Roskill: world copper market size previously underestimated; EVs to account for 3.1-4.0Mt net growth by 2035
Roskill has constructed a comprehensive copper industry reference dataset covering the period 2014-2018, built upon a production, trade and consumption platform of the eleven main markets for semi-manufactures in copper and copper alloys. This new original data has been used to verify historical time series statistics of apparent and reported refined copper consumption and to calculate new unique series of direct scrap use volumes that are now the most comprehensive and accurate available to the industry.
One of the main conclusions of the study, the 1st Edition of the Copper Demand to 2035 report, is that the size of the world copper market has been progressively underestimated. This was mainly due to the weak coverage and analysis of several fast emerging markets where there are little or no published statistics.
Roskill’s view is that total copper consumption (defined as refined copper consumption plus direct use scrap) comfortably exceeded 30Mt in 2018, in its fourth successive year of growth. This meant the industry had already achieved the major global benchmark of producing and recycling enough metal for the consumption of 4.0kg of copper for every single person on the planet.
Another finding of the report, which looks at wire rod and drawn wire, tubes and pipes, plate, sheet, strip and foil, rods, bars, sections and castings individually, is that a significant under-assessment has been made in the volumes of direct use scrap used by fabricators.
Roskill’s findings indicate that this number is a much higher and more volatile component of the overall raw material mix. Shortages or constraints on scrap availability may therefore provoke greater replacement by cathode and a faster upward reaction to prices and premiums. Conversely, ample supplies of scrap will have the reverse effect.
But whatever its impact on short-term market dynamics, the positive news for the copper industry is that its total scrap usage metrics (considering both the demand and supply side elements) have undoubtedly been too low. Therefore, its recycling rates and sustainability credentials are much better than previously estimated.
Much more is, in fact, being captured and re-used by the circular economy and rather less is being lost to landfill at end of life. So copper is a greener, more sustainable metal than previously thought: a powerful message for the industry, its stakeholders and regulators.
Growth driven by demand for electrical properties. In 2000, 60% of global copper consumption was directly related to its electrical conductivity properties. The balance was accounted for by its properties of thermal conductivity, machinability, malleability, aesthetics and signal transfer. However, by 2017, electrical conductivity had grown to represent over 75% of the over 30M tonnes of world copper demand in all forms (refined consumption and direct scrap use).
Roskill believes that world total copper consumption might exceed 43Mt by 2035, implying per capita consumption of 5.0kg by that date. Driven by population and GDP growth, urbanization and electricity demand, applications utilizing copper’s excellent electrical and heat transfer properties will account for the overwhelming proportion of all volume growth.
Electric vehicles and associated network infrastructure are just one facet of this and may contribute between 3.1-4.0Mt of net growth by 2035. Depending on the size and type of EV, copper content is set to double or triple compared to the typical 23 kg used in an ICE automobile.
Hybrid EVs (HEVs) used more copper than ICEs, Plug-In HEVs (PHEVs) use more copper than HEVs, and Battery EVs (BEVs) consume more copper than PHEVs. All other things being equal, a trend towards bigger EVs, larger batteries and increased range will tend to be favorable for higher copper content. EVs have more complicated wiring harnesses, extra motor windings and copper anode foil (for batteries).
Applications using copper’s other properties will rise much more slowly and will represent a smaller share of total use.
Direct use scrap use will fulfil a greater proportion of the total, but the expansion in the requirements for refined copper will remain substantial fuelling the need for the next generation of brownfield expansions and greenfield mine projects.
Although China’s pace of growth will diminish, and particularly so after 2030, it will nevertheless represent a steadily increasing share of world consumption. However, Roskill is also quite positive on the prospects for demand growth in Industrializing Asia, specifically the major ASEAN countries and India, where a large volume of new semis capacity has recently been commissioned.
Roskill expects there should also be a rise in demand in the Middle East and Eastern Europe. In Western Europe and the Americas, Roskill remains more cautious and projects a broadly stable consumption profile. Roskill is forecasting a moderate absolute decline in consumption in Industrialized Asia as these mature economies lose market share to China and Industrializing Asia.