Non-ferrous metals: decarbonizing the industry for a sustainable future. Copper
Among nonferrous metals, copper made headlines on Sept. 7, 2023.LME free copper stocks in fact jumped with the release of 23,450 tons into the stockpile. The gradual increase in stocks, which began in June, thus led to the stock exceeding 120 thousand tons, the highest level since early 2023.
The news provides a cue to summarize some data on the long-term outlook for global copper demand and related challenges for the sustainability of the supply chain of one of the most widely used nonferrous metals
The importance of decarbonization in the non-ferrous metal "king" of industry
Among non-ferrous metals, copper stands out for its projected growth in consumption in the coming decades. In fact, it is expected to double by 2050. The International Copper Association (ICA), which groups 31 operators representing half of the world’s copper production today, estimates that annual demand for refined copper will reach 50 million tons in 2050 due to energy transition, population growth and economic development.
According to the report “Copper – The Pathway To Net Zero” published in March 2023 by ICA – Copper Alliance, copper producers emit 97 million tons per year of greenhouse gases (GHGs), or 0.2 percent of the world total. Of these, 23% are direct plant emissions (Scope 1). 46% are indirect emissions from electricity, steam, heating and cooling supplies (Scope 2). 31% are other indirect emissions associated with production processes, logistics, waste management, end-of-life treatment of products sold, etc. (Scope 3).
Trends and new challenges for copper in the nonferrous metals sector
Copper producers have reduced GHG emission intensity by an average of 13.4 percent in 28 years, records the ICA – Copper Alliance report. That is, from 5.4 tons of CO2 per ton of refined copper in 1990 to 4.6 tons in 2018. An achievement made possible by increased use of secondary raw materials through metal recycling practices, changes in the energy mix and improved production efficiency.
Specifically, regarding the contribution of recycling in circular economy logic among nonferrous metals, copper scrap recovered from end-of-life products can meet 16 percent of demand, according to the Global Copper Flow Model of the German Fraunhofer Isi Research Institute for Industrial Applications. And another 16 percent can come from copper processing scrap.
Solutions for the sustainable transition of non-ferrous metals: Net Zero target for copper
For direct Scope 1 and indirect Scope 2 emissions, the commitment of copper producers associated with ICA is to zero greenhouse gas emissions in 2050. Intermediate abatement steps: 30-40% in 2030, 70-80% in 2040. There are four areas of focus: electricity from decarbonized sources from both self-generation and external supply; alternative fuels and energy carriers such as biofuels (hydrotreated vegetable oils – HVO), synthetic fuels (e-fuel), hydrogen; progressive electrification of road freight vehicles and production facilities (electric drills, in-pit crushing and conveying); and improved efficiency performance at different stages of the production process.
For indirect Scope 3 emissions, the challenge is even more difficult, given the complex interdependence of different copper supply chain actors. Therefore, joint actions in partnership and availability of up-to-date emissions data from all stakeholders are needed. Additional areas of focus include near shoring of production and suppliers along value chains to increase efficiency and capacity for performance measurement, verification of actions to be implemented, and risk management in the non-ferrous metals market. The Scope 3 target for 2050 is to achieve at least 60-70% abatement, with intermediate steps of 10% in 2030 and 30-40% in 2040