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Electric Vehicles’ Copper Components Compound Shortage

By: Ryan Gallagher October 6, 2017
Copper wire—a key component in electric vehicles—may decline in availability as demand for the mineral grows.

Electric cars are not just changing how we travel—these new vehicles could also dictate which natural resources are most important on Earth.

As it happens, fully electric vehicles (EVs) are causing a worldwide decline in copper resources, which may lead to future shortages. EVs require four times as much copper as combustion engine-powered vehicles.

Anything running on electricity needs an electrical conductor. If you paid attention in high school science, you may remember that, more often than not, this conductor is copper wire. In some cases, electric vehicles are using nearly 200 pounds of copper wiring to power the car, according to Business Insider.

“The EV boom would be felt—for producers—first in copper, where supply will struggle to match increased demand,” said Arnoud Balhuizen, the chief commercial officer at Australian mining firm BHP.

Adding to this problem is the fact that there have not been any major copper deposit discoveries in two decades. So, copper prices and demand will continue to rise, while mining companies continue to deplete existing mines.

Current copper mines like BHP’s in Escondida, Chile, are spending more money for the same production rate. And on top of that, there has been a 28% decline in copper ore grade.

“BHP must extract a full one-third more material for the same amount of copper concentrate,” according to a report by the investment website Seeking Alpha. “That ore becomes deeper and harder to extract each year.” 

This news comes at a time when countries like France, China, and the United Kingdom are planning to do away with combustion engine cars—there are even talks of combustion engine bans in American states like California. These moves will only serve to increase the demand for EVs—and their copper wires.

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