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IEF: EV transition targets out of reach without more copper mines

Targets for 100% electric vehicle adoption by 2035 cannot be achieved without an unprecedented acceleration in copper mining, according to the Secretary General of the International Energy Forum Joseph McMonigle.

Copper is the most essential mineral for societal development, but growing electrification needs globally cannot be met if limited supplies of copper are taken up by the huge requirements of electric vehicle batteries, according to a new report published by the IEF.

Under today’s policy settings for copper mining, it is highly unlikely that there will be enough additional new mines to achieve 100 percent electric vehicles by 2035, only the first small step toward decarbonization. So we need to manage this transition.

To make the best use of available copper supply, governments should prioritize economy-wide electrification, which is the foundation of climate policy. Moreover, governments need to incentivize and support new copper mine projects because without it, 100 percent adoption of EVs is not an achievable target.

—Joseph McMonigle

The report “Copper Mining and Vehicle Electrification” analyzes historical trends in copper demand and mine production. It shows that while copper resources are available, achieving 100 percent manufacture of EVs by 2035 would require unprecedented rates of mine production.

Copper-production-mining

(A) Historic and projected mined copper production (orange and teal-colored curves). The refinery output that includes recycling and equals the copper supply is shown by the dark blue curve and green curve. The green curve assumes a recycling rate equal to that in 2018. The dark blue solid curve assumes recycling rate increases along the trends of the past 20 years to 2050 and then is constant. Qdate indicates the tonnes of copper mined up to a particular date and equals the area under the teal curve up to that date. The copper production rates (mine or refinery) are also shown. Qt at the bottom right is the estimated total minable copper resource.

(B) Curves showing the copper mine production required to:

  1. Meet business-as-usual (non-energy transition purposes) demand5 (solid dark blue baseline).
  2. Meet BasU demand and convert the global vehicle fleet to hybrid electric vehicles (yellow hybrid line just above the dark blue baseline).
  3. Meet BasU demand and convert the global vehicle fleet to battery electric vehicles (teal EV curve) and upgrading electricity and transmission (light blue EV+grid).
  4. Supply the copper needed to transition to net zero CO2 emissions (wind and solar rather than fossil fuels) by 2050 (green line).


Just to meet business-as-usual trends, without full EV adoption, the world must mine more copper in the next 30 years than it has in all of history until now, the report states. Electrifying the global vehicle fleet would necessitate the opening of another 55% more new mines than are already expected to be needed.

We believe the EV industry will continue to be a significant segment of the market and should continue to thrive based on consumer preference and the growing array of vehicles available, but 100 percent adoption by 2035 is unlikely.

—Joseph McMonigle

Copper plays a vital role in electricity generation, distribution, and storage and electrification is one of the most effective ways of reducing reliance on fossil fuels. But copper demand for EV manufacture could increase the price of copper very substantially and significantly impede the advance of less developed areas, the report says.

EVs require 60 kg of copper versus 29kg for a hybrid electric and 24kg for a combustion engine vehicle, so switching the global vehicle fleet to hybrid would have a negligeable impact on copper demand.

The report cites a February 2024 report by the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy showing that EVs and hybrids scored similarly based on their cost to human health from air pollution associated with vehicle manufacturing and disposal, the production and distribution of fuel or electricity, and vehicle tailpipe emissions.

The IEF report offers a detailed outlook for copper demand and supply showing a significant increase in required copper mining between 2018 and 2050.

Over this 32-year period the world will need to mine 115% more copper than has been mined in all of human history up to 2018. The future output of existing and new copper mines is mostly needed for the developing world to catch up with the developed world.

—“Copper Mining and Vehicle Electrification”

The baseline outlook for copper supply in the report, based on historical trends, sees supply rising by 82% by 2050, peaking in 2086, and then falling sharply. However, the report also cites projections based on the pipeline of copper projects, which shows a decline in supply as soon as 2026.

The report argues that mining should be recognized as essential, and exploration and responsible copper mine development strongly encouraged.

It highlights several constraints to lifting copper supply, including limited access to land for mining, low rates of discovery and a 23-year lead time for mines to come into production. Even where significant copper resources have been discovered, many governments have proven reluctant to approve mine permits.

In North America, mine permit applications have been canceled in Alaska, Minnesota and Panama, delayed in Arizona, and substantial acreage has been removed from exploration in Minnesota. The report highlights the case of the underground Resolution copper project in Arizona that would be the largest in North America, producing 500,000 tons per year.

