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How the Expansion of Megacities Will Boost Metal Markets



How the Expansion of Megacities Will Boost Metal Markets Full

How the Expansion of Megacities Will Boost Metal Markets

Urbanization drives metal demand, and megacities are leading the drive.

As developing economies grow, millions of people are moving to cities to pursue opportunities compounded by proximity and availability to resources. Many of these people see their economic circumstances improve, and consumption increases as a result.

Cars get more numerous, electricity and public transport networks expand, and consumers buy more electronic products for their homes. All of this means more steel, more copper, more aluminum, and more cement are needed.

The rise of China’s megacities in recent decades embodies this growth of living standards and demand for resources. By 2035, Oxford Economics forecasts that Asian cities as a group will be richer than European and North American cities combined, with six Chinese cities on the list of the 10 richest cities globally: Beijing, Chongqing, Guangzhou, Shanghai, Shenzhen, and Tianjin.

By 2035 these six cities are expected to double their wealth, while global average income per capita is expected to increase by only 37% during the same period.

This infographic, based on research from Swann, takes a look at how the growth of megacities will drive metal demand well into the future.

Megacities Metal Megatrend: Growth in Demand to 2035

The Swann Index measures the intensity of use of each metal by looking at global consumption in tonnes between 2014 and 2019, dividing by GDP per capita, and then forecasting demand up until 2035. Here are some key materials and how they are expected to fare:

MetalDemand (tonnes, 2019)Demand (tonnes, 2035)Change (2019–2035)

Nickel demand is forecast to increase by 116%, from 2.4 million tonnes in 2019 to 5.2 million tonnes in 2035. The drive is fueled by consumer goods, batteries, and high-value new applications, such as super alloys and stainless steel.

Aluminum and steel are also expected to see significant growth of 57% and 50%, respectively. Aluminum’s growth will be particularly noticeable due to the market size, with an expected demand of 103.6 million tonnes in 2035.

Copper’s demand growth will largely be pushed by decarbonization and the transition to electrification and automated technology. The metal is expected to see demand increase by 26% to 29.7 million tonnes in 2035.

In comparison, zinc is likely to underperform other base metals, with an estimated increase of only 6%. This modest growth reflects strong competition from aluminum in some end-use markets such as diecast alloys.

Future Megacities on the African Horizon

Though megacity demand for metals is being driven largely by Asian growth in 2020, the focus will likely shift in the coming decades.

Projections of future population growth and the world’s biggest cities all point to Africa as the next leader in growth, and subsequently, demand. Estimates show that 17 of the 20 fastest growing cities from 2020 to 2025 are located in Africa.

By 2100, the world’s three largest cities with populations greater than 70 million are projected to be in Africa, with Nigeria’s Lagos leading the way. In fact, of the world’s 20 largest projected megacities, 13 will be in Africa and zero will be located in China.

For now, Asian and primarily Chinese cities are leading demand for urbanization materials and already putting a strain on some metals. Even though the future megacity landscape might change, the expected continued increase in economic growth and incomes will continue to drive metal demand.

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Visualizing U.S. Consumption of Fuel and Materials per Capita

Wealthy countries consume large amounts of natural resources per capita, and the U.S. is no exception. See how much is used per person.



Visualizing U.S. Consumption of Fuel and Materials per Capita

Wealthy countries consume massive amounts of natural resources per capita, and Americans are no exception.

According to data from the National Mining Association, each American needs more than 39,000 pounds (17,700 kg) of minerals and fossil fuels annually to maintain their standard of living.

Materials We Need to Build

Every building around us and every sidewalk we walk on is made of sand, steel, and cement.

As a result, these materials lead consumption per capita in the United States. On average, each person in America drives the demand of over 10,000 lbs of stone and around 7,000 lbs of sand and gravel per year.

Material/Fossil FuelPounds Per Person
Natural Gas9,456
Sand, Gravel7,088
Petroleum Products 6,527
Coal 3,290
Other Nonmetals569
Iron Ore239
Phosphate Rock 166
Soda Ash36
Bauxite (Aluminum)24
Other Metals 21
Total 39,291

The construction industry is a major contributor to the U.S. economy.

