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The State of Copper Recycling in the U.S.

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The following content is sponsored by the Copper Development Association

The State of Copper Recycling in the U.S.

Copper is essential for a low-carbon economy due to its crucial role in renewable energy technologies.

As a result, many worry that a lack of the metal used in wires and batteries can hurt a transition to a green economy.

In this graphic, our sponsor, the Copper Development Association, explores how recycling can address the demand for copper.

Copper Scrap Recycled in the U.S.

In 2022, the total copper scrap recycled in the U.S. was approximately 830,000 tonnes, equivalent to 32% of the total U.S. copper supply for the same period. Around 670,000 tonnes (81%) originated from pre-consumer sources generated during manufacturing operations, while 160,000 tonnes (19%) came from post-consumer sources, such as obsolete products.

Brass and wire-rod mills accounted for the majority of the copper recycled from scrap (85%). Additionally, smelters, refiners, and ingot makers make 10% and chemical plants, foundries, and other manufacturers around 5%.

Copper from Scrap2022 Content (tonnes)
Brass and wire-rod mills650,000 t
Smelters and refiners40,000 t
Ingot makers39,500 t
Foundries, Other40,000 t

Despite the rising demand for copper, the U.S. predominantly exports its copper scrap.

In 2022, the U.S. exported half of the 1,569,000 tonnes of the copper content generated from scrap. This export trend persisted because, until recent years, the country lacked operating secondary copper smelters capable of processing complex scrap grades into furnace-ready raw materials.

However, reshoring this metal presents an opportunity for the country.

Tapping into the Urban Mine

North America currently has about 86 million tonnes (Mt) of copper in use, known as the Urban Mine. This copper will become available for recycling as aging infrastructure and products reach the end of their service lives:

  • Buildings: 45.4 Mt
  • Infrastructure: 16.1 Mt
  • Consumer Products: 11.2 Mt
  • Transport: 8.5 Mt
  • Industrial Uses: 4.8 Mt

Increased secondary smelting and refining capacity is a crucial building block for a more resilient and self-sufficient U.S. copper supply chain.

In response to the growing need for copper, the U.S. plans to add over 280,000 tonnes of secondary smelting and refining capacity in the next few years. This expansion will enable the country to process more complex scrap grades domestically.

Given that copper products can last for decades, creating a lag time before the material becomes available for recycling, primary production will continue to play an important role in meeting the increasing needs in the U.S.

The Copper Development Association (CDA) brings the value of copper and its alloys to society to address the challenges of today and tomorrow. Visit www.copper.org to learn more about why copper is a critical mineral.

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Misc

Why Copper Is Critical for Data Centers

Copper consumption for data centers in North America is estimated to jump from 197,000 tonnes in 2020 to 238,000 tonnes in 2030.

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Copper’s Critical Role in Data Centers

Why Copper Is Critical for Data Centers

Data centers are computer server hubs that collect, store, and process large amounts of data, requiring extensive network infrastructure and electric power supply.

As the North American data center market grows, copper will be a key building block in this infrastructure.

This infographic from the Copper Development Association illustrates the critical role of copper in data center development.

Copper in Technology

Much has been said about the growing demand for critical minerals like copper, nickel, and lithium for clean technologies such as batteries, EVs, solar, and wind power.

Copper, however, has a more extensive role in technology as it is used in wires that connect power grids and data centers around the planet.

As one of the best conductors of electricity, copper maximizes efficiency in the transmission and distribution of electricity. Its thermal conductivity also helps build efficient heat exchangers, which are vital for cooling in data centers.

The inherent ductility and malleability of copper make it ideal for shaping into compact system components, like electrical connectors. In addition, copper can be fully recycled without losing any beneficial properties, providing an excellent solution in a growing green economy.

Data centers use copper across various electrical applications, including:

  • Power cables
  • Busbars
  • Electrical connectors
  • Heat exchangers and sinks
  • Power distribution strips

To put the demand into perspective, Microsoft’s $500 million data center in Chicago required 2,177 tonnes of copper for construction.

North America’s Growing Need for Copper

With the rise of cloud computing and the Internet of Things (IoT), the North American data center market is expanding.

North American data center infrastructure is expected to grow from a $33 billion business in 2020 to $70 billion in 2030 and $185 billion in 2040.

This, in turn, will amplify the demand for copper. Copper consumption for data centers is estimated to jump from 197,000 tonnes in 2020 to 238,000 tonnes in 2030 and 293,000 tonnes in 2040.

The Copper Development Association (CDA) brings the value of copper and its alloys to society to address the challenges of today and tomorrow. Visit www.copper.org to learn more about copper’s critical role in data centers.

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From Lead to Copper: Replacing America’s Aging Water Infrastructure

Investing in the transition from lead to copper is crucial for providing safe water to millions of Americans.

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From Lead to Copper: Replacing America’s Aging Water Infrastructure

Water service lines, crucial for connecting buildings to the public water supply, are often outdated and built from lead, presenting significant health risks to Americans.

As the government invests billions toward replacing lead service lines, copper pipelines offer a safe, reliable, resilient, and sustainable alternative.

This infographic from the Copper Development Association illustrates how investing in the transition from lead to copper is crucial for providing safe water to millions of Americans.

The Problem with Lead Service Lines

In the 20th century, lead was commonly used for water service lines and plumbing pipes.

However, lead pipes can degrade over time, leading to the release of lead particles into drinking water. Even at low-to-moderate levels, lead exposure can have severe negative health impacts, including:

  • Hearing loss
  • Anemia
  • Kidney impairment
  • Immune system dysfunction

Today, every state in America has lead service lines (LSLs) that the federal government is actively working to replace.

Besides LSLs, an additional 2.8 million galvanized water pipes also need replacing.

Delivering Safe Water

Copper tubing has become the primary material to replace old water service lines.

The red metal is an antimicrobial material that kills pathogens, and it is also highly corrosion-resistant, with a typical service life of over 50 years.

In addition, copper service lines are impermeable and prevent outside chemicals from leaking into water. Copper tubes can be fully recycled at the end of their useful lives without losing any beneficial properties.

Replacing Lead Service Lines with Copper

If America were to replace all 12 million of its lead and galvanized service lines, it would require more than 650 million feet of copper tubing, equivalent to 180,000 tonnes of metal. To compare, the U.S. produced 22 million tonnes of copper in 2022.

The U.S. has commissioned several large-scale copper recycling projects in recent years, creating opportunities to meet the demand with recycled and mined supply.

However, upgrading the nation’s water infrastructure will require over $56 billion, way more than the $15 billion currently provided by the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law.

Visit Copper Development Association to learn more about how copper is crucial for providing safe water to millions of Americans. 

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