Copper

One of the best conductors of electricity, copper can be recycled repeatedly without damaging its performance, underlining the metal’s value for low carbon technologies

Copper (Cu)

Copper is a malleable metal with multiple uses, including in construction, industrial machinery and equipment, electronics and communications, and as a conductor of electricity. Copper can be repeatedly recycled without impacting its performance and its conductivity means that it is a vital metal for renewable energy technologies.

Chile is the biggest producer of mined copper. Peru, China, DR Congo and the United States are the next largest producers. China is the largest copper refining country.

There are numerous perceived ESG issues associated with the copper supply chain, such as air and water pollution, and company-community conflict. DR Congo accounts for most reports linking copper to issues such as child labour at artisanal and small-scale mines.  DR Congo only accounts for 6.4 percent of global production of copper, most of which is produced at large, industrial mines, however. Copper that is linked to child labour therefore only accounts for a very small proportion of the material that enters global supply chains. 

Main Uses and Attributes

Copper is malleable, ductile, and an excellent conductor of heat and electricity; it is also resistant to corrosion, and it is antimicrobial.1https://copperalliance.org/about-copper/copper-attributes/ These attributes underline its usefulness across multiple sectors.

According to the International Copper Study Group (ICSG), copper is also one of a few metals that can be repeatedly recycled without degrading.2https://www.icsg.org/index.php/component/jdownloads/finish/170/3046 The relative ease with which copper can be recycled is likely to make copper an attractive material in sectors that are working towards a circular economy.

Copper is widely used in electrical wiring and conductors, meaning the material is ubiquitous in electrical appliances and in electricity distribution and transmission. As such, copper is of vital importance in the energy transition. Copper's use in electrical wiring means that the material is in high demand to support the electrification of energy systems. Copper is also used in rechargeable batteries found in electric vehicles and energy storage systems.

Additionally, the ICSG identifies seven growth markets for copper:

  • As an alternative to plastic in medical applications due to copper’s antimicrobial properties
  • In nets and pens in near-shore fish-farming
  • To provide electrical propulsion in electric vehicles
  • As a component of generators, motors and transformers in renewable energy plants
  • To provide seismic energy dissipation through copper-based devices to control earthquake damage
  • Ultra-conductive copper components to improve efficiency of electricity transmission and distribution
  • In motors, wiring, busbars and charging infrastructure in electric vehicles – which contain four times more copper than non-electric cars.3https://www.icsg.org/index.php/component/jdownloads/finish/170/3046

Main Uses

  • Batteries
  • Currency
  • Electronics
  • Machinery and Equipment
  • Printed Circuit Boards

Key Industries

  • Automotive
  • Construction
  • Electronics and Communications
  • Energy
  • Transportation

Key Countries

Top Producer Chile
Top Reserves Chile

Supply Chain Risk

TDi assesses Copper for key risks affecting the security of supply, and for its association with artisanal and small-scale mining.

Overall Supply Chain Resilience Risk
Strength of Association with ASM
Very Low Moderate Very High

Country Governance Risks

Copper's association with countries experiencing:

Violence and Conflict
Weak Rule of Law
Poor Human Rights
Poor Environmental Governance
Very Low Moderate Very High

Association with ESG issues

TDi Sustainability's data rates Copper's association with the following issues as high or very high:

Violence and Conflict
Negative Perceptions of Corporate Citizenship
Occupational Health and Safety
Child Labour
Indigenous Peoples Rights
Company/Community Conflicts
Community Rights Violations
Corruption
Pollution
Negative Biodiversity and Conservation Impact
Degraded/Fragmented Landscape
Very Low Moderate Very High

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