Visualizing Copper’s Role in a Low-Carbon Economy
Climate change is top of mind for much of the world’s population.
The transition to renewable energy and electrification will require tons of metals, and copper is considered the most essential.
The above infographic from Teck outlines copper’s role in low-carbon technologies, highlighting why the red metal is essential for a low-carbon future.
Copper has been an essential material to man since prehistoric times. In fact, it is the oldest metal known, dating back more than 10,000 years and one of the most used because of its versatility.
The metal has four key properties that make it ideal for energy storage, propulsion for electrical vehicles (EVs), and renewable energy:
- Conductivity: Copper has the highest electrical conductivity rating of all non-precious metals.
- Ductility: Copper can easily be shaped into pipes, wires or sheets.
- Efficiency: Copper’s thermal efficiency is about 60% greater than aluminum, so it can remove heat far more rapidly.
- Recyclability: Copper is 100% recyclable and can be used repeatedly without any loss of performance.
In addition to its unique properties, copper remains relatively affordable, making it a key part of the energy transition.
A Cornerstone of the EV Revolution
EVs can use up to four times as much copper when compared to an internal combustion engine (ICE) passenger car. The amount goes up as the size of the vehicle increases: a fully electric bus uses between 11 and 18 times more copper than an ICE passenger vehicle.
Copper is used in every major EV component, from the motor to the inverter and the electrical wiring. In fact, a fully electric vehicle can use up to a mile of copper wiring.
Currently, there are few alternatives to copper. Aluminum is the closest one, but despite it being lighter and almost three times cheaper, aluminum cables require double the size of any copper equivalent to conduct the same amount of electricity.
The Most Essential Metal for Renewable Energy
Copper is an essential element for almost all electricity-related technologies. According to the Copper Alliance, renewable energy systems can require up to 12x more copper compared to traditional energy systems.
Technology 2020 Installed Capacity (megawatts) Copper Content (2020, tonnes) 2050p Installed Capacity (megawatts) Copper Content (2050p, tonnes)
Solar PV 126,735 MW 633,675 372,000 MW 1,860,000
Onshore Wind 105,015 MW 451,565 202,000 MW 868,600
Offshore Wind 6,013 MW 57,725 45,000 MW 432,000
By 2050, annual copper demand from wind and solar technologies could exceed 3 million tonnes or around 15% of 2020 global copper production.
The Race for Copper
Goldman Sachs predicts copper demand for low-carbon technologies will grow to 5.4 million tonnes by 2030, up from around 1 million tonnes in 2021.
Meanwhile, the number of operating mines and proposed projects are not meeting projected demand and the supply scenario looks quite constrained over the medium term.
“We have deficits over the course of 2021 and next year. Inventories will be run down to very low levels, we believe, by the middle of 2022.”
—Nick Snowdon, Commodities Strategist, Goldman Sachs
As the transition to renewable energy and electrification speeds up, so will the pressure for new copper projects in the pipeline.
Teck is one of Canada’s leading mining companies committed to responsibly producing copper needed for a low-carbon future.
Smashing Atoms: The History of Uranium and Nuclear Power
Nuclear power is among the world’s cleanest sources of energy, but how did uranium and nuclear power come to be?
The History of Uranium and Nuclear Power
Uranium has been around for millennia, but we only recently began to understand its unique properties.
Today, the radioactive metal fuels hundreds of nuclear reactors, enabling carbon-free energy generation across the globe. But how did uranium and nuclear power come to be?
The above infographic from the Sprott Physical Uranium Trust outlines the history of nuclear energy and highlights the role of uranium in producing clean energy.
From Discovery to Fission: Uncovering Uranium
Just like all matter, the history of uranium and nuclear energy can be traced back to the atom.
Martin Klaproth, a German chemist, first discovered uranium in 1789 by extracting it from a mineral called “pitchblende”. He named uranium after the then newly discovered planet, Uranus. But the history of nuclear power really began in 1895 when German engineer Wilhelm Röntgen discovered X-rays and radiation, kicking off a series of experiments and discoveries—including that of radioactivity.
In 1905, Albert Einstein set the stage for nuclear power with his famous theory relating mass and energy, E = mc2. Roughly 35 years later, Otto Hahn and Fritz Strassman confirmed his theory by firing neutrons into uranium atoms, which yielded elements lighter than uranium. According to Einstein’s theory, the mass lost during the reaction changed into energy. This demonstrated that fission—the splitting of one atom into lighter elements—had occurred.
“Nuclear energy is incomparably greater than the molecular energy which we use today.”
—Winston Churchill, 1955.
Following the discovery of fission, scientists worked to develop a self-sustaining nuclear chain reaction. In 1939, a team of French scientists led by Frédéric Joliot-Curie demonstrated that fission can cause a chain reaction and filed the first patent on nuclear reactors.
Later in 1942, a group of scientists led by Enrico Fermi and Leo Szilard set off the first nuclear chain reaction through the Chicago Pile-1. Interestingly, they built this makeshift reactor using graphite bricks on an abandoned squash court in the University of Chicago.
These experiments proved that uranium could produce energy through fission. However, the first peaceful use of nuclear fission did not come until 1951, when Experimental Breeder Reactor I (EBR-1) in Idaho generated the first electricity sourced from nuclear power.
