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Copper: Critical Today, Tomorrow, and Forever

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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.

Uses of copper infographic

Trilogy Metals

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:

  1. High conductivity
  2. Pressure resistance
  3. Corrosion resistance
  4. Antimicrobial properties
  5. Ductility

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 TransportationWhere Copper is UsedCopper's Role
AirplanesWiring and equipment
  • A single Boeing 747-200 Jet contains 632,000 feet of copper wire.

  • Copper is used to make busbars and lock wires for aircraft.

  • Landing gear parts and bearings make use of copper alloys to withstand high pressures.
Electric Vehicles (EVs)Wiring, voltage transmission, and motors
  • Electric vehicles can contain up to 368 kilograms (813 lbs) of copper, depending on their size and type.

  • EVs rely on copper’s electrical conductivity in batteries, wiring systems, and charging stations.

  • High-speed trains use copper alloys to maintain electrical contact at high speeds.
Cars and other modesWiring, radiators, brake-tubing, and motors
  • The average luxury car contains 1.6 km (5,249 feet) of copper.

  • Using copper in motors increases efficiency, resulting in higher power generation and longer distances.

  • Brake-tubing systems utilize copper’s anti-corrosive and pressure-resistant properties.

  • Copper makes heat radiators smaller, lighter, and more affordable.

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 FoundCopper's Role
HospitalsCopper’s ability to kill bacteria improves the safety of high-touch surfaces such as doorknobs and bed handles.
Daily DietsCopper 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:

  1. Corrosion Resistance: Copper-nickel alloy coins do not tarnish.
  2. 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/MaterialAmount of Copper Contained (kg)
Building Wire88.5
Plumbing tubes and fittings68.5
Air conditioners 23.5
Heat Pumps21.7
Built-in appliances and other hardware21.0
Dishwashers2.2
Refrigerators2.1

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.

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ESG Data: The Four Motivations Driving Usage

ESG controversies can damage a company’s value, but ESG data may be able to help manage this risk. What are other reasons for using ESG data?

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ESG Data: The Four Motivations Driving Usage

Data is key to the environmental, social, and governance (ESG) revolution. Access to granular ESG data can help boost transparency for market participants. Unfortunately, 63% of U.S. and European asset managers say a lack of quantitative data inhibits their ESG implementation.

Being clear on the potential application of this data is equally important.

  • Investors and banks can use ESG data for risk assessment, to spot opportunities, and to push companies for change.
  • Companies can publish their own ESG data, quantify progress on their ESG goals, and use data to inform decisions.
  • Policymakers can use ESG data to inform regulatory frameworks and measure policy effectiveness.

This graphic from ICE, the second in a three part series on the ESG toolkit, explores four primary motivations of ESG data users.

1. Right Thing

The objective: Having a positive social or environmental impact.

For investors, this can involve screening out companies that conflict with their values and selecting companies that align with their ESG objectives.

As another example, it can involve comparing the social impact of municipal bonds. One way investors can measure social impact is through scores that quantify the potential socioeconomic need of an area, using metrics like poverty and education levels. Here are the social impact scores for three actual municipal bonds issued in Florida.

StateBond IssuerSocial Impact Score
(Higher = larger potential impact)
FloridaIssuer #176.5
FloridaIssuer #266.6
FloridaIssuer #343.2

Issuer #1’s bond is projected to have a community impact that is nearly twice as high/positive as Issuer #3’s bond.

For companies, doing the right thing can include assessing their progress on ESG goals and benchmarking themselves to peers. For example, gender and racial representation is a growing area of focus.

2. Risk

The objective: Managing ESG risks, such as climate and reputational risks.

For investors, this can involve back-testing or analysis around specific risk events before they materialize. Here are the risk profiles of two actual municipal bonds in California. The shown bonds are practically identical in many ways, except their wildlife score.

 Issuer #1Issuer #2
Current Coupon Rate5.0%5.0%
Maturity DateAug 01, 2048August 01, 2048
S&P RatingAAAA
Price to Date (Call Date)Aug 01, 2027Aug 01, 2027
Price122.0122.0
Yield1.0%1.0%
Wildfire Score (Higher = more risk)3.62.7

Managing ESG risk can also involve analyzing a company’s policies and governance for weaknesses. This is important as an ESG controversy can have long-lasting effects on the valuation of a company.

In one study, companies with ESG controversies dropped more than 10% in value relative to the S&P 500. They hadn’t fully recovered a year after the incident.

3. Revenue

The objective: Targeting outperformance through ESG analysis.

Selecting companies with strong ESG data can align with long-term growth trends and may help boost performance. For heavy emitting industries, research indicates that European companies with lower emissions trade at much higher valuations. The chart below shows companies’ price-to-book ratio relative to the Stoxx 600* sector median.

 UtilitiesEnergyMaterials
Above Median Emission Intensity (Bad)1.91.12.0
Below Median Emissions Intensity (Good)2.71.92.1

*The Stoxx 600 Index represents large, mid and small capitalization companies across 17 countries of the European region: Austria, Belgium, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Ireland, Italy, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland and the United Kingdom.

Energy companies with low emissions trade at a valuation nearly two times higher than energy companies with high emissions.

4. Regulation

The objective: Understanding and complying with relevant ESG regulation.

The International Sustainability Standards Board has announced a global reporting proposal aligned with the Task Force on Climate-related Financial Disclosures (TCFD). In addition, a growing number of jurisdictions will require organizational reporting that aligns with the TCFD.

  • Brazil
  • European Union
  • Hong Kong
  • Japan
  • New Zealand
  • Singapore
  • Switzerland
  • UK

Not only that, a European Union regulation known as Sustainable Finance Disclosure Regulation (SFDR) came into effect in 2021. It seeks greater transparency in disclosures from firms marketing investment products. Even firms located outside the EU could be impacted if they serve EU customers. In total, the market cap of these non-EU companies exposed to SFDR amounts to $3.2 trillion.

Matching ESG Data with Motivation

There will be growing demand for transparent data as ESG investing flourishes. To remain competitive, investors, policymakers, and companies need access to ESG data that meets their unique objectives.

In Part 3 of the ESG Toolkit series sponsored by ICE, we’ll look at key sustainability index types.

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The Hierarchy of Zero Waste

In a world that generates 2 billion tonnes of waste every year, waste management has become a global concern. Here are some strategies to help guide zero waste policies.

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How-to-achieve-zero-waste

The Hierarchy of Zero Waste

Many cities have set ambitious zero waste targets in the upcoming decades.

The idea is to have communities where waste generation is avoided, and products are shared, reused, or refurbished.

This graphic, sponsored by Northstar Clean Technologies, shows the main strategies and hierarchy to guide zero waste policies.

What is Zero Waste?

In a world that generates approximately 2 billion tons of waste every year, waste management has become a global concern. Thus, countries and cities are increasing efforts to reduce or even eliminate waste when possible.

The Zero Waste International Alliance defines zero waste as “the conservation of all resources  by means of responsible production, consumption, reuse, and recovery of products, packaging, and materials without burning and with no discharges to land, water, or air that threaten the environment or human health.”

Becoming a zero waste community, however, is a complex task.

Currently, Sweden recycles 99% of locally-produced waste and is considered the best country in the world when it comes to recycling and reusing waste. However, such results only came after almost 40 years of recycling and reuse policies.

In line with this, here are seven commonly accepted steps you can use to achieve zero waste:

1. Rethink, Redesign Products

The global population consumes 110 billion tons of materials each year, but only 8.6% is reused or recycled. In a zero waste society, single-use products are avoided and products are designed with sustainable practices and materials.

2. Reduce

Consumption must be planned carefully to reduce the unnecessary use of materials. Consumers must choose products that maximize the usable lifespan and opportunities for continuous reuse. Companies must minimize the quantity and toxicity of materials used.

3. Reuse

The value of products is maintained by reusing, repairing, or refurbishing for alternative uses.

4. Recycle

Products are diverted from waste streams and recirculated into use. Resilient local markets are developed, allowing the highest and best use of materials.

5. Material Recovery

Component materials like cement, metals, or asphalt are recovered from mixed waste and collected for other applications.

In the U.S. alone, around 12 million tons of asphalt shingle tear-off waste and installation scrap are generated from roof installation each year. Currently, more than 90% of this is discarded in landfills. This material can be repurposed to create new products like liquid asphalt, fiber, and aggregate.

6. Residuals Management

Waste is biologically stabilized and sent to responsibly managed landfills.

7. Unacceptable

The production of materials that are not recoverable and can negatively impact the environment must be avoided.

Reducing our Climate Impact

Reducing, recycling, and recovering materials can be a key part of a climate change strategy to reduce our greenhouse gas emissions.

According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, about 42% of all greenhouse gas emissions are caused by the production and use of goods, including food, products, and packaging.

Even though 100% zero waste may sound difficult to achieve in the near future, a zero waste approach is essential to reduce our impact on the environment.

Northstar Clean Technologies aims to become the leading recovery and reprocessing company for asphalt shingles in North America.

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