Golden age of copper

It is not quite pulled out of a hat to claim that the need for copper will increase in the coming decade. Expert Pia Voutilainen also believes that we will find uses for the precious metal that we have not yet thought about. 

For example, climate change, urbanization and the energy transition force us to find new, sustainable solutions for running the society and everyday life. 

– For example, investments in a fossil free future have increased on all continents, and development towards a carbon-free society has been amazing in recent years, says Pia Voutilainen, a metallurgist working on copper for 30 years and the director of the Nordic association of copper producers. 

Voutilainen sees copper as an essential part of modern technology now and in the future. There are also justifications for why different sectors should see the classic precious metal as a wonderful material of the new age.

Conductive metal promotes ecological issues

Thanks to its excellent conductivity, copper has always been a significant material in the electrical and energy industries. The role of the element is emphasized when moving towards low-emission mobility solutions. 

– Copper is widely used in electric motors and conducting wires. While a conventional car has 25 kg of copper, an electric car has 75 kg of copper. In addition, the charging network needs a lot of copper, Voutilainen explains. 

With the help of the precious metal, additional emission savings will also be sought in the construction sector, where copper is used thanks to its significant thermal conductivity and heat transfer properties. 

– The major energy transformation will result in intensive renewal of systems in the coming decade. New heat pumps, heat recovery equipment and smart control systems improve the energy efficiency of housing and infrastructure and help produce heat and cold without burning coal, Voutilainen says.

Under safe wings

The aim is to further strengthen the status of copper service water pipes with a recent study. The study published in autumn 2020 was commissioned by the Ministry of Economic Affairs and Employment to support the building criteria of the Nordic ecolabel.

– The neutral study conducted by the Finnish Environment Institute states that copper does not cause a problem for the environment or people in water pipes. The report is based on examining existing research material and interviews with experts, Voutilainen explains. 

The carbon footprint of the pipelines was assessed on the basis of European averages. The studies also included domestic service water pipes from Cupori. 

– A pipe produced by Cupori in Finland is much cleaner from the point of view of the carbon footprint, which is evident from the calculation currently underway at VTT Technical Research Centre of Finland. 

Industry benefits from smart solutions

Natural resource saving and energy-efficient operations are also pursued in copper production. The green properties of the orange metal and sustainable production make copper an excellent raw material for the industry affected by various environmental requirements. 

– In the Nordic countries, copper production is the world’s most energy-efficient and low-carbon production. Copper melting energy is mainly derived from the carbon free specific energy contained in the raw material. In Cupori, the copper raw material is 100% recycled and therefore has a uniquely small carbon footprint on a larger scale. It’s a great feature, says Voutilainen.

Although the reuse of copper is efficient and the recycling rate is good, mining will be needed to cover the growing demand. The Nordic countries also operate as model students in this field. 

– Mines have invested in innovative solutions, such as replacing fuel with electricity in vehicles and machinery. Nordic electricity is mostly fossil free, leaving a very small carbon footprint, Voutilainen explains.  

The next decade will be copper’s 

The 2020s and 2030s will be dominated by a more environmentally conscious generation, for which recycling, sorting and the protection of biodiversity are an essential part of everyday life. The same value base will steer their way of doing business. 

This creates a lot of opportunities, especially for copper. 

– The numerous positive properties of copper pave the metal a way into a bright future. Surely in the coming decade, there will be more uses for it, which we have hardly even thought about, Voutilainen says