We're Not Mining Enough Copper to Meet Upcoming EV Projections: Report

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Copper Mining Can't Meet EV Expectations: Reportpicture alliance - Getty Images

Penning a report called Copper Mining and Vehicle Electrification, Professors Lawrence M. Cathles and Adam C. Simon claim that a key mineral in EV production, copper, isn't being mined at a strong enough rate to support long-term EV sales goals.

a worker assembles an electric car battery inside the battery pack shop at the electric automobile plant of vinfast in haiphong on april 7, 2022 photo by nhac nguyen afp photo by nhac nguyenafp via getty images

Cobalt, graphite, lithium, manganese, and nickel are all essential to electrification in their own ways, but copper fulfills a particularly important responsibility in the production of EVs. Found in everything from the electric motors, batteries, inverters, and the wiring of an electric car as well as in the charging stations themselves, copper is attractive for electrification due to its ability to conduct heat, resist corrosion, and relatively low cost of production.


The Copper Development Association says that each electric vehicle can have up to a mile of copper inside of it. Similarly, the report notes that the manufacturing process of an EV uses around 132 pounds of copper, as compared to 52 pounds of copper used to produce an equivalent gasoline-powered vehicle.

"Copper is the mineral most fundamental to the human future because it is essential to electricity generation, distribution, and storage," the report reads. "Copper availability and demand determine the rate of electrification, which is the foundation of current climate policy."

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So, it's kind of a big deal when a pair of researchers say we won't have enough to fulfill our domestic EV sales goals by 2035. With federal and state climate policies hinging on all-out sales of electric vehicles by 2035 and adoption incentives continuing on strong, Cathles and Simon say that an increase of 115 percent more copper mining than has been mined in all of human history up to 2018 will be necessary to meet these goals. Additionally, to meet the predicted EV production shifts, the report says that 55 percent more new mines will be needed.

However, finding these copper deposits and then permitting the mining process is much easier said than done. Of the 224 copper deposits discovered since 1990, only 16 of them were discovered in the past decade, according to the report. Even when deposits were found, permitting processes were frequently canceled. All hope shouldn't be lost, though, as Cathles and Simon say that existing mines in Arizona, New Mexico, and Utah are capable of expanding and growing.

"For the longer term, it is important that copper exploration and mine development be encouraged, starting now," the report reads. "The EU and US should demonstrate on their own territories that increasinglyresponsible mining can be carried out and thereby prove that they consider mining to be important and are willing to do their share of it."

Ultimately, the pair states that federal, state, and automaker plans should be altered to fit a more realistic material availability going forward. Instead of aiming for 100 percent EV manufacturing and sales by 2035, a shift toward manufacturing 100 percent hybrid electric vehicles by 2035 would be prudent, if only for the transparent amount of copper needed for a battery electric model.

"Hybrid electric vehicles could have almost as large an impact on reducing CO2 emissions and city pollution, and the likelihood of the copper required for their manufacture being available is much greater," the report reads. " This is not a perfect solution, but it is a much more resource-realistic one."

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