The upcoming e-mobility wave could potentially lead to increased demand for metals such as copper, neodymium, and nickel. The Fraunhofer Institute for Systems and Innovation Research ISI has gotten granular on the question if the geological availability of these raw materials is high enough to support e-mobility. The answer is yes, but...
The analysis focuses on the consumption of geological copper resources in the time frame through 2050. All applications for copper have been included into the calculation; particular notice was taken of e-mobility. The somewhat surprising result was that e-mobility will not have much influence on the global copper demand. Even with an (unrealistic) 85 percent market share of e-cars to all new admissions, this segment would make up to only 21 percent of the entire global demand for copper. In a more moderate growth scenario, e-mobility would absorb only 14 percent of the world's copper, explained researcher Martin Wietschel.
According to the study, the geological copper reserves suffice to meet demand in all application segments. Since the reserves are distributed across many countries, political risk associated to copper supply is low. However, with the mining technologies available today, the copper reserves will be exhausted in the 2030s. Since new deposits need to be opened and new technologies have to be developed, a price hike for copper can be expected, explained co-author Gerhard Angerer. And, in order to ensure continuing supply, the development of new mines has to be done within the coming ten to 15 years.
Also the recycling of copper must be intensified. While in most industrialized countries there are already advanced recycling systems in place, there is still a high potential for recycling in the emerging markets.
Another way to avoid supply disruptions is to replace copper by other materials such as aluminum. While technically feasible, the usage of aluminum instead of copper however would significantly affect energy efficiency. Alternatives could be, to some extend, to replace copper by glass fiber or wireless technologies in telecommunications and data networks.
The institute plans to conduct further studies dedicated to other raw materials related to e-mobility. On the list are neodymium used for high-performance magnets in electric motors as well as cobalt and nickel which are used for cathodes in lithium-ion batteries.
Courtesy of Automotive DesignLine Europe.