According to a new report from the Copper Development Association (CDA), McClean, Virginia, copper now meets the U.S. Geological Survey’s (USGS’) benchmark Supply Risk score of 0.4 for automatic inclusion on the U.S. Critical Minerals List. The CDA says the report replicates the USGS methodology used to determine mineral criticality.
Originally created in 2018, the U.S. Critical Minerals List contains minerals deemed essential to U.S. economic or national security that have supply chains vulnerable to disruption. The list by statute is intended to be updated every three years at a minimum, however, the Secretary of Interior can update it at any time. When compiling the 2022 list, USGS utilized a new qualitative methodology to look closer at a supply risk score by calculating the economic vulnerability, disruption potential and trade exposure of various minerals. USGS stopped calculating with 2018 data when compiling the 2022 list, resulting in copper missing the required 0.40 supply risk score threshold for automatic inclusion.
“Because USGS data was considerably out of date upon the release of the 2022 Critical Minerals List, and the risks to copper from imports has increased dramatically, we engaged an analyst to update copper’s supply risk score with the most recently available data to 2022,” says Andrew G. Kireta Jr., CDA president and CEO.
New USGS data show the share of copper consumption that is met by net imports has increased from 33 percent in 2018 to 44 percent in 2021 and 41 percent in 2022. In the first half of 2022, the net import reliance stood at 48 percent, the CDA says.
The CDA report calculates copper’s Supply Risk score in 2022 as 0.423, while the four-year weighted average score is 0.407. Both of these figures are above the USGS 0.40 threshold for automatic inclusion on the list.
“Copper is and always has been critical to our economic and national security but now to the clean energy transition as well,” Kireta says. “As copper now meets the threshold for inclusion based on the very latest available data, we need to act immediately to enable the copper industry to provide the essential inputs that copper provides to our national defense and economic security.”
With this data, a broad cross-section of political, policy and industry leaders have signed letters to U.S. Department of the Interior Secretary Deb Haaland urging her to exercise the authority given by statute to officially add copper to the list without waiting for the next update in three years, the CDA says. Sen. Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona spearheaded a bipartisan letter from senators representing some of the largest copper-producing and fabricating states.
“Designating copper as a critical mineral strengthens vulnerabilities against foreign adversaries like Russia and China, bolsters our economic and energy security and fuels Arizona jobs, which will keep America strong and ready,” Sinema says.
Letters to Haaladd urging that copper be included on the list also have been signed by the co-chairs of the U.S. House Copper Caucus; the governors from Georgia, Idaho, Utah and Alaska; and a large coalition of trade associations, unions and industry leaders.
Copper Caucus Co-Chairs Bob Latta of Ohio and Brian Higgins of New York say, “As members of Congress whose districts include manufacturing facilities that are copper-intensive and essential to the future of our economy’s transition, such a designation would help secure the economic future of these facilities and these communities.”
The CDA says adding copper to the Critical Minerals List will allow for streamlined regulations and faster development of new supply sources to meet future demand.
The CDA’s website at www.copperiscritical.org offers additional information on why copper deserves designation as a Critical Mineral.
John E. Gross, president of John E. Gross Consulting Inc., Huntington, New York, and publisher The Copper Journal, tells Recycling Today, “Copper should have been added to the U.S. list of critical materials a long time ago.
“We have shown in The Copper Journal and in several presentations that the United States is in a precarious position as relates to one of the most important metals our country depends on. Our dependence on imports of refined copper for approximately half of our consumption is deplorable,” he adds.
“We as a country must address this important issue sooner rather than later,” Gross says.
In an article for Recycling Today that will appear in our February 2023 edition, Gross writes of how the United States exports vast amounts of copper scrap, only to take back that copper in air conditioners, plumbing parts, electric appliances and other products.
“Except for periods of recession, U.S. consumption of refined copper grew from 1.86 million metric tons in 1970 to a peak of 3.03 million metric tons in 2000. From that high, domestic consumption trended lower primarily because manufacturing moved to other countries where the cost of labor and other inputs was cheaper.”
He adds that while the U.S. copper industry was declining, China’s was seeing considerable growth. “In 2000, 1.008 million metric tons (74 percent) of total refined production were from primary material, and 348,000 metric tons (26 percent) were from scrap. In 2021, 8.209 million metric tons (78 percent) were from primary, while scrap made up 2.257 million metric tons (22 percent) of the total. This is an important point because leaders of the major copper producers in China have pledged to use 25 percent copper scrap in their production moving forward.”
Gross notes that China imported 1.694 million metric tons of copper and copper alloy scrap in 2022, up 750,000 metric tons (79 percent) from the 944,000 imported in 2021.
He writes that In 2004, domestic manufacturers that use copper scrap petitioned the U.S. government to put a cap on scrap exports because prices and export shipments were rising; however, the U.S. Department of Commerce determined export controls were not needed.
“With global competition for copper scrap, either export controls or higher prices could be required to keep more metal within the U.S.,” he writes.