Will a copper shortage hinder the energy transition?

Copper is a key component of climatetech. How can we avoid a looming supply crunch?

On the Catalyst with Shayle Kann podcast this week:

The energy transition is fueling skyrocketing demand for copper, an essential metal component that’s used to make renewables, batteries and other climatetech equipment.

But supply isn’t keeping up. There’s more than enough copper in the earth’s known reserves to fulfill our growing demand for the metal, but the amount available for manufacturing is limited due to rising extraction costs and decadeslong lead times to open new mines.

A July 2022 report from S&P Global predicts that demand could begin to exceed supply in just a few years. Without action, a growing supply gap could last into the 2050s, hampering the speed and scale of the energy transition.

What can we do about it?

In this episode, Shayle talks to Cristóbal Undurraga, the CEO of copper mining technology company Ceibo. They talk about the causes of stagnating copper supply and the technologies that could help increase production. 

Disclosure: Energy Impact Partners, Shayle’s venture capital firm, is an investor in Ceibo.

They cover topics including:

  • Energy usage and carbon emissions in copper supply chains.

  • The limitations of scrap recycling to meet growing demand.

  • The geopolitics of copper supply chains, including China’s major role in smelting.

  • The pros and cons of two widely used copper extraction methods: concentration and electrolysis.

  • The two major types of ore — copper oxides and copper sulfides — and why one is so much harder to mine.

  • The long lead times and other challenges that stand in the way of building new mines.

  • Ceibo’s approach to increasing mine capacity using novel electrolysis technology for copper sulfides.

Recommended resources:

Catalyst is a co-production of Post Script Media and Canary Media.

Are you a utility or climatetech startup looking to understand how artificial intelligence will shape your company? Come to Post Script Media’s one-day event, Transition-AI: Boston, on June 15. Our listeners get a 20% discount with the code PSPODS20.

Support for Catalyst comes from Climate Positive, a podcast by HASI that features candid conversations with the leaders, innovators and changemakers who are at the forefront of the transition to a sustainable economy. Listen and subscribe wherever you get your podcasts.

Catalyst is supported by Scale Microgrids, the distributed energy company dedicated to transforming how modern energy infrastructure is designed, constructed and financed. Distributed generation can be complex. Scale makes it easy. Learn more at scalemicrogrids.com.