In this special event series, ISRI News is in Chicago covering The Roundtables. The annual event attracts processors, brokers, traders and other recycling professionals from around the world.
The current push towards electric vehicles (EVs) and electrification makes one wonder why there isn’t a copper deficit that many in the recycled materials industry have been expecting. “We’re still in a soft patch, massive demands have not yet materialized,” said Ed Meir, senior commodity consultant at Marex during the copper roundtable at this year’s The Roundtables. The sanctions on Russia after the outbreak of war also led to expectations of a copper deficit but Meir explained that due to leakage of Russian copper into other countries this did not occur.
What about investments in current electrical infrastructure, why hasn’t that impacted the copper market? “Spending on infrastructure doesn’t necessarily improve current infrastructure,” explained Andy Kireta, president and CEO of the Copper Development Association. Kireta cited examples where FEMA regulations prevent funds used in areas hit by natural disasters to improve their infrastructure; funds can only replace what was lost.
“When we talk about copper we can’t avoid talking about China,” said Sebastien Perron, vice president recycling procurement at Wieland North America Recycling. It is estimated that Chinese construction consumes about 20% of the world’s copper supply. Despite being one of the biggest players, China keeps its hand close to its chest, “China is unpredictable on how they take recycled materials and the regulations they issue,” said Perron.
It’s clear that use of copper is going to rapidly increase in the coming years but the unpredictability of China, events like the pandemic and the war in Ukraine have caused many countries to start investing in their own domestic supply. “Resource nationalism, globalization with borders is going to increase,” said Kireta. “This is why copper needs to be a critical mineral.” Kireta hopes this designation will help lead to a forward looking and cohesive approach to copper in the U.S.