In a move highlighting the increasing significance of energy transition technologies, the US Department of Energy (DoE) has officially designated copper as a critical raw material. The inclusion of copper in the finalised Critical Materials Assessment for 2023 marks the first time this essential metal has been recognized as critical by the US Government, following the lead of other countries such as the EU, Japan, India, China, and Canada. The assessment evaluates materials based on their essential function in the production of energy transition technologies, particularly electric vehicles (EVs), and their susceptibility to supply chain disruptions.
The list of critical materials is vital as it informs eligibility for government subsidies under the Inflation Reduction Act (IRA). Alongside copper, the final list includes other crucial materials such as aluminium, cobalt, dysprosium, electrical steel, fluorine, gallium, iridium, lithium, magnesium, natural graphite, neodymium, nickel, platinum, praseodymium, terbium, silicon, and silicon carbide.
Alejandro Moreno, Acting Assistant Secretary for the DoE’s Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy, stressed the importance of anticipating critical material supply chains needed for clean energy technologies. He stated, “As our nation continues the transition to a clean energy economy, it is our responsibility to anticipate critical material supply chains needed to manufacture our most promising clean energy generation, transmission, storage, and end-use technologies, including solar panels, wind turbines, power electronics, lighting, and electric vehicles. Ultimately, identifying and mitigating material criticality now will ensure that a clean energy future is possible for decades to come.”
The decision to include copper as a critical material comes after a controversial move by the US Geological Society (USGS) in March, when it denied a request by the Copper Development Association (CDA) to add copper to its official critical minerals list. The CDA made the request due to concerns about “dramatic supply risk.” Notably, several large copper mining companies, including Rio Tinto, BHP, and Freeport-McMoRan, are CDA members.
The DoE’s recent assessment provides an updated list in comparison to previous Critical Materials Strategy reports, the first of which was released in 2010. This assessment serves as a separate and complementary analysis to other criticality assessments conducted by the US Government, such as those performed by the USGS. The inclusion of copper in the critical raw materials list reflects the US Government’s commitment to securing essential resources for a sustainable and clean energy future.
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