Keywords: red metal, scenario analysis, copper futures, substance flow analysis, water use, energy use, copper mining, production residues, resource depletion, material substitution, industrial ecology, resource availability, mine tailings, copper stock
The future of the red metal: discards, energy, water, residues, and depletion
Estimates for mine tailings, smelter slag, mine overburden, stock buildup, loss of copper discards to the landfills, and energy and water use requirements have been presented based upon scenario analysis results of three alternative copper futures. The resource availability concerns emerge to be the most critical. Globally, the copper resource availability barrier might potentially emerge during 2035–2060, with more likelihood of appearing in a highly technological and affluent world scenario first. Cumulatively, the amount of copper in mine tailings generated by 2050 will equal the amount of contemporary in-use copper stock. Such large amounts of production residues can serve as future sources of high-grade copper, as copper ore grades will continue to decline over time. Should we wish to mine the remaining low grade copper still, the amount of energy required will be equivalent to present global energy use. Unrealistically large amount of water would also seem to be required.