Copper is a key mineral in the production of passenger vehicles in the automotive industry. Its electrical and physical properties make it an ideal material to use for wiring, power transfer, and communications. This report identifies and analyses more than 30 different sources of copper in vehicles today, from small motors moving electrically adjusted seats, to traction motors driving electric vehicles. It considers the impact of electrification and the introduction of autonomous vehicles will have on automotive copper demand. The 10-year forecasts in this report show how these megatrends lead to total copper consumption ballooning to over 5MT per annum in 2034.
Copper in conventional cars
In conventional vehicles the component that demands the most copper is the wiring harness. This is the nervous system of the vehicle, ensuring all computers, sensors, actuators, lights, locks, and everything else can communicate with each other and receive power. In total, modern wiring harnesses can have thousands of connections, requiring kilometers of copper wire, adding up to tens of kilograms of copper per vehicle.
This report explains how the wiring loom has grown over the years and what new technologies are being used to rein in its growth. Substitution with aluminum, network optimization, and gauge reduction through 48V architectures are all being explored to reduce the size, weight, cost, and complexity of the wiring harness. Find out in this report how IDTechEx believes these technologies and alternatives will impact the copper intensity of the wiring loom over the next 10-years.
Away from the wiring, conventional vehicles using internal combustion engines also use copper in the starter motor and alternator. While this copper demand will be lost in the transition to fully electric vehicles, the demand will be more than made up for through the lithium-ion battery, electric traction motor, high voltage cables, and power electronics that enable battery electric vehicles.
Copper for electrification
Electrification is the biggest boon to automotive copper demand over the next 10 years. Paramount to this is copper’s place in the electric battery, with copper foils being used in all electric vehicle lithium-ion cells. However, copper intensity in terms of kg/kWh is largely dependent on cathode chemistry. This report explains how the dominant chemistries, LFP, mid-nickel NMC, and high-nickel NMC, impact copper intensity in the battery pack. Forecasts in this report reveal how lithium-ion battery chemistry trends will shape copper consumption per vehicle over the forecast period.
The electric motor is another highly copper intensive component for electrification, with all automotive motors using copper in their windings. While much of the market uses PM (permanent magnet) motors, which have a middling copper intensity in the spectrum of motor options, there is an increased interest in rare earth free options to localize material supply and reduce price volatility. One leading option for rare earth free motors is the WRSM (wound rotor synchronous motor). These effectively replace the permanent magnets with a copper wire-based electromagnet, nearly doubling the copper intensity per kW of motor power. At the other end of the spectrum, axial flux motors offer incredible power density thanks to their unconventional design and form-factor. This high-power density means roughly one fifth of the copper per kW is required compared to traditional PM motors.
This report goes into further detail about different motor technologies, their market benefits and drawbacks, and their copper intensities. Its forecasts show how motor technology trends will unfold over the next decade, and the subsequent impact on copper demand for electrification.
Copper for automation
Automation of the passenger vehicle market is another megatrend within the automotive industry. Levels of autonomy range from the basic ADAS (advanced driver assistance system) features commonly on vehicles today, to fully driverless robotaxis providing autonomous mobility services. ADAS features such as adaptive cruise control, lane keep assistance systems, and blind spot detection rely on sensors such as cameras, radars, and LiDARs added to the vehicle. These additional sensors bring with them additional copper demand in the form of extra wiring and copper used in electronic circuit boards. While each sensor only contributes a copper intensity on the scale of tens to hundreds of grams, the quantity of sensors on highly autonomous vehicles, combined with the additional computer power, soon adds up to kilograms per vehicle.
With new technologies coming to market, such as consumer level 3 driving for the first time, and the commercialization of robotaxis, IDTechEx predicts automation to be the fastest growing copper demand, with a CAGR of 12.1% between 2023 and 2033. This report breaks down the sources of copper in all major sensor types and covers trends that will impact copper intensity in each.
This report provides detailed and granular coverage of all facets relating to copper intensity in the major copper consuming components in modern, electric, and autonomous vehicles. This detail is then collated into 10-year forecasts, broken down by regionality, powertrain type, SAE autonomous level, and copper application. The resulting product is a high quality and comprehensive report on the automotive copper market and copper demand.