Long Term Availability of Copper
Copper Reserves and Resources
Typically, the future availability of minerals is based on the concept of reserves and resources. Reserves are deposits that have been discovered, evaluated and assessed to be economically profitable to mine. Resources are far bigger and include reserves, discovered deposits that are potentially profitable, and undiscovered deposits that are predicted based on preliminary geological surveys (see definitions below).
According to the United States Geological Survey (USGS), copper reserves currently amount to around 870 million tonnes (Mt). Identified and undiscovered copper resources are estimated at around 2,100 Mt and 3,500 Mt, respectively. The latter does not take into account the vast amounts of copper found in deep sea nodules and land-based and submarine massive sulphides. Current and future exploration opportunities will lead to increases in both reserves and known resources.
1/ Supporting studies, including documentation of the assessment methodology and descriptions of individual tracts, are available on the USGS Mineral Resources Program Web site, at http://minerals.usgs.gov/global/
Are We Going to Run Out of Copper? It Is Highly Improbable!
Since 1960, there has always been, on average, 38 years of reserves, and significantly greater amounts of known resources (USGS data). In addition, recycling, innovation and mining exploration continue to contribute to the long-term availability of copper.
Despite increased demand for copper produced from ore in recent years, increases in reserves have grown, and there is more identified copper available to the world than at any other time in history.
In the period 2010-2020, 207 million tonnes of copper have been mined. In that same period however, reserves have grown by
240 million tonnes to 870,000 million tonnnes copper . This reflects additional exploration, technological advances and the evolving economics of mining.
Technology has a key role to play in addressing many of the challenges faced by new copper production. Known and as yet unknown innovations will ensure new mine production continues to provide vital copper supplies.
In addition copper recycling plays an important role in copper availability since today’s primary copper is tomorrow’s recycled material. Unlike other commodities such as energy or food, copper is not “consumed”. Copper is one of the few raw materials which can be recycled repeatedly without any loss of performance, and key stakeholders such as policy-makers, scrap collectors, copper producers and recyclers must all focus on ensuring that yesterday’s metal is recycled and re-used.
While this will ensure a progressive move towards a more sustainable economy, the loop cannot be completely closed for two reasons. Firstly, demand will continue to increase due to population growth, product innovation and economic development. Secondly in most applications, copper stays in use for decades.
Consequently, meeting future metals demand will continue to require a combination of primary raw materials, coming from mines, as well as recycled materials, while innovative policies and technology should continue to contribute to improvements in recycling performance and resource efficiency.
Based on the latest knowledge on geological availability and continuous industry innovation there are good reasons to believe that copper will continue to be a vital and positive contributor to society well into the future.
For more information please consult the International Copper Association briefing note on copper’s long‐term availability.