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The first step after mining copper ore is to use electrolysis to create copper cathodes.
The first step after mining copper ore is to use electrolysis to create copper cathodes.

How Much Copper's In That Electric Vehicle?

By Zolaikha Strong

Copper has an indispensable role to play as a building block in the emerging electric vehicle market.

Rising public interest in new electric vehicle (EV) technologies has been driven by recent major announcements from auto manufacturers, ambitious global commitments to fossil fuel reduction, and increased public awareness of sustainability issues. As many people are trying to live greener lives, governments worldwide are striving to scale back their reliance on internal combustion engines (ICE). Analysts and researchers are predicting an eminent tipping point that will lead us into an electric vehicles boom.

A recent report from the Edison Electric Institute and the Institute for Electric Innovation (EEI/IEI) predicts that the number of plug-in electric vehicles (PEV) on U.S. roads will reach 7 million by 2025, up from 567,000 today. Annual PEV sales are expected to grow from 0.9 percent of total vehicle sales in 2016 to 7.3 percent in 2025, indicating a very strong trend that is expected to grow exponentially as more and more people see EV technology improve after each passing year.

Plug-in Electric Vehicle fleet growth graph

Enhanced electric battery technology and increased efficiency are at the core of getting EVs to the tipping point, where they can surpass the performance of traditional internal combustion vehicles. These advances will rely on the properties of various metals and materials. Lithium, cobalt and nickel are known for their use in electric vehicles, as well as copper. Copper is also essential for EV charging stations and supporting the larger electrical grid.

Copper is the building block on which these advances lie, and the material that is so critical to the development of electric vehicles. It is used in the electric motors, batteries, inverters, wiring and even in charging stations of EVs. Copper’s high conductivity and reliability are relied upon in both traditional electrical generation and renewable technologies. Beyond electrical wiring, copper is used to increase the efficiency of motors and transformers. It is also used in wind turbines, solar panels, energy storage and, of course, electric vehicles. These end-uses give copper a major role to play in the global shift toward efficiency and sustainability. The metal itself is a sustainable material, as it is 100 percent recyclable. When its end-use applications reach the end of their service life, the copper can be reused without losing any of its valuable engineering properties.

While conventional cars use 18-49 pounds of copper, hybrid electric vehicles (HEV) contain approximately 85 pounds, plug-in hybrid electric vehicles (PHEV) use 132 pounds, battery electric vehicles (BEVs) contain 183 pounds, a hybrid electric bus contains 196 pounds, and a battery electric bus contains 814 pounds, most of which is used in the battery. Pure EVs additionally can contain more than a mile of copper wiring in their stator windings. In fact, the total estimated amount of copper used in all electric vehicles manufactured by BYD, the world’s largest electric vehicle maker, in 2016 was nearly 26 million pounds. (Source: International Copper Association)

It is easy to see why the increasing demand for electric vehicles will significantly impact the copper market, because of its important use in electrical components. The demand for copper due to electric vehicles is expected to increase by 1,700 kilotons by 2027. (Source: International Copper Association)

As demand for electric vehicles increases, a major investment in charging infrastructure will be required nationwide to support this growth. According to EEI/IEI, 5 million charge ports will need to be installed in order to support the projected 7 million PEVs on the road by 2025. Copper will play a role here as well, due to its use in charging stations and other supporting infrastructure.

There are three types of charge ports, which are typically installed at homes, workplaces or public locations:
• Level 1: 120 Volts; Charging Time: Overnight
• Level 2: 220 volts; Charging Time: Several Hours
• DC Fast Chargers: DCFC; Charging Time: Under an Hour

There currently are between 50,000 and 70,000 Level 2 ports in work or public locations in the U.S.; and that number needs to be increased to between 2,230,000 and 2,240,000 by 2025.

As the world continues to move toward a sustainable and energy efficient future, copper has a major role to play. Copper and other metals will be significantly relied upon as the world moves away from internal combustion engines and toward electric mobility. [Editor's note: Also see EV World's interview with Bill Carter, the author of Boom, Bust, Boom - A Story of Copper, the Metal Than Runs the World].

For more information about copper in electric vehicles, visit copper.org.

Zolaikha Strong

Zolaikha Strong is the Director Energy Policy and Efficiency Standards for the Copper Development Association.

Times Article Viewed: 32244
Originally published: 05 Sep 2017

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