The US Geological Society (USGS) has denied a bipartisan request to add copper to its official critical mineral list. The request was made by the Copper Development Association (CDA) due to a “dramatic supply risk”.
The CDA’s president Andrew Kireta has criticised the decision as not being “consistent with the spirit or the letter of the law”. Several large copper miners including Rio Tinto, BHP and Freeport-McMoRan are CDA members.
“Despite clear data showing that copper’s supply risk score is now above the threshold for automatic inclusion on the 2022 critical minerals list, USGS sent well-crafted letters to a bipartisan group of congressmen and senators filled with misleading arguments that were not part of its own official 2022 methodology,” Kireta went on.
The European Commission, however, labelled copper under its Critical Raw Material Act and Strategic Raw Material Act in March.
According to Bernard Respaut, chief executive of the European Copper Institute, the European Commission’s decision to include copper “acknowledges the crucial role of metals and minerals, and copper specifically, in enabling the EU’s transition towards a climate neutral continent and commits to securing the EU’s access to these raw materials”.
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The CDA said in a statement that the decision affects the USGS’s ability to “forecast future supply and demand projections”.
Copper’s evaluation “out of date”
According to the CDA, the “USGS’s last official evaluation for the 2022 Critical Minerals List is based on copper trade data that represents supply risk from 2014 to 2018, five to nine years out of date, and too old to be meaningful”. The US critical mineral list is updated every three years.
The decision was made despite several senators showing their support for the re-categorisation of copper. Supporters included Senators Kyrsten Sinema and Mark Kelly of Arizona, Joe Manchin of West Virginia, Indiana’s Mike Braun, Raphael Warnock of Georgia and Mitt Romney of Utah.
Copper is frequently used in energy transition technologies including electric vehicles (EVs). According to the International Energy Agency (IEA) EVs require, on average, more than double the amount of copper and manganese than a fossil fuel-powered car. The IEA has also projected that EV sales will increase by 35% in 2023.
Global copper reserves are estimated to equal 870 million tonnes with annual demand at an average of 28 million tonnes. According to consultancy McKinsey, electrification is projected to increase copper demand to 36.6 million tonnes annually by 2031.
Kireta calls upon “members of congress to not accept USGS’ decision lightly and to undertake all means and measures to address this ill-conceived and unfounded decision”. The USGS has not yet responded to Mining Technology’s request for comment.