The mining industry will need to explore and mine deeper to obtain the copper the world needs, the report says. Deeper subsurface mines like Resolution could be remotely mined, which is safer, and have a smaller environmental footprint.

Comments

Davemart

Pretty much what boring old Toyota have been saying for the last decade or so.
They do their sums, which does not suit those who prefer fantasy and wild uncosted fads.

Gasbag

No mention of the the potential impacts of industry migration from 12 volt to 48 volts, increased usage of wireless communications, or self driving vehicles? They seem to be too focused on the past to be able to look ahead to the future.

Roger Brown

Scientific American, which I regard as center-left techno-optimist in its outlook has published two editorials in the last six months claiming that building a gazillion electric cars is not the right approach to decarbonizing our transportation system. Instead they suggest things like bicycle and pedestrian friendly infrastructure, better mass transportation and so forth.

In the nineteenth century the invention of the bicycle was considered a means of human liberation since a huge swath of people could afford to own them who could not afford to own horses. The modern geared bicycle with pneumatic tires, which is a technological miracle compared to the clunky monstrosities they were riding in the nineteenth century, could still be a means of human liberation if we had to imagination to conceive it. It all depends on what you want to be liberated from.

mahonj

@Roger, using bikes works well for some situations, like Europe where the distances are not too large and the weather is mostly OK. (I bike nearly every day).
However, the USA is built for cars (in most locations) and the distances are too long to bike.
You could use e-bikes and e-motorbikes if you are up for it, but many aren't.
So some kind of electrified vehicle it is: hybrid, PHEV, BEV, E-Power etc.
Is there a way of extending the electric range of a hybrid without going all the way to PHEV ?
Also, they may find ways to use less copper if it gets too expensive, or find new places to dig it up.

SJC

Copper mines lithium mines mines in general are very polluting. All the mining refining casting forging that it takes to make an engine and a transmission also have a huge carbon footprint. It's all a trade-off so we have to balance the equation.

Roger Brown

Mahonj,

Yes, we have made lots of infrastructure decisions based on the assumption of unlimited supplies of cheap fossil fuel. My point and Scientific American's point is that it might be wise to begin a long term planning process that is based on other assumptions. Making a transition to a culture which is not automobile centric will have large interim costs (as opposed to long term equilibrium costs) but the question is whether acting under the assumption that what is must continue to be indefinitely will have even higher costs in the long term.

Roger Pham

For this reason, full BEV should be discouraged, and instead, small-size PHEV with parallel hybrid to be promoted. PHEV can have 1/2 of the power coming from the engine and only needs a smaller e-motor of 1/2 the size of the e-motor of the full BEV.

Furthermore, upgrading the grid to charge those full BEVs would be very expensive. Instead, we should install solar PV panels on top of all out-door parking lots to charge PHEV parked below. This requires very little wiring and is very cost-effective, without having to upgrade the grid to carry a lot more current to charge those EVs at home.

At the same time, the e-motors could have the wires made from aluminum to ease supply pressure on far-less-abundant copper. Aluminum will make an e-motor with lower power density, however due to lower power requirement of PHEV's e-motor, aluminum winding will do just fine.

Roger Pham

Having a plug-out for each PHEV is a must, to support the grid during a few days during the extreme heat waves of the summers and cold snaps of the winters. In this way, the grid doesn't need to be upgraded, thus will save a lot of valuable materials and a lot of expenses for the electric utility.

To upgrade the grid for just a few times when extreme demands exist will force much higher utility bills on everyone, because the electric companies have t recoup these major expenses, and high electric rates will stall the switch to clean energy.

Even without a plug-out, a PHEV that will use its engine power during periods of extreme electricity demand (when people are told NOT to charge their EVs) ...is already contributing to the transition to sustainable energy.

Gasbag

A similar argument was made about advanced batteries. There would never be enough lithium or cobalt or production capacity blah blah blah. It has all fallen to the wayside. A move from 12 volt to 48 volt significantly alters the equation. Autonomous vehicles will make this entirely moot.

And the gridpocalypse simply hasn’t happened anywhere. Norway is doing just fine. Here in North America North America the Bay Area is the epicenter of the migration to EVs. Contrary to the negative narrative electricity delivered by PG&E has actually decreased significantly and grid reliability has increased. Reality’s simply hasn’t supported the negative postulates.

