Looming copper shortages threaten green industry growth: How high-performing Galvorn could be part of the solution

An open copper mine pit in the foreground, green mountains and desert in the background.

Of all the materials known to man, perhaps none have played a more significant and transformative role in human civilization than copper. 

 

Used as early as 8000 B.C. to fashion the first coins; copper tools guided humans out of the Stone Age. Ancient Egyptians reaped the benefits of copper in their water vessels and razors; while bronze, a copper alloy, was used by the ancient Greeks in body armor and weaponry.

 

In modern times, one doesn’t have to look far to find examples of copper-enabled evolution: from electronics manufacture, to power generation and transmission, copper is essential to the products and processes that power our lives.

 

Why is copper so ubiquitous? From its ability to conduct heat and electricity, to its flexibility and capacity to withstand the elements, copper is a highly sought after input for a vast array of applications. 

 

However, forecasts this spring are suggesting that copper shortages may be on the horizon. By the year 2030, the copper supply deficit could be as large as 10 million tonnes. According to energy advisory firm ADI Analytics, “closing such a gap would require building the equivalent of eight projects the size of BHP Group’s Escondida mine in Chile…the world’s largest copper mine with an annual capacity of 1.4 million metric tonnes of copper production.” 

 

Let’s take a closer look at why copper is essential for so many applications, what are its downsides, and how high-performing alternatives might take its place. 

Why copper is everywhere

As the United States Geological Survey (USGS) puts it, copper is “a metal for the ages.”

 

It can be found in everything from your car’s engine, to the pipes in your sink, to the wires in your laptop, and more. In fact, the USGS estimates thatevery American born in 2008 will use 1,309 pounds of copper during their lifetime for necessities, lifestyles, and health.”

 

Copper is highly sought after due to its many positive attributes: It is a soft, malleable, and ductile metal with very high thermal and electrical conductivity. These properties make it a top choice for a variety of applications and environments. 

 

  • Electrical conductivity: Copper is used in high-voltage transmission and can be used to improve the efficiency of things such as electric motors. 
  • Thermal conductivity: Copper enables heat transfer, which is why it is found in refrigeration units, and its high melting point makes it an ideal input for cookware.
  • High ductility: Because it is easily formed into wires without breaking, copper is the gold standard for wiring.
  • Able to withstand the elements: Copper can be a good choice for both outdoor and marine structures. 
  • Antimicrobial and biostatic properties: Copper is employed in operating rooms and high-touch surfaces in hospitals. These same properties also make it the ideal material for ship hulls, as it can prevent the growth of barnacles. 
  • Last, but not least, copper plays well with others, as it is easily alloyed with other materials to create brass, bronze, and more. 

 

While copper has reigned supreme for thousands of years, these highly desirable traits are not without their tradeoffs. Copper is also extremely dense; has a poor flex life, meaning that it is unable to withstand repeated bending; and its full life cycle–from mining to processing–is highly greenhouse-gas-emissions intensive

Copper supply comes up short for clean industry

An inconvenient truth confronting the renewable energy industry is that anticipated copper shortages could hit the brakes on the industry’s meteoric expansion.

 

Copper is “a linchpin in the energy transition ecosystem, and is integral to manufacturing electric vehicles, power grids and wind turbines.” However, copper is growing scarce–and scarcity leads to skyrocketing prices. According to CNBC, “Copper prices are set to soar more than 75% over the next two years amid mining supply disruptions and higher demand for the metal, fueled by the push for renewable energy.” 

Copper demand outstrips its discovery.

Aside from the scarcity issue, just the process of mining and producing copper sulfide is disastrous for the environment, bringing with it negative impacts on everything from drinking water aquifers, to farmland contamination, to harm to fish and wildlife habitats, alongside other public health risks. 

 

Because copper mining requires massive open-pit mines that can be as large as a mile in diameter and several-thousand-feet deep, it often leads to deforestation and land degradation. While water found near copper mines can become contaminated by copper acid, turning it a reddish color. The mining and production process also poses serious human health risks, leading to air pollution and exposure to substances harmful to the eyes, lungs, and skin. 

 

And while the United States is one of the top-five copper producing countries in the world, the top four are located far from American backyards, in Chile, Peru, China, and the Democratic Republic of Congo, respectively. This poses challenges for American national security, as well as ethical dilemmas in the realm of environmental responsibility.

The Galvorn alternative: Carbon-negative conductivity

Galvorn, a high-performing carbon nanomaterial, offers an abundant, environmentally-friendly alternative to copper–and other dirty incumbent materials–in a host of applications. 

 

First and foremost, Galvorn is conductive at 10 MS/m today, with a track record of doubling its conductivity (and strength) every three years, meaning that it is a promising alternative to copper now, and it’s getting more so–exponentially–by the day. 

Galvorn's star is rising.

However, Galvorn’s true power lies in its combination of historically-valued properties, outperforming GHG-intense alternatives across a multitude of applications: it is conductive, 10x stronger than steel, half the weight of aluminum, has 100x the flex life of copper and carbon fiber, it is cut-resistant, flame-resistant, biocompatible, and endlessly recyclable. 

 

Because of these highly-valued properties, Galvorn’s potential applications are virtually limitless. For one, Galvorn can be used to produce lightweight wiring, specifically for EMI shielding in sensitive data cabling and in short data cables. Replacing copper with Galvorn would reduce the overall cable mass, while reducing the use of the scarce standard material. 

 

Because of its conductivity, Galvorn is a great choice to produce conductive textiles and composites, such as conductive automotive interiors. Galvorn conductive fibers and yarns can be woven or sewn into upholstery, as well as used as the reinforcing fiber in composites. 

 

Galvorn is also an environmentally-friendly alternative that is carbon-negative at scale. Though steel, aluminum, and copper are ubiquitous, they contribute an estimated 8% of global emissions (3750 MTCO2). Simply making things “greener” isn’t enough. 

 

Galvorn offers several viable pathways to CO2-negative. 

 

Today, Galvorn can be made from hydrocarbons, capturing the carbon and CO-producing hydrogen; tomorrow, Galvorn could be made from captured CO2. What’s more, is that carbon is permanently embodied in Galvorn and it can also enable circular supply chains, as Galvorn can be produced from–you guessed it–Galvorn. 

 

And beyond the known applications, Galvorn holds immense potential for future, forward-looking innovations. 

 

For example, the city of Detroit recently made headlines for its installation of copper coils beneath city streets that charge electric vehicles as they drive, idle, or park. While this is exciting news, the reality is that there is just not enough copper to do this at scale. However, according to DexMat mechanical engineer, Cody Jones, Galvorn could be used in place of copper in the production of high-frequency wireless charging coils, as Galvorn's conductivity is better than copper at high frequencies.

Enabling a green future

Copper has been a part of human life for centuries, but looming shortages carry serious implications for the trajectories of a range of industries, from renewable energy to electronics and beyond. 

 

Galvorn is a high-performance alternative for applications requiring conductivity, as well as other valued properties such as light weight, strength, and flexibility. And last but not least, Galvorn is carbon-negative at scale. 

 

The future demands materials that are good for the environment–not just slightly “greener.”

 

Request a spec sheet; learn more about Galvorn and how it can enable a carbon-negative future.

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