“If electrons are the lifeblood of a modern economy, copper makes up its blood vessels,” writes Richard Kerr in the February 2014 issue of Science Magazine. He reports that global copper production is forecast to peak in 2040 at 27 million tonnes, and then decline to less than 5 Mt a year by the end of this century.
Copper is one of 62 “technology metals” highlighted in Chemistry World in January 2014, for which substitutes are difficult or impossible to find. On a scale of zero to ten, with zero representing perfect substitutability, and 10 representing none, copper scores 7.
That is a concern because the drive towards more wind and solar energy will require an additional 40 Mt of copper by 2050. Consider that a single wind turbine requires 4 tonnes of copper. More dramatically, if electric vehicle technology expanded to reach 85% of the global transport market, it would absorb 20% of global demand for copper.
To meet long term demand for copper, the world will have to step up the recycling of copper, and discover and mine new resources of copper. New frontiers in copper exploration and mining will appear, and New Zealand is well positioned to participate, based on demonstrated potential in copper in metal sulphide deposits produced by hot springs on the ocean floor along the Kermadec volcanic arc.