In the guide below, we discuss the world’s copper resources.
We outline factors such as how much might be left, when we might run out, what might happen if we get to that point, and other relevant information.
Summary – The World’s Copper Resources
Importance Of Copper, & Uses Across Society
We list several of the important uses for copper in the guide below
We also outline how copper will likely be in demand for future uses such as sustainable energy, and electric vehicles
How Much Copper Is Left In The World – Resources, & Proven Reserves
There’s estimated to be about 5,000 million tonnes of copper resources in the world, and about 870 million tonnes of global copper reserves
In 2020, Chile was the country currently with the largest copper reserves
Countries That Produce The Most Copper
In 2020, Chile produced the most copper of all countries in the world
Annual Demand For Copper
In 2020, the demand for copper was 28 million tonnes
Are We Running Out Of Copper? – Current & Future Copper Shortages
Some reports indicate that in recent years there has been a copper surplus, and supply might outweigh supply in the short term
Other reports indicate that copper prices have reached highs recently, indicating shortages. And, further reports indicate we could see copper shortages in the medium to long term
Will We Run Out Of Copper? If So, When?
Various reports indicate that it’s unlikely we run out of copper anytime soon
We may have 40 years of copper reserves and over 200 years of resources left
Having said that, there’s a range of factors that could impact copper demand and supply in the future, which we outline in the guide below. These factors could impact copper resources and reserves
What Happens If We Run Out Of Copper?
Factors like availability of copper for important uses, and price, amongst other factors, could be impacted
Is Copper Renewable?
Technically it’s not. But, copper can be recovered and recycling which makes it a useable and circular metal resource
Using Copper More Sustainably Across Society
Copper can be recovered and recycled as secondary copper, which contributes to using copper more sustainably, and conserving copper as a resource
Firstly, What Do We Use Copper For, & What Makes It Important In Society?
What Copper Is Used For & What Makes It Important In Society
Copper as a metal has a number of features, properties and traits that make it suitable for a range of uses across society
Some of these traits are that it’s reasonably cost effective, whilst also being a good conductor of electricity and also of heat, reasonably corrosion resistant, ductile, and malleable.
Some of the different uses for copper across society can include:
As electrical wiring and cable across a range of applications, such as power generation, power transmission, power distribution, telecommunications, and many types of electronics and technology products
In Integrated circuits and printed circuit boards
As an architectural material on buildings
As copper paint on boats
As nutritional supplements and fungicides in agriculture
As an alloy with other metals, to create alloys such as bronze and brass
In electric motors and electric vehicles
In renewable energy production
Because of its industrial advantages, copper has been used by human civilizations for thousands of years and is now a key building block in electric applications, transportation systems and civil infrastructure
[Copper will also be used in the future in clean energy and sustainable technologies]
Which Applications & Industries Copper Is Used For The Most
wikipedia.org notes that: ‘The major applications of copper are electrical wire (60%), roofing and plumbing (20%), and industrial machinery (15%).’
[Global copper uses in 2020 by % share were equipment manufacturing at 32%, building and construction at 28%, infrastructure at 16%, transportation at 12%, and industrial at 12%] (nrcan.gc.ca)
How Much Copper Is Left In The World? – Resources & Proven Reserves Of Copper
There’s a difference between resources and reserves.
Currently, copper’s resources are estimated to be much larger than the proven reserves on record.
… copper resources are estimated to exceed 5,000 million tonnes [according to USGS reports in 2014 and 2017] (copperalliance.org)
Global copper reserves [were] estimated at 870 million tonnes [in 2020, according to the USGS] (copperalliance.org)
Countries With The Largest Copper Reserves
Chile has the largest reserves
[In 2021, in millions of metric tons, the countries with the most copper were Chile (200 million), Australia (93 million), and Peru (77 million)] (statista.com)
[In 2020, Chile had a 23% share of world copper reserves (200 million tonnes), Peru 11%, and Australia 10%] (nrcan.gc.ca)
Which Countries Produce The Most Copper?
Chile is the largest producer of copper
[In 2020, the countries that produced the most copper by mine production were Chile at 5700 thousand tonnes (28.5% of total share), Peru at 2200 thousand tonnes (11%), and China at 1700 thousand tonnes (8.5%)] (nrcan.gc.ca)
How Much Copper Do We Use? – What Is The Consumption Rate?
According to the USGS, in 2020, annual copper demand was 28 million tonnes (copperalliance.org)
Are We Running Out Of Copper? – Current, & Future Copper Shortages
Different reports indicate different things about current and future copper shortages.
Some indicate that in the past there hasn’t been a copper shortage, and that there might not be a shortage in the short term future.
Others indicate that there has been a shortage and price increases recently, and that we may see shortages in the future.
… the refined copper market had a 142,000-ton surplus in 2020 …
In the short term, demand may rise in 2022, but still come in lower than supply
[Some experts …] are forecasting a major shortage in the years ahead … [with] a 219,000-ton deficit by 2025. This shortage has already started to take effect …
finance.yahoo.com indicates that in 2021 there were conditions that led to copper being in a shortage and prices increasing:
[Copper is a common metal that is currently scarce …] The world is currently grappling with a copper shortage that’s causing a surge in prices this year — the vital metal is at its highest cost in more than 1,000 years
… even though the earth is blessed with an untapped amount of copper, current demands outweigh supply
Will We Run Out Of Copper? – If So, When?
It appears unlikely we run out anytime soon according to some reports.
However, various factors can impact copper supply and demand.
How Many Years Of Copper Do We Have Left?
According to USGS data, since 1950 there has always been, on average, 40 years of copper reserves and over 200 years of resources left (copperalliance.org)
Will We Run Out Of Copper?
Various reports indicate that either there’s a lot of copper left to mine, or that we won’t run out of copper anytime soon.
… only 12% of the entire world’s reserve has been mined throughout human history. An incredible amount of copper is still buried underground (finance.yahoo.com)
There is more [copper] available today than at any other time in history [and we also have] the ability to infinitely recycle copper. This … means that society is extremely unlikley to deplete the copper supply … (copperalliance.org)
We provide more insight in this guide as to why we might not run out of some minerals or mined resources anytime soon.
Factors That Could Impact Copper Demand & Supply In The Future
Growing and developing economies in some countries, and the use of copper in sustainable and clean technology such as renewable energy and electric vehicles, could all lead to increased demand for copper in the future.
On the supply side, there might be a point where peak copper production is reached i.e. the maximum amount of copper that can be produced at any one time. But, there might be no certainty on when this might happen because of variables such as investment in new copper mining and extraction projects that could increase supply/production, plus other variables.
According to wikipedia.org:
[There has been an] increased demand for copper due to the growing Indian and Chinese economies since 2006 [and this has also] led to increased prices
Peak copper is the point in time at which the maximum global copper production rate is reached. Since copper is a finite resource, at some point in the future new production from mining will diminish, and at some earlier time production will reach a maximum. When this will occur is a matter of dispute …
finance.yahoo.com indicates that a transition from conventional vehicles to electric vehicles could increase copper demand:
EVs need several times more of the metal than their gas-powered counterparts
A typical gas-powered car has about 50 pounds of copper, while an electric vehicle has 184 pounds of copper — 3½ times more copper
Copper demand for electric cars and buses is expected to surge from 185,000 metric tons in 2017 to 1.74 million metric tons in 2027
According to kitco.com, increased demand for copper could come from it’s use in future decarbonisation across society, including in uses such as renewable energy and electric cars.
They indicate that there could be a supply gap where copper demand can’t be met in the future, by around 2030 to 2040, unless more money is invested to make sure supply can met demand:
.. copper demand will … significantly increase by up to 8.7 million tonnes by 2030, if green technologies are to be adopted en masse [whilst another estimate indicates that] Copper consumption by green energy sectors globally is expected to jump five-fold in … 10 years to 2030 …
In 20 years … copper miners need to double the amount of global copper production, just to meet the demand for a 30% penetration rate of electric vehicles — from the current 20Mt a year to 40Mt [i.e. a 20Mt increase by around 2040]. [This is reflected where another study estimated that] roughly 19Mt of copper will be needed to feed the energy transition over the next 20 years.
[The above could create a supply gap where copper demand can’t be met by somewhere between 2030 to 2040, unless …] the right investments [are found] in projects leading to copper discoveries would help to close the supply gap … the copper industry needs to spend upwards of $100 billion to erase what it estimates to be a 4.7Mt deficit by 2030.
What Happens If We Run Out Of Copper?
Running out of any resource may impact things such as:
– The availability of that resource for the key things we use it for across society
– The price of that resource as it becomes more scarce, and consequently, the affordability of the things we use that resource for
Is Copper A Renewable Resource?
Because there’s only a finite amount of copper on Earth, copper is technically a non renewable resource.
However, unlike fossil fuels which are also non renewable, copper can be recovered and recycled.
This makes copper a circular resource that can be re-used.
Using Copper More Sustainably Across Society
One of the main ways to use copper more sustainably as a resource across society is by recovering and recycling ‘secondary’ copper that has come to to end of it’s use in the application it was used for.
This practice also helps to meet a share of future copper demand without necessarily having to increase primary copper production from mining for example.
Copper is actually amongst the most recycled materials in the world.
Copper byproducts from manufacturing and obsolete copper products are readily recycled and contribute significantly to copper supply (usgs.gov)
copperalliance.org indicates that ‘During the last decade, more than 30 percent of global copper demand was met with recycled copper’
… it has been estimated that at least 80% of all copper ever mined is still available (having been repeatedly recycled) (wikipedia.org)