Copper is a key mineral for the automotive industry, used ubiquitously across the wiring harnesses market. Its demand is set to grow due to electric vehicle and autonomous vehicle megatrends. IDTechEx's brand new report "Copper Demand for Cars 2024-2034: Trends, Utilization, Forecasts" finds the automotive copper demand will reach 5MT (1MT = 1 billion kilograms) of annual demand in 2034. Autonomy and electrification will drive the growth from today's demand, but the component that dominates the demand will still be the wiring harness.
Locations of copper in an electric car with sophisticated autonomous sensors. Source: IDTechEx
The wiring harness is the central nervous system for a car, connecting all the sensors, actuators, lights, and more to the vehicle's brains. Each component in the system will require multiple wires responsible for communication and power delivery. With vehicles today being so complex, containing hundreds of