Materials & Applications

Electric Vehicles and Copper – Fuel for the Future

Copper used in electric vehicles electric cars

There are approximately 1 million electric vehicles on the road today. By 2035, there will be 140 million. The key enabler behind this revolution in green transportation? Copper.

As we highlighted in our new eBook Industry in Focus: Copper, the red metal is set to enjoy an unprecedented surge in demand over the coming years. A resilient, durable and recyclable metal, copper is the ideal material to help drive a more sustainable future.

Among the sectors most invested in copper use is the electric vehicle (EV) industry. It’s a market enjoying rapid growth thanks to high-profile innovation, environmental reform, and soaring consumer interest in hybrid technology. And for the manufacturers, copper is the secret sauce.

EVs need copper

A low-carbon vehicle economy is heavily reliant on copper, with EV manufacturing making use of the metal for everything from key components to batteries and engines. Compared to a traditional internal combustion engine which requires 23kg of copper, EVs require substantially more:

  • 40kg: Hybrid electric vehicles (HEV)
  • 60kg: Plug-in hybrid electric vehicles (PHEV)
  • 83kg: Battery electric vehicles (BEV)
  • 89kg: Hybrid electric bus (Ebus HEV)

As EV technology advances, the need for copper in the automotive industry will only grow. Emerging tech such as energy independent vehicles (EIV) which use copper-powered solar photovoltaic panels to stay running are just one example.

But is it too early to start thinking about the impact this may have on copper suppliers?

copper used in electric cars and electric vehicles

Green upheaval

At a Reuters event in 2016, BHP Chief Commercial Officer Arnoud Balhuizen said, “copper miners will be the first metal producers to feel the impact of the electric vehicle boom”, and he has the stats to back it up. By 2035, BHP forecasts that the global electric car fleet could rise to 140 million vehicles.

Catalysts for this growth can already been seen taking root across Europe, including the UK which plans to ban all sales of fossil fuel cars by 2040. The mayors of Paris, Madrid, Mexico City, and Athens have also proposed bans of diesel vehicles in their respective cities by 2025.

In a world first, the Swedish government embedded 1.2 miles of electric rail in a public road to charge electric vehicles as they drive. Plans for expansion are already underway as Sweden acts on its pledge to be independent from fossil fuel by 2030.

Put simply: the demand for copper will soar sooner rather than later.

Market pressure

In terms of supplier demand, research by IDTechEx in 2017 predicted that the proliferation of EVs will see the sector’s copper use increase from 185,000 tonnes to 1.74 million tonnes in 2027. In terms of the global copper market, this prediction means EVs could account for approximately 6% of all copper demand in a decade’s time.

On the other hand, some analysts believe the impact of EVs on the copper market is ‘overrated’. The reason for this is the lack of infrastructure in place to support such rapid adoption, and if demand were to grow, it would only be when there are enough charging stations and electric grids to support them.

However, research by the International Copper Association (ICA) found that an additional 40 million charging stations will need to be installed over the coming decade. This alone will account for an additional 100,000 tonnes in demand for copper, and when we consider ICA’s prediction that global EV numbers will reach 27 million by 2027, the long-term outlook for copper demand looks very healthy.

Next steps

To learn more about the growing demand for copper across different industries worldwide, read our new eBook, Industry in Focus: Copper.

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