Deposits & Availability

Copper is found in traces in almost all rocks.

The average copper content in the earth’s crust is about 0.006 %. In the order of frequency of all elements, copper is in 23rd place. Metals occur in nature mainly as chemical compounds with oxygen (oxides) or with sulphur (sulphides); only very rarely are they found in pure form. Among these exceptions – besides the precious metals gold and silver – is copper.

Copper with its chemical symbol Cu (from cuprum) is found in the periodic system of elements in the first subgroup together with silver and gold. This is because copper has similarities with both metals: copper and gold are the only two coloured metallic elements, and copper and silver are the two best conductors of heat and electricity. The formation of copper ore deposits goes back to complex geological and geochemical processes. Depending on the nature of these processes, deposits of varying size and richness can be formed. Copper ores are found throughout the earth’s crust. The outer 10 km of crust contain about 33 g of copper per tonne of rock. Molten deposits are found in areas with strong volcanic activity millions of years ago. Today, numerous mines are found here because the quantities available make mining economically lucrative.

Copper is found in more than 20 countries around the world.

According to the International Copper Study Group (ICSG), the world's largest producers in 2023 were Chile, Peru, China and Kongo. 

Availability of copper is secured

Other significant deposits can be found in Australia, Indonesia, Russia, Canada, Zambia, Poland, Kazakhstan and Mexico.  While most mines have copper concentrations between 0.2 and 0.8 %, there are even deposits in Central and South Africa that can contain 5 – 6 % copper. New mine capacities of around 250 million tonnes of copper content are to be developed by 2020. In Europe, the largest copper deposits are found in Russia and Poland. Economically operating mines can also be found in Bulgaria, Finland, Portugal, Spain and Sweden.

According to the United States Geological Survey (USGS), copper reserves currently amount to around 1,000 million tonnes (Mt). The identified and undiscovered copper resources are estimated at around 2,100 million tonnes and 3,500 million tonnes respectively. The latter do not take into account the huge quantities of copper that occur in deep-sea nodules and in land-based and submarine massive sulphides. Current and future exploration opportunities will lead to an increase in both reserves and known resources.

Resources and reserves

A resource is a concentration of naturally occurring, solid, liquid or gaseous raw materials in or on the earth’s crust with such a formation and quantity that economic extraction is potentially possible at the present time or in the future. Resources thus represent the total quantity of raw materials, i.e. the total geological deposits. The reserve base is thus that part of a discovered resource that meets a specified minimum of physical and chemical criteria related to current mining methods and production processes. The reserve base thus includes the proven and probable reserves, contingent buildable reserves and parts of the unbuildable discovered resources. Reserves are thus only that part of the reserve base that is known in terms of quantity and quality and classified as mineable.

According to USGS data, an average of 40 years of copper reserves and over 200 years of copper resources have been available since 1950.

In addition, new extraction processes are being developed for poor ore deposits so that copper will continue to be available in sufficient quantities in the future. Overall, the known copper deposits and therefore the copper reserves have increased steadily over the years. It is assumed that this trend will continue in the future.

There are several copper mine projects currently under consideration or under development that will contribute to future supply growth. Global mine production currently stands at around 22 million tonnes of copper and mine capacity at 27 million tonnes.

Unlike other raw materials, the extraction of copper is not dependent on a specific country or region. This leads to greater stability for the copper market and reduces the risk profile. According to the German DERA commodity list, copper ore has a rather low risk and copper refining a medium risk in terms of country concentration and weighted country risk. Nevertheless, according to the EU, copper is a potentially critical metal and is also listed as such in the EU’s Critical Raw Materials Act (CRMA). The reason: copper is categorised as critical because it is considered a strategic raw material for the EU. Raw materials are considered strategic if they are of great importance for strategic technologies in the EU. Copper is difficult to replace due to its superior performance in electrical applications and improves secondary supply due to the very long life of copper in products.

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