Copper mining worries many. Many also use copper. – by Jim Bowyer (Minneapolis Star Tribune – June 28, 2018)

Jim Bowyer is an environmental consultant, an emeritus professor in the Department of Bioproducts and Biosystems Engineering at the University of Minnesota, and the author of “The Irresponsible Pursuit of Paradise.”

In all of the discussion about copper mining in Minnesota, there is a remarkable lack of references to copper consumption within our state. At the same time that wind and solar energy expansion and electric vehicles are being enthusiastically promoted, the critical role of copper (and nickel) to these developments is never mentioned.

A typical wind turbine contains 4 to 8 tons of copper. Solar collectors contain even more copper per unit of energy generated. Even more significant is the copper used in the production of hybrid and electric vehicles. A fully electric automobile contains three to four times as much copper as a standard vehicle — a hybrid about twice as much. As the market for fossil-fuel-free vehicles expands, so does our need for copper.

In late 2017, the world’s largest mining company, BHP Billiton, estimated that conversion of just 8 percent of the global auto fleet to electric vehicles would increase global copper use by more than 40 percent. The World Energy Council estimated an even greater impact on copper demand.

This expected increase comes on top of an already rapid rise in copper consumption. Overall copper consumption doubled between 1963 and 1996 — then doubled again over the past two decades.

Copper consumed here comes from about 40 mines located around the U.S., and from imports. A ranking of countries with respect to known copper reserves shows the U.S. among the top six. The quantity of America’s known reserves is similar to those of Mexico and about four times those of Canada.

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