What role can the circular economy play in meeting the growing demand for copper and other critical minerals?
New research led by the Smith School’s Konstantin Born aimed at understanding the potential of recycling to fulfil the growing demand for copper finds that downstream circular economy strategies like recycling, although vitally important, will at most only be able to supply 50 % of the total copper demand by 2050.
As a result, primary copper extraction is expected to rise significantly until at least 2040 and the amount of copper we need to mine in 2050 will, with a high likelihood, still be above current production levels.
Consequently, to ensure that the raw materials for clean technologies are sourced and produced sustainably, the researchers point out that, beyond increasing recycling capacity, there is a strong need to also pursue alternative circular economy strategies, such as mitigating the harmful impacts of mining and reducing the demand for critical minerals. “This could include regional sharing of mining infrastructure and reusing mining waste,” suggests Konstantin.
“While the transition to clean energy will inevitably drive demand for some critical minerals, it presents the best and only realistic way of reducing humanity’s emissions to safe levels. But it is also important to highlight the trade-offs, so we can start to mitigate them. Circular economy strategies for copper production and other critical minerals should be key a focus for researchers and policymakers over the coming years,” continues Konstantin.