Bernard

I agree with Gasbag. There's a long history of scare-mongering in this field, mostly promoted by established interests.
As I've stated before, the switch-over to electricity from gasoline has less impact on the grid than air conditioning did. That change didn't raise much fuss, because it didn't threaten fossil fuels (although heat pumps obviously do). Furthermore, it's pointless to use the argument of "the grid will have to change!" (sung to the tune of "the sky is falling!"), because the grid has been evolving non-stop for 150 years. No-one thinks that the grid was about to stop evolving, and yet that's become a mantra for the uninformed.

Roger, the combination of EV and gasoline propulsion in the same vehicle is just about the most expensive way forward. It's the worse of both worlds. Do you think that gasoline motors are free and infinitely small?

The other "promoted fear" is that there can't possibly be any alternative to cars, especially in North America. This is saying that we are doomed to make the same mistakes in the future that we did in the past. Granted, your aunt Gladis isn't going to start bicycling to Walmart tomorrow, but that doesn't mean that society as a whole can't become less car-dependent.

Roger Pham

Bernard said: "...the combination of EV and gasoline propulsion in the same vehicle is just about the most expensive way forward. ..."
Reply: Toyota Prius Gen 5 has a 2-liter 4-cylinder 146 hp engine, with 120-hp e-motor and about 60 hp MG2., and a 1 kWh battery, with 192 hp total, listed for $28k, which is affordable.
Replace the engine to 1/2 of the size, with a 2-cylinder engine, 73 hp, and use this money saving, of about $3k to $4k , weight saving of about 250 lbs, to up grade the battery to a 13 kWh pack, keeping the e-motors the same...and the PHEV version will cost about the same, aboutr $28k. Same hp level, with 73 hp from the engine and 125 hp from the battery pack. There is nothing expensive about that.
The Prius Prime costs around $4k higher than the HEV version, because it uses the same 4-cylinder engine, as the HEV version, so the $4k higher price of the Prime goes to pay for the bigger pack. So, when increase the battery size, reduce the engine size to half, and the cost will remain the same for the HEV vs the PHEV version.

Steve Reynolds

Roger:
"e-motors could have the wires made from aluminum to ease supply pressure on far-less-abundant copper. Aluminum will make an e-motor with lower power density..."
Density is pretty important to make motors efficient, so I would expect copper to continue there.
But aluminum for other wiring in the vehicle and the battery would not be so density sensitive and would reduce weight.

Davemart

Gasbag said:

' There would never be enough lithium or cobalt or production capacity blah blah blah'

Which is not an argument anyone is making.
What we are talking about is the best way to transition.

It is demonstrably true that Toyota are perfectly correct that the same quantity of currently scarce and expensive materials would have reduced GHG emissions far more if deployed in hybrid configurations, and buses etc.

What we have done instead is incentivised the premature production of faux eco luxo barges, with their weight and road unsuitable acceleration shredding more tires for a start, leading to even more particle pollution.

Yep, full BEVs at some point.

That in no way means that we should not figure out the most sensible way of getting to that point, rather than jumping on the bandwagon initiated by people intent on the ruthless exploitation of ecological concerns for the benefit of the comparatively well off, and most of all themselves.

Your argument appears to me to be a straw man, not representative of anything at all that anyone is actually arguing.

Bernard

Roger,
What makes you think that a 2 cylinder cost half as much to build as a 4 cylinder? That's a car industry myth, where they try to convince you to pay thousands more for a slightly bigger engine (and a badge to show your neighbours that you paid extra).
Back in the day, the Big 3 would make you pay more for a V8 instead of a 6, but it turns-out that the V8 was cheaper to build!
Most of the cost of an engine is in the R&D, tooling, and manufacturing, not in the steel which costs a few hundred per ton. Plus you still need expensive emission controls, fuel systems, etc., to compensate for carrying 50KG of toxic fuel around.

Gasbag

Davemart

Go back and read the original article. That is exactly the argument that is being made and unchallenged and accepted as a premise .

As for best use of resources I do not deny that the big battery approach is ham fisted and inefficient in most use cases. The problem is the majority of your big expensive heavy battery is typically only needed for 2-0% of trips yet you need to haul it around 100% of the time, pay for 100% of the maintenance, and pay for 100% of the hardware costs up front. A typical PHEV approach replaces a portion of your big expensive heavy battery with a bigger less expensive range extender that you have to haul around 100% of the time, pay for 100% of the maintenance, and pay for 100% of the hardware costs up front.

