Although copper is essentially the ultimate renewable resource (and also available quite abundantly in lower grades) the discussion has gained some traction especially following Jean Laherrrère's slide collection, which was reproduced here and here.
The following provides an update of the Hubbert linearization with data extended to 2011 (based on Hubbert's original 1956 paper on fossil fuels and a Hubbert math summary) and a naive top-down estimate of Qtot.
Based on the above Qmax end up being 4.7 billion tons (whereof approx. 0.6 billion tons have been mined as of 2011). USGS noted the following on world copper resources:
"A 1998 USGS assessment estimated 550 million tons of copper contained in identified and undiscovered resources in the United States. Subsequent USGS reports estimated 1.3 billion tons and 196 million tons of copper in the Andes Mountains of South America and in Mexico, respectively, contained in identified, mined, and undiscovered resources. A preliminary assessment indicates that global land-based resources exceed 3 billion tons. Deep-sea nodules and submarine massive sulfides are unconventional copper resources."Reserves are estimated at 0.55 billion tons. Note below reserve and resource definitions from USGS.
"Reserve: That part of an identified resource that meets specified minimum physical and chemical criteria related to current mining and production practices, including those for grade, quality, thickness, and depth."
"Resource: A concentration of naturally occurring solid, liquid, or gaseous material in or on the Earth’s crust in such form and amount that economic extraction of a commodity from the concentration is currently or potentially feasible."Although copper production data doesn't really lend itself to Hubbert linearization, the Qmax of 4.7 billion tons is broadly in line with USGS's resource estimate (which excludes already mined mineral).
There have been suggestions to use alternative periods for the fit of Hubbert linearization. Results are summarized below:
It seems that the year of peak primary production is somewhere between 2030 and 2070, probably after 2050. From this perspective (admittedly a somewhat naive view from 10'000 m altitude), it would seem that the peak copper narrative is not so relevant.
We aim to address two aspects providing additional support to the above from separate angles in future posts:
- Relative prices of energy and copper (energy as a key input factor to copper production cost and copper as a key input factor for renewable energy production cost)
- Recycling / secondary production