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Visualising The World's Copper Reserves

Copper's elemental properties make it critical for today's energy transition. Here we discuss the world's copper reserves, and the important role it will play if we are to achieve a sustainable future.

The very first metal discovered by humanity, copper has been a building block of civilisation for over 10,000 years. Copper was the first metal to be smelted, the first to be cast in a mould and the first metal to be purposefully alloyed with another metal, tin, which kickstarted the Bronze Age.

Not only is it a necessary component of modern life, used in building, electronics and jewellery, it is essential to life itself as a key dietary mineral, with the average human adult body containing between 1.4 and 2.1 mg of copper for every kilogram of bodyweight.

A combination of its elemental properties makes copper critical for today's energy transition as green technologies rely heavily on the metal. It is ductile, which means that it can easily be shaped into wire, and highly conductive at any temperature, making it usable in electronics in any climate. Copper is also plentiful in the earth’s crust and affordable; silver, for example, is even more ductile and conductive, but it costs over 100x more, making it far too expensive to be economically viable for the same applications.

The supply of copper will need to grow substantially as existing mining infrastructure struggles to meet the demands of the race to decarbonise as current trends point to a supply shortfall of 20 per cent by 2035. Increasing supply from current mines will help but it alone is not enough. Fortunately, copper is infinitely recyclable, and 80 per cent of all copper ever mined is still in use today, so improving recycling rates of waste electronics can bolster supply and aid in reaching net-zero.

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