🇰🇿 Kazakhstan13%815K
🇨🇦 Canada10%589K
🇷🇺 Russia8%481K
🇳🇦 Namibia8%470K
🇿🇦 South Africa5%321K
🇧🇷 Brazil5%311K
🇳🇪 Niger5%277K
🇨🇳 China4%224K
🇲🇳 Mongolia2%145K
🇺🇿 Uzbekistan2%131K
🇺🇦 Ukraine2%107K
🌍 Rest of World9%524K
Total100%6M

Figures are rounded.

Outside the top three, Russia and Namibia both have roughly the same amount of uranium reserves: about 8% each, which works out to roughly 470,000 tonnes.

South Africa, Brazil, and Niger all have 5% each of the world’s total deposits as well.

China completes the top 10, with a 3% share of uranium reserves, or about 224,000 tonnes.

A caveat to this is that current data is based on known uranium reserves that are capable of being mined economically. The total amount of the world’s uranium is not known exactly—and new deposits can be found all the time. In fact the world’s known uranium reserves increased by about 25% in the last decade alone, thanks to better technology that improves exploration efforts.

Meanwhile, not all uranium deposits are equal. For example, in the aforementioned Olympic Dam, uranium is recovered as a byproduct of copper mining occurring at the same site. In South Africa, it emerges as a byproduct during treatment of ores in the gold mining process. Orebodies with high concentrations of two substances can increase margins, as costs can be shared for two different products.

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