Crushed stone, sand, gravel, and other construction aggregates represent half of the industrial minerals produced in the country, resulting in $29 billion in revenue per year.

Also on the list are crucial hard metals such as copper, aluminum, iron ore, and of course many rarer metals used in smaller quantities each year. These rarer metals can make a big economic difference even when their uses are more concentrated and isolated—for example, palladium (primarily used in catalytic converters) costs $54 million per tonne.

Fuels Powering our Lives

Despite ongoing efforts to fight climate change and reduce carbon emissions, each person in the U.S. uses over 19,000 lbs of fossil fuels per year.

U.S. primary energy consumption by energy source, 2021

Gasoline is the most consumed petroleum product in the United States.

In 2021, finished motor gasoline consumption averaged about 369 million gallons per day, equal to about 44% of total U.S. petroleum use. Distillate fuel oil (20%), hydrocarbon gas liquids (17%), and jet fuel (7%) were the next most important uses.

Reliance on Other Countries

Over the past three decades, the United States has become reliant on foreign sources to meet domestic demand for minerals and fossil fuels. Today, the country is 100% import-reliant for 17 mineral commodities and at least 50% for 30 others.

In order to reduce the dependency on other countries, namely China, the Biden administration has been working to diversify supply chains in critical minerals. This includes strengthening alliances with other countries such as Australia, India, and Japan.

However, questions still remain about how soon these policies can make an impact, and the degree to which they can ultimately help localize and diversify supply chains.

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Visualizing the World’s Largest Copper Producers

Many new technologies critical to the energy transition rely on copper. Here are the world’s largest copper producers.



Visualizing the World’s Largest Copper Producers

Man has relied on copper since prehistoric times. It is a major industrial metal with many applications due to its high ductility, malleability, and electrical conductivity.

Many new technologies critical to fighting climate change, like solar panels and wind turbines, rely on the red metal.

But where does the copper we use come from? Using the U.S. Geological Survey’s data, the above infographic lists the world’s largest copper producing countries in 2021.

The Countries Producing the World’s Copper

Many everyday products depend on minerals, including mobile phones, laptops, homes, and automobiles. Incredibly, every American requires 12 pounds of copper each year to maintain their standard of living.

North, South, and Central America dominate copper production, as these regions collectively host 15 of the 20 largest copper mines.

Chile is the top copper producer in the world, with 27% of global copper production. In addition, the country is home to the two largest mines in the world, Escondida and Collahuasi.

Chile is followed by another South American country, Peru, responsible for 10% of global production.

RankCountry2021E Copper Production (Million tonnes)Share
#1🇨🇱 Chile5.627%
#2🇵🇪 Peru2.210%
#3🇨🇳 China1.88%
#4🇨🇩 DRC 1.88%
#5🇺🇸 United States1.26%
#6🇦🇺 Australia0.94%
#7🇷🇺 Russia0.84%
#8🇿🇲 Zambia0.84%
#9🇮🇩 Indonesia0.84%
#10🇲🇽 Mexico0.73%
#11🇨🇦 Canada0.63%
#12🇰🇿 Kazakhstan0.52%
#13🇵🇱 Poland0.42%
🌍 Other countries2.813%
🌐 World total21.0100%

The Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) and China share third place, with 8% of global production each. Along with being a top producer, China also consumes 54% of the world’s refined copper.

Copper’s Role in the Green Economy

Technologies critical to the energy transition, such as EVs, batteries, solar panels, and wind turbines require much more copper than conventional fossil fuel based counterparts.

For example, copper usage in EVs is up to four times more than in conventional cars. According to the Copper Alliance, renewable energy systems can require up to 12x more copper compared to traditional energy systems.

Technology2020 Installed Capacity (megawatts)Copper Content (2020, tonnes)2050p Installed Capacity (megawatts)Copper Content (2050p, tonnes)
Solar PV126,735 MW633,675372,000 MW1,860,000
Onshore Wind105,015 MW451,565202,000 MW868,600
Offshore Wind6,013 MW57,72545,000 MW432,000

With these technologies’ rapid and large-scale deployment, copper demand from the energy transition is expected to increase by nearly 600% by 2030.

As the transition to renewable energy and electrification speeds up, so will the pressure for more copper mines to come online.

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