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Visualizing Copper’s Role in the Transition to Clean Energy

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A future powered by renewables is not in the distant horizon, but rather in its early hours.

This new dawn comes from a global awareness of the environmental impacts of the current energy mix, which relies heavily on fossil fuels and their associated greenhouse gas emissions.

Technologies such as wind, solar, and batteries offer renewable and clean alternatives and are leading the way for the transition to clean energy. However, as with every energy transition, there are not only new technologies, but also new material demands.

Copper: A Key Piece of the Puzzle

This energy transition will be mineral intensive and it will require metals such as nickel, lithium, and cobalt. However, one metal stands out as being particularly important, and that is copper.

Today’s infographic comes to us from the Copper Development Association and outlines the special role of copper in renewable power generation, energy storage, and electric vehicles.

Copper and the Clean Energy Transition

Why Copper?

The red metal has four key properties that make it ideal for the clean energy transition.

  1. Conductivity
  2. Ductility
  3. Efficiency
  4. Recyclability

It is these properties that make copper the critical material for wind and solar technology, energy storage, and electric vehicles.

It’s also why, according to ThinkCopper, the generation of electricity from solar and wind uses four to six times more copper than fossil fuel sources.

Copper in Wind

A three-megawatt wind turbine can contain up to 4.7 tons of copper with 53% of that demand coming from the cable and wiring, 24% from the turbine/power generation components, 4% from transformers, and 19% from turbine transformers.

The use of copper significantly increases when going offshore. That’s because onshore wind farms use approximately 7,766 lbs of copper per MW, while an offshore wind installation uses 21,068 lbs of copper per MW.

It is the cabling of the offshore wind farms to connect them to each other and to deliver the power that accounts for the bulk of the copper usage.

Copper in Solar

Solar power systems can contain approximately 5.5 tons of copper per MW. Copper is in the heat exchangers of solar thermal units as well as in the wiring and cabling that transmits the electricity in photovoltaic solar cells.

Navigant Research projects that 262 GW of new solar installations between 2018 and 2027 in North America will require 1.9 billion lbs of copper.

Copper in Energy Storage

There are many ways to store energy, but every method uses copper. For example, a lithium ion battery contains 440 lbs of copper per MW and a flow battery 540 lbs of copper per MW.

Copper wiring and cabling connects renewable power generation with energy storage, while the copper in the switches of transformers help to deliver power at the right voltage.

Across the United States, a total of 5,752 MW of energy capacity has been announced and commissioned.

Copper in Electric Vehicles

Copper is at the heart of the electric vehicle (EV). This is because EVs rely on copper for the motor coil that drives the engine.

The more electric the car, the more copper it needs; a car powered by an internal combustion engine contains roughly 48 lbs, a hybrid needs 88 lbs, and a battery electric vehicle uses 184 lbs.

Additionally, the cabling for charging stations of electric vehicles will be another source of copper demand.

The Copper Future

Advances in technologies create new material demands.

Therefore, it shouldn’t be surprising that the transition to renewables is going to create demand for many minerals – and copper is going to be a critical mineral for the new era of energy.

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Energy

The World’s Biggest Oil Producers in 2023

Just three countries accounted for 40% of global oil production last year.

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Donut chart showing the biggest oil producers by country in 2023.

The World’s Biggest Oil Producers in 2023

This was originally posted on Elements. Sign up to the free mailing list to get beautiful visualizations on natural resource megatrends in your email.

Despite efforts to decarbonize the global economy, oil still remains one of the world’s most important resources. It’s also produced by a fairly limited group of countries, which can be a source of economic and political leverage.

This graphic illustrates global crude oil production in 2023, measured in million barrels per day, sourced from the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA).

Three Countries Account for 40% of Global Oil Production

In 2023, the United States, Russia, and Saudi Arabia collectively contributed 32.7 million barrels per day to global oil production.

Oil Production 2023Million barrels per day
🇺🇸 U.S.12.9
🇷🇺 Russia10.1
🇸🇦 Saudi Arabia9.7
🇨🇦 Canada4.6
🇮🇶 Iraq4.3
🇨🇳 China4.2
🇮🇷 Iran3.6
🇧🇷 Brazil3.4
🇦🇪 UAE3.4
🇰🇼 Kuwait2.7
🌍 Other22.8

These three nations have consistently dominated oil production since 1971. The leading position, however, has alternated among them over the past five decades.

In contrast, the combined production of the next three largest producers—Canada, Iraq, and China—reached 13.1 million barrels per day in 2023, just surpassing the production of the United States alone.

In the near term, no country is likely to surpass the record production achieved by the U.S. in 2023, as no other producer has ever reached a daily capacity of 13.0 million barrels. Recently, Saudi Arabia’s state-owned Saudi Aramco scrapped plans to increase production capacity to 13.0 million barrels per day by 2027.

In 2024, analysts forecast that the U.S. will maintain its position as the top oil producer. In fact, according to Macquarie Group, U.S. oil production is expected to achieve a record pace of about 14 million barrels per day by the end of the year.

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