A superior approach would be to design a system where the range extender can be easily be added when needed and only paid for when used. Implementing an ICE range extender for this is challenging because there are additional issues of vibration and noise mitigation, heat dissipation, toxic emissions as well as a form factor challenges.

A FC range extender avoids all of those issues except the form factor challenge. Although the unit cost of the range extender is much higher this would be mitigated by the fact that it is only needed for 0-2% of trips and typically 10-15% of miles driven. It does however have significant challenges of availability and scalability of fueling infrastructure.

A battery range extender is less expensive than a FC range extender, does not have the form factor challenge, and has superior refueling infrastructure today which is more scalable. CATL’s EVOGO and Ample’s swapping solutions offer a much more efficient use of resources at the same time as reducing costs and charge times.

Davemart

Gasbag said:

' Go back and read the original article. That is exactly the argument that is being made and unchallenged and accepted as a premise .'

When it actually says:

' Targets for 100 percent electric vehicle adoption by 2035 cannot be achieved without an unprecedented acceleration in copper mining'

Somehow in your hands that becomes:

' There would never be enough lithium or cobalt or production capacity blah blah blah.'

'Never' is not the same as 'by 2035'

Surely you can understand that?

You are making entirely false claims.

Gryf

“Targets for 100 percent electric vehicle adoption by 2035 cannot be achieved without an unprecedented acceleration in copper mining”
Just, Marketing for the International Copper Mining Association.

With some transformation BEV might actually have a lot less Copper than even current ICE vehicles. Let’s look at a company called DEXMAT.
DEXMAT (a spinoff of Rice University) has developed a CNT-Cu composite wire that could be used in electric motors.
https://dexmat.com/blog/advanced-materials-for-electric-motor-and-generator-windings/
https://www.energy.gov/sites/prod/files/2018/04/f50/Carbon%20Conductors%20for%20Lightweight%20Motors%20and%20Generators_0.pdf

Wiring harnesses could be made of aluminum as someone has already pointed out.
(You can see that here: https://sumitomoelectric.com/products/wiring-harnesses-automobiles)
Current collectors which are copper in lithium ion batteries could be polymer
“Researchers at the Department of Energy’s Oak Ridge National Laboratory have developed a lighter, metal-free current collector made of a polymer-based composite with carbon fibers”
https://www.greencarcongress.com/2024/01/20240122-ornl.html

Roger Pham

Bernard stated: "What makes you think that a 2 cylinder cost half as much to build as a 4 cylinder? "
Reply: Real-world data. The DLE222 4-cylinder 220cc engine costs $1900, which is exactly TWICE as much as the DLE130 2-cylinder 130cc engine costing $950. From the link below on the bottom of the page, you will see the two engines listed side-by-side for very easy comparison.
https://www.horizonhobby.com/airplanes/parts-electronics-and-accessories/engines/

Note that these are 2-stroke miniature air-cooled carburetted engines which are very simple and 1/10 the size, in comparison to the 2-liter 4-stroke dual fuel-injected Toyota engine in the Prius. The Prius engine probably costs above $9,000 including all accessory and emission control system. Halving this cost would result in a net saving of $4,000 or more,. This is perfect to compensate for the increase in cost of the $13-kWh PHEV battery pack vs the HEV battery pack.

Roger Pham

Thanks, Gryf, for the info on copper replacement development.
Gasbag and Bernard seem to dismiss the warning about limitation in resource supply chain in the near future, and you both may be right. However, we should always act on the side of precaution and try to use the least resource possible to achieve our objectives. Why do we need 60-75 kWh battery pack when a 12-15 kWh pack would suffice? Why do we need a 2-liter engine when a 1-liter or smaller engine would do the job? The acceleration in raw materials demand will cause a steep rise in prices and will dampen growth in the clean-energy sector. Morally and ethically, we should conserve material consumption and the environment for future generations.

Why do we need to vastly increase the grid's transmission, distribution, and generation capacities with great expense in copper for wiring, and other resources by using full BEVs...when PHEVs can supplement the grid for extended periods of time, at the point of end use during periods of extreme demand, thus great savings in capital and maintenance expenditure for the power utility companies, which will pass on the savings for power customers, thus will encourage further growth in electrification and renewable energy deployment.

Gryf

@Roger Pham
Electric Utility Transmission lines and distribution lines do not use copper. They use aluminum conductors internally reinforced with steel wires. In the future, they may use a Carbon Fiber Core.
https://www.deangeliprodotti.com/wp-content/uploads/2021/01/Aluminium-Conductor-Carbon-Fiber-Core_0.pdf

(BTW, my first job was at Southern Company Services, part of the electric utility holding company. One of my projects was an IT system for Transmission Line and Substation construction.)

