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 2019 were Chile, Peru, China and the USA.
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.
Currently, global copper reserves are estimated at 870 million tonnes (US Geological Survey [USGS], 2020): annual copper demand is 28 million tonnes. According to USGS data, since 1950 there has always been an average of 40 years of copper reserves and over 200 years of copper resources available. These include reserves, discovered and potentially profitable deposits and undiscovered deposits predicted on the basis of preliminary geological surveys. These copper resources total 5,000 million tonnes (USGS, 2014 & 2017). In addition to the known deposits, it is worth mentioning that 35 percent of the world’s demand is met with recycled copper, which significantly reduces the need for mined copper.
Furthermore, new extraction methods 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 thus also the copper reserves have steadily increased over the years. It is assumed that this trend will continue in the future.
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.
Growing mining capacities
The total potential annual mining capacity of projects under development and feasibility worldwide alone is almost 15 million tonnes of copper/year. Significant expansions are also planned from 2023 onwards.
The extraction of copper is not dependent on a specific country or region, as is the case with other commodities. This leads to greater stability for the copper market and lowers the risk profile. According to EU studies, copper is not one of the critical raw materials, especially since the mining capacities can be expanded.
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