How Copper Riches Helped Shape Chile’s Economic Story
Although Chile has always been noted for its abundant mineral wealth, the country was actually not a notable copper producer even at the beginning of the 20th century.
In 1907, for example, the United States was able to produce nearly 14X as much copper as Chile. The reality was that shortages in capital, organization, and water kept the country’s massive, low-grade deposits from being developed at any significant scale.
The Copper Standard
Things would change dramatically for Chile. The country has been the world’s top copper producer now for over 30 years, and today close to 50% of the country’s exports come from copper-related products.
Today’s infographic comes from Altiplano Minerals and it tells the story of how Chile tapped into its copper wealth to become the richest and freest economy in Latin America.
New milling technology, economic reforms, and increasing investment attractiveness were catalysts that turned Chile into a copper powerhouse. In turn, copper exports helped propel the Chilean economy to new heights.
“The Miracle of Chile”
This incredible leap can be summed up aptly with two facts:
1) Copper production went from under 1 million tonnes per year (late-1970s) to over 5 million tonnes per year (2000s).
2) Despite this massive rise, copper as a percent of exports fell. It went from a peak of 80% of exports to closer to 50% today.
Over this time, as the economy diversified, Chilean GDP per capita (PPP) gained massive ground on the Latin American average and passed it in the early 1990s.
Chile’s GDP per capita (PPP) today is the highest in Latin America of major economies:
|GDP per capita (2015, PPP)|
That said, critics of Chile’s economy will point to its inequality. The country’s Gini Coefficient, according to the World Bank, is higher (less equal) than only a handful of Latin American & Caribbean economies: Panama, Belize, Haiti, Suriname, Honduras, and Colombia.
Mining in Chile Today
Today, Chile’s mines produce copper, gold, molybdenum, iron, and silver. The country also produces more lithium than any country from its salars.
The country is the world’s undisputed copper heavyweight champion – it’s been the top producer for 30+ years and holds an impressive seven of the world’s top 14 copper mines. The biggest mine, Escondida, produces over a million tonnes of the red metal each year, equal to 5% of the world’s annual copper supply.
The copper crown is likely to be held by Chile in the future, as well. According to Cochilco, between 2000-2015 about 35 copper deposits and three gold deposits were discovered in central-north Chile. They increased the country’s resources by 208.6 million tons of copper and 34.3 million oz of gold.
The new copper discovered is roughly equal to 30% of global discoveries over the same time period.
Why Copper and Nickel Are the Key Metals for Energy Utopia
With more renewables and EVs plugging into the grid, copper and nickel are essential building blocks for the energy transition.
Copper and Nickel: The Key Metals for Energy Utopia
The raw materials required to transport and store clean energy are critical for the energy transition. Copper and nickel are two such metals.
Copper is essential for the transmission and distribution of clean electricity, while nickel powers lithium-ion batteries for EVs and energy storage systems.
The above infographic sponsored by CanAlaska Uranium explores how copper and nickel are enabling green technologies and highlights why they are essential for a utopian energy future.
Copper: Transporting Clean Energy
When it comes to conducting electricity, copper is second only to silver. This property makes it an indispensable building block for multiple energy technologies, including:
- Electric vehicles: On average, a typical electric car contains 53kg of copper, primarily found in the wirings and car components.
- Solar power: Solar panels use 2.8 tonnes of copper per megawatt (MW) of installed capacity, mainly for heat exchangers, wiring, and cabling.
- Wind energy: Onshore wind turbines contain 2.9 tonnes of copper per MW of capacity. Offshore wind turbines, which typically use copper in undersea cables, use 8 tonnes per MW.
- Power grids: Copper, alongside aluminum, is the preferred choice for electric transmission and distribution networks due to its reliability and efficiency.
BloombergNEF projects that, due to its expansive role in clean energy, the demand for copper from clean energy applications will double by 2030 from 2020 levels. The table below compares annual copper demand from clean energy, in tonnes, in 2020 vs. 2030:
|Year||Power Grids||EV batteries||Wind||Solar||EV charging||Total
Although power grids will account for the largest portion of annual copper demand through 2030, EV batteries are projected to spearhead the growth.
Nickel: Powering Lithium-ion Batteries
Nickel is a key ingredient in lithium-ion batteries for EVs and stationary energy storage systems. For EVs, nickel-based cathodes offer more energy density and longer driving ranges as compared to cathodes with lower nickel content.
According to Wood Mackenzie, batteries could account for 41% of global nickel demand by 2030, up from just 7% in 2021.
|End-use||2021 % of Nickel Demand||2040P % of Nickel Demand|
Nickel-based cathodes for lithium-ion batteries, including NMC (Nickel Manganese Cobalt) and NCA (Nickel Cobalt Aluminum), are prevalent in EVs and make up more than 50% of the battery cathode chemistry market.
A Bright Future for Copper and Nickel
Both copper and nickel are essential building blocks of EVs and other key technologies for the energy transition and ultimately energy utopia.
As more such technologies are deployed, these metals are likely to be in high demand, with clean energy applications supplementing their existing industrial uses.
CanAlaska is a leading exploration company with a strategic portfolio of uranium, nickel, and copper projects in North America. Click here to learn more.
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