The Power of the Atom: Nuclear Power and Clean Energy
Nuclear reactors harness uranium’s properties to generate energy without any greenhouse gas emissions. While uranium’s radioactivity makes it unique, it has three other properties that stand out:
- Material Density: Uranium has a density of 19.1g/cm3, making it one of the densest metals on Earth. For reference, it is nearly as heavy (and dense) as gold.
- Abundance: At 2.8 parts per million, uranium is approximately 700 times more abundant than gold, and 37 times more abundant than silver.
- Energy Density: Uranium is extremely energy-dense. A one-inch tall uranium pellet contains the same amount of energy as 120 gallons of oil.
Thanks to its high energy density, the use of uranium fuel makes nuclear power more efficient than other energy sources. This includes renewables like wind and solar, which typically require much more land (and more units) to generate the same amount of electricity as a single nuclear reactor.
But nuclear power offers more than just a smaller land footprint. It’s also one of the cleanest and most reliable energy sources available today, poised to play a major role in the energy transition.
The Future of Uranium and Nuclear Power
Although nuclear power is often left out of the clean energy conversation, the ongoing energy crisis has brought it back into focus.
Several countries are going nuclear in a bid to reduce reliance on fossil fuels while building reliable energy grids. For example, nuclear power is expected to play a prominent role in the UK’s plan to reach net-zero carbon emissions by 2050. Furthermore, Japan recently approved restarts at three of its nuclear reactors after initially phasing out nuclear power following the Fukushima accident.
The resurgence of nuclear power, in addition to reactors that are already under construction, will likely lead to higher demand for uranium—especially as the world embraces clean energy.
Showcasing the Strength of Canadian Gold Mining
Canadian gold mining has grown to become a highly prolific industry, thanks to its geological riches and political stability.
Showcasing the Strength of Canadian Gold Mining
Gold mining has long played an integral role in shaping Canada’s cities and its modern day economy. The gold mining infrastructure that was built alongside the country’s towns in the 19th century has grown to provide $21.6 billion worth of exports for Canada in 2020.
When combined with the country’s superb geology, Canada’s jurisdictional strengths make it one of the most prolific and secure locations in the world for mining companies to explore, develop, and produce gold.
This infographic sponsored by Clarity Gold dives into how Canada has grown into a nation built for gold mining. Both in how the country facilitates the production of gold, and how the gold mining industry supports Canada’s economy and local communities.
Canada’s Golden Geology and Production
Gold is scattered across the Canadian landscape in a variety of gold mining regions and districts, with the most prolific located between Ontario and Québec.
The 2 billion year-old Archean greenstone belt that arcs through the centre of the Canadian shield provides the foundation for the Abitibi gold belt, which has produced more than 190Moz of gold.
|Gold Mining District/Region||Provinces/Territories||Gold Produced (million troy ounces)|
|Abitibi Greenstone Belt||Ontario and Québec||>190Moz|
|Trans-Hudson Corridor||Saskatchewan and Manitoba||>40Moz|
|Golden Triangle||British Columbia||>5Moz|
Source: Resource World
The Trans-Hudson corridor in Saskatchewan and Manitoba has produced more than 40Moz of gold, while the Red Lake mining district of eastern Ontario and the Golden Triangle in British Columbia have delivered >30Moz and >5Moz respectively.
Last year, Canada’s top 10 mines produced 3.26 million ounces of gold combined, equating to more than $6 billion worth of the yellow precious metal.
|Mine||Province/Territory||Primary Owner/Operator||2020 Gold Production (thousand troy ounces)|
|Canadian Malartic||Québec||Yamana/Agnico Eagle||569Koz|
|Detour Lake||Ontario||Kirkland Lake||517Koz|
|LaRonde (incl. LZ5)||Québec||Agnico Eagle||350Koz|
|Rainy River||Ontario||New Gold||229Koz|
Ontario and Québec are the powerhouse provinces of Canadian gold production, hosting 30 mines between the two provinces.
A Nation Built for Gold Mining
Canada’s politically secure nature and established permitting process has resulted in five of the 10 largest gold mining companies having projects in Canada. Three Canadian provinces (Saskatchewan, Québec, and Newfoundland & Labrador) are among the world’s 10 most attractive mining investment jurisdictions according to the Fraser Institute’s 2020 survey of mining companies.
Beyond the legal and permitting strengths of the nation, Canada’s extensive network of capital markets has enabled the Canadian companies to dominate the world’s gold mining industry. With Agnico Eagle and Kirkland Lake’s upcoming merger, three of the world’s top five gold mining companies will be headquartered in Canada.
The Canadian equity markets are a key driver of the world’s gold exploration and development funding, with the TSX having raised $7.5 billion in mining equity capital in 2020. Gold still remains the major driver of these money flows, with gold mining companies making up more than half of Canada’s mining exploration budget.
How Gold Mining Gives Back to Canada
Ever since the first discoveries of gold across Canada in the 1800s, the development and production of gold mines has been the foundation for many towns and merchants across the nation.
Today, Canada’s mining industry directly employs more than 392,000 Canadians, with the sector offering the highest average annual industrial rate of pay in the country at $123,000. The industry is also proportionally the largest private sector employer of Indigenous peoples in Canada.
From the nation’s prolific gold deposits to its network of funding through robust public markets for mining equities, gold mining has grown into one of Canada’s most important strengths. The discovery, development, and production of the precious metal will remain an essential pillar of Canada’s economy.
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