Roger Pham

Thanks, Gryf, for the info, though it seems that aluminum and steel have vastly different thermal expansion co-efficient, which would make it difficult to have them running together due to severe internal stress with fluctuating temperatures.

Bernard

Roger, surely you realize that you are comparing retail prices from a hobby shop?

You are also ignoring everything that isn't needed when you remove toxic fuels from a driveline, which seems "motivated" rather than realistic. Batteries are cheaper every day, whereas the human cost of oil extraction is compounding. Why should we keep making the same mistake over and over again?

So yes, the grid in 25 years will have higher capacity than it does right now, just like today's grid has higher capacity than it did at the turn of the century. That's almost unavoidable, why do you think it can't happen? If anything, grid growth has accelerated, while environmental impact is lower now than it was in 2000.

Roger Pham

Hi Bernard,
The Honda CB500 2-cylinder 500cc motorcycle is priced from $6,500 and the CB1000 4-cylinder 1,000cc motorcycle is priced from $13,000, which is DOUBLE in price for doubling engine size and twice the power, 50 hp vs 100 hp. The two engines have exactly the same cylinder size and design, just that one engine has twice the number of cylinders and costing twice as much. If you have examples to the contrary, please show us.

You stated: "...the human cost of oil extraction is compounding..."
Reply: Agree. We will soon reach peak cheap oil, and will get very expensive with shortage. Fortunately, the 1-billion tons of waste biomass and forestry product in the USA can be gasified to produce bio-methanol for about the same cost of gasoline at the pump per BTU of energy. The gasification process will release 33% of the carbon in the biomass as CO2, so by using green H2 to turn this CO2 into more fuel will increase the bio-methanol yield by 50%.
Per unit volume, methanol has 1/2 the energy of gasoline, but hybrids nowaday has range of nearly 600 miles, so using bio-methanol can still yield a useful range of 300 miles.
Biomass alone won't be sufficient to meet all of fueling demand in the USA, so the use of PHEV will conserve liquid fuel such that the 1-Billion ton biomass quantity will be more than enough to meet all the energy demand of the USA.

We will solar and wind energy for the grid as much as possible, then use bio-methane mixed with green H2 for power generation to backup the grid on occasions when there won't be enough enough RE. During periods of extreme grid power demand, those PHEV fueled with bio-methanol can contribute CO2-neutral power to the grid, thus will save a lot of future capital investment and are thus very valuable for the transition toward sustainable energy.

The PHEVs fueled with bio-methanol can be programmed to accept charge from the grid only when during times of RE surplus, and use bio-methanol during times of RE deficiency, and in so doing, will be able to run on 100% Renewable Energy. Isn't that something? We have the technology TODAY. Why aren't we doing it?

Gasbag

Ah…I see how what I wrote could easily be misinterpreted. What I wrote was;

“A similar argument was made about advanced batteries. There would never be enough lithium or cobalt or production capacity blah blah blah. It has all fallen to the wayside”

What would have been clearer would have been

A similar argument was made about advanced batteries. To paraphrase There would never be enough lithium or cobalt or production capacity blah blah blah. It has all fallen to the wayside

To be clear I was referring to the original article which is about the report. The authors felt the report itself is best summarized by the graphs which GCC included. Their graphs make it clear what they project as being possible with respect to global copper production. This is the line labeled possible. They project that the increasing quantities of copper required for EVs will exceed what is possible by ~2026 and for an ICE world by ~2029.

Where I believe their report is flawed is by making no discernible effort to account for the propensity of demand and supply to adjust to financial incentives that inevitably accompany changing demand curves.

Although the IEF claims to be neutral they were primarily founded by and funded by OPEC countries and are promoted by a permanent Secretariat based in the Diplomatic Quarter of Riyadh Saudi Arabia.

Bernard

Roger, you are comparing retail prices again. You are also comparing a 500cc commuter bike that is popular worldwide with a sport/luxury bike sold to rich westerners in search of weekend thrills.

One thing for you to ponder: given that EVs are at least 4x more energy efficient than even the best hybrid, doesn't it make more sense to turn that biomass directly into electricity? Why go through the bother of manufacturing expensive engines, catalytic converters, fuel tanks, transport for toxic liquids, etc., when electricity can be "shipped" across continents in the blink of an eye using existing infrastructure?

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