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.

Copper use in electric vehicles

According to [1] in the EU 2050 scenario, electric vehicles with require 11.6 million tons of copper in the period up to 2050.

Cf [2]. a European Union of 508 million citizens with 500 cars per thousand citizens owns a car fleet of 254 million cars (2015).

Cf [3-5], car sharing and autonomous driving are expected to reduce vehicles in use by 10-90%. This is a very wide range. We will assume a 50% reduction in car ownership compared to the 2015 level, i.e. 127 million cars.

Note that passenger-km with cars are still expected to increase 20% between 2015 and 2050 according to the EU reference scenario [6]. For the same mileage per car, this makes the above 50% assumption effectively a 70% reduction.

In addition, car sharing will mean a shorter lifetime for vehicles since the same number of km will be served by less cars. Under above assumptions, we can expect vehicle lifetime to significantly decrease and hence end-of-life recovery of materials in vehicles becomes increasingly important.

According to [7], the additional copper demand for PHEV and BEV compared to ICE vehicles is:

  • PHEV: ~40 kg
  • BEV: ~ 60 kg

We expect however the copper use in batteries to reduce by 25% over the coming decades which would reduce above figures by respectively 5 and 10 kg. Hence, the average additional copper use per plugged vehicle would be 42.5 kg.

This leads to a copper requirement of 127 M * 42.5 = 5.4 M tonnes.


  1. Copper requirements to build a near-100% renewable electricity system in Europe
  2. Vehicle ownership in the EU (EEA)
  3. Self-driving vehicles could cut the number of cars in use by as much as 90% (EEA)
  4. Self-driving vehicles could cut US auto sales by 40% (WE Forum)
  5. Vehicles in use to reduce by 10 – 30% (Frost & Sullivan)
  6. EU reference scenario 2016 (European Commission)
  7. Electric vehicles & copper demand (Copper Alliance)

Co-products and by-products from copper mining

A total of 18 byproducts and coproducts of copper mining have been identified in [1]. For 6 elements, copper mining ensures over 50% of global production, and for 3, even more than 80%.



[1] (2014 – checked October 2018)

[2] (author page – checked October 2018)

[3] (not dated – checked October 2018)

How much and how many metals in mobile phones?

A mobile phone is typically composed of about 40% of plastic, 32% of non-ferrous metal, 20% of glass and ceramics, 3% of ferrous metal and 5% other [1]. Metals referred to in ref [1] are iron, copper (16 g), silver (0.35 g), gold (0.034 g), platinum and palladium.

Ref [2] mentions additionally the use of aluminium, magnesium, tin, cobalt, lead, nickel, cadmium and nickel. The document provides some guidance on best practices for the end-of-life treatment of mobile phones.

Ref [3] refers to total 60 elements being used in mobile phones, mentioning from the metals family (in addition to above metals) tantalum, neodynium and indium. It gives good information about the recycling value-chain and its challenges.

The above three paragraphs list a total of 16 metals used in mobile phones. Based on the total use of 60 elements, and the observation that only 20-30 of the world’s 118 elements are non-metallic, the number of metallic elements used in mobile phones could be as high as 30-40. 


[1] (not dated – checked October 2018)

[2] (2012 – checked October 2018)

[3] (2017 – checked October 2018)