The Life Cycle of Copper, Its Co-Products and Byproducts - Eco-Efficiency in Industry and Science Series

Copper is one of the three most important metals in the world economy, and the only one of the three that is comparatively scarce in the earth's crust. Known reserves will only last a few decades at projected rates of consumption. While some substitution possibilities exist for some of its applications, copper is uniquely valuable as a conductor of electricity in a world that is rapidly electrifying. This fact makes the copper life cycle an appropriate subject for holistic analysis.

by Robert Ayres
Last Updated: 23 Jul 2013

Copper is one of the three most important metals in the world economy, and the only one of the three that is comparatively scarce in the earth's crust. Known reserves will only last a few decades at projected rates of consumption. While some substitution possibilities exist for some of its applications, copper is uniquely valuable as a conductor of electricity in a world that is rapidly electrifying. This fact makes the copper life cycle an appropriate subject for holistic analysis.

This book, which includes a quantitative demand forecasting model, is based on a study commissioned by the International Institute for Environment and Development (IIED) for the World Business Council for Sustainable Development (WBCSD) fills that need for the first time. Among the conclusions of the study are the following.

The medium-term prospects for copper producers and copper consuming industries include:

(1) more intensive exploration into more remote regions;

(2) utilization of lower grade ores resulting in more mine wastes and associated waste disposal problems;

(3) more intensive mining efficient ore reduction processes;

(4) dramatic price increases when the current glut works itself out;

(5) significant changes in the patterns of consumption (increasingly electrical applications);

(6) sharp increases in the need for recovering and recycling old scrap copper in the future;

(7) a significant buildup of copper and by-products (especially arsenic) either in use or in the human environment.

Similar implications can be drawn for two other scarce and toxic metals - lead and zinc - often found in geological association with copper.

Vol. 13. Kluwer Academic, 2003

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