Peak Copper Is Back, Thanks to Teslas and Smart Tech

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CC BY 2.0. Oleg Alexandrov in Wikipedia/ Tesla batteries and motors

It takes a lot of metal to make this stuff.

Remember Peak Copper? Back when TreeHugger was young, we worried about Peak Everything – oil, corn, natural gas, water, electricity, and even dirt. Copper was in there, too, with TreeHugger John noting that "ore extraction and smelting takes a serious toll on the environment, and that the 'easy pickings' are already either long gone or in places where mining companies and their nations of origin get no respect."

Peak Copper is Back

Apparently, Peak Copper is back. It takes a lot of it to build an electric car; according to Ernest Scheyder of Reuters, about twice as much as in a gas-powered car, and there may not be enough of the stuff.

Tesla Inc. expects global shortages of nickel, copper and other electric-vehicle battery minerals down the road due to underinvestment in the mining sector, the company’s global supply manager for battery metals told an industry conference on Thursday, according to two sources...Sarah Maryssael, Tesla’s global supply manager for battery metals, told a closed-door Washington conference of miners, regulators and lawmakers that the automaker sees a shortage of key EV minerals coming, according to the sources.

Electric cars aren't the only thing causing copper demand to spike. "So-called smart-home systems – such as Alphabet Inc.’s Nest thermostat and Inc.’s Alexa personal assistant – will consume about 1.5 million tonnes of copper by 2030, up from 38,000 tonnes today, according to data from consultancy BSRIA." Don't get me started on that. "All that will make the red metal – and other minerals – scarcer commodities, which worries Tesla."

A copper mine in Mongolia

© Paula Bronstein/Getty Images/ The Oyu Tolgoi (Mongolian for Turquoise Hill) copper and gold mine.

Meeting Demand

To meet demand, the industry is now "working feverishly to develop new mines and bring fresh supply online as the electrification trend envelops the global economy." Previously on TreeHugger we have described what happens with feverish copper mining, with massive landslides in Utah, destruction of ancient historical treasures and toxic waste killing thousands of fish.

Preventing Metabolism Rot

Now we do love our Teslas and technology on TreeHugger, but it is time to talk once again about sufficiency. Every new electric car has huge upfront carbon emissions from the mining and refining and manufacturing everything that goes into them. They are far better for the world than gas-powered cars, but again we ask, are they the best tool for the job of getting from A to B, especially when there are great new e-bikes and cargo bikes that could do the job for many people?

Twitter pals have noted that there are many other advantages to getting out of cars, electric or gasoline, which is why shoes also are climate action.

We have to stop talking about how electric cars will save us; it takes too much stuff to make them all, puts out too much upfront carbon, and nobody is going to make enough of them fast enough. All that copper and lithium and nickel and aluminum and steel have to come from somewhere.