Here is the second part in our summer series on renewable energy and the metals needed for for its advancement, including the miners exploring for and adding to the copper supply.
Copper is an integral metal used for the generation of electricity, renewable energy, and sustainable energy infrastructure. It is integrated into all types of renewable energy such as electric cars, wind turbines, solar panels and geothermal energy. Copper has a high electrical and thermal conductivity. It is a special renewable resource because 100% of it can be recycled. When recycled, copper can perform without any loss of productivity.
Electric vehicles use copper in the battery and throughout the car for electric components. Copper is used in charging stations because of the metals high durability. The amount of copper used in cars can vary depending on the type.
· Conventional cars: Average 18-49 pounds of copper depending on size
· Hybrid cars: 85 pounds of copper
· Plug-in hybrid cars: 132 pounds of copper
· Battery electric cars: 183 pounds of copper
· Hybrid electric buses: 196 pounds of copper
· Battery electric buses: 814 pounds of copper
The main use of copper in wind turbines is in the transformer coils. Each wind turbine varies, but the Vesta V47, a 660-kW turbine has about 800 pounds of copper. The goal for the US is for wind turbines to supply 20% of the electricity consumed. By doing so there will need to be a consumption of 400 metric tons of copper, that is equivalent to 880,000 pounds. Recycled material could supply about 3% of the copper needed to get to the goal of 400 metric tons of copper.
Copper has the best thermal conductivity of all engineering metals. Because copper is so thermal, thin sheets of copper can collect the same heat as thicker gauges of aluminum or steel. The electrical and thermal conductivity to atmospheric corrosion makes copper important for solar energy. A well-designed plant uses about 9,000 pounds of copper per megawatt at peak capacity.
The temperature underground is consistent even when the temperature outside is hot or cold. Geothermal energy uses water passing through a steam turbine where the heat is converted into electricity with a generator. Tubes made out of copper run underground to keep the desirable temperature. Copper tubing is a more effective thermal transfer. The copper tubes used are smaller in diameter than plastic tubes reducing costs.
Copper is produced in a multiple step process. First, copper ore, a natural occurring material, is withdrawn from either an open pit mine or an underground mine. The second step is processing the ore by breaking larger rocks into smaller pieces. The first step of concentrating copper into more usable form is, beneficiation of the ore. After that, the process of smelting and extracting, which is the heating and melting of the ore to melt out a base metal. The next step is the plating operation, and the last step is making high purity copper cathodes.
Chile is the world leader for producing copper. In 2016 Chile produced about 5.5 million tons of copper. Chile more than doubled the second largest producer, Peru, with about 2.3 million tons produced in 2016.
According to Mining Global, the top 5 mining companies in the world based on outputs in 2016:
1. Codelco, a Chilean mining company output about 1,827kt.
2. Freeport; headquarters are in Phoenix Arizona outputs about 1,696kt.
3. Glencore; a Swiss based company output about 1,288kt.
4. BHP Billiton; an Austrailian company output about 1,113.
5. Southern Copper; a Mexico based company output about 900kt.
And to help feed the future supply chain of copper, here are a few junior mining and exploration companies exploring for and developing copper properties throughout the world.
1. MOD Resources - an Australian-listed copper exploration and development company with a focus on copper projects in the central and western Kalahari Copper Belt in Botswana.
2. Xanadu Mines - a copper and gold exploration company with several advanced exploration projects in Mongolia’s highly mineralized and vastly underexplored south Gobi region
3. Mundoro Capital - In Serbia, Mundoro methodically staked a district-scale land position in the prolific Timok Mining Camp which hosts significant Gold-Copper deposits. Mundoro has generated drill targets and is actively pursuing joint venture opportunities for this package.
4. Kutcho Copper Corp. - a Canadian resource development company focused on expanding and developing the Kutcho high grade copper-zinc project in northern British Columbia.
5. Excelsior Mining - is a mineral exploration and development company that is advancing the Gunnison Copper Project in Cochise County, Arizona.
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