The State Council of China developed the Energy-Saving and New Energy Automobile Industry Development Plan (2012 – 2020), which aims to reach both a production capacity of two million electric vehicles and a sales volume of five million electric vehicles by 2020. By 2025, this number could grow to seven million vehicles—or 20 percent of the total Chinese automobile market.
The expected explosive growth of electric vehicles, especially battery-powered electric vehicles, will benefit the copper industry and boost demand for the material in China and beyond in several ways.
Copper: Essential for electric-vehicle construction
The average small electric car uses about 40 kilograms of copper (compared to only 10 kilograms for a standard combustible engine vehicle), and an electric bus can use up to 70 kilograms of copper. Copper is an essential component to a diverse range of parts including motors, batteries, high-voltage cables and air conditioning and heat-exchange systems.
Additionally, copper’s excellent heat conductivity, as well as its relative lightweight, make it a top choice for motor design. Copper-rotor motors can significantly improve the driving performance and energy efficiency of vehicles, while keeping with lightweight trends.
Given the estimated growth of the electric-vehicle market to five million vehicles by 2020, China’s copper use may eventually exceed 300,000 tonnes from vehicle construction alone.
Copper: Integral to EV charging systems
To meet the growing demand for both battery electric vehicles and plug-in hybrid vehicles, China’s State Council issued the Guidance on Accelerating Construction of Charging Infrastructure for Electric Vehicles in 2015. This guideline aims to build more than 12,000 charging and battery swapping stations and nearly five million decentralized charging piles across the country by 2020. Copper is a crucial part of electric-vehicle-charging systems—it can be found in transformers, cables and wiring.
Shanghai Brilliance Consulting estimates the planned development of EV-charging systems will generate a demand for 130,000 to 140,000 tonnes of copper. Together with the 300,000 tonnes of copper used in the vehicles themselves, copper use in the electric-vehicle industry could grow over 400,000 tonnes in China alone in 2020.
Copper: Facilitates green development in the EV industry and beyond through recycling
Copper products have a long life-span and are 100 percent recyclable. Therefore, using copper in electric vehicles can reduce the impact on the environment both during the life of the product and after it. Most copper materials found in electric vehicles can be readily recycled, and batteries (historically more difficult to recycle) can have the copper extracted and recycled through a relatively simple process. The China Automotive Technology and Research Center has estimated that copper extracted and recycled from electric vehicles could amount to between 120,000 to 170,000 tonnes by 2020. This recycled copper can then be repurposed for more electric vehicles or any number of alternative uses.