Copper in electric motors

The European annual motor market (all motor sizes) is 15 M units with an average copper content of 5.3 kg/unit. Annual copper use in this market is 79 ktonnes. This figure is expected to increase because of 2 drivers:

  • Increased efficiency, which in general leads to higher copper use, leading to copper use of 6.5 kg/unit (~ 20% increase)
  • Growth in the market to 20 million units per year, due to motorisation following electrification.

Hence copper use in the future EU motor market can be expected to be 130,000 tonnes per year, an increase of more than 50 ktonnes from today. Over the period 2018-2050, this leads to a an additional use of 1.5 M tonnes (50 k * 30 years). Considering that the average motor lifetime is around 15 years, and that copper in motors has an almost full collection and recycling rate, the demand for primary copper is half this amount, i.e. 750 ktonnes.

New motor technologies could reduce this amount by half. Therefore, in the alternative technology scenario, we reduce this figure to 500 ktonnes.

Industrial electrification of heat

At present, the EU industry uses 150 Mtoe/year of fossil heat through oil, coal, gas. This is equivalent to 1,800 TWh/year. If this industrial heat demand is converted to electroheating technologies, around 750,000 industrial furnaces will be needed. This leads to a new copper demand of 1.5 Mtons. This is based on the following assumptions:

  1. One furnace requires about 1.2 GWh of electricity (e.g. 400 kW for 3000 hours).
  2. Switching to electricity reduces final energy consumption by a factor 2.
  3. 2 tons of copper per furnace for the furnace, its power supply and cabling.

It is highly unlikely that industry will convert from largely combustion technology to electric furnaces, even in a strongly carbon-constrained world. Green combustion using bioenergy or hydrogen will also play an important role. For the moment, we assume that electricity, bioenergy and combustion will play equal roles, leading to 250,000 furnaces and a copper demand of 500,000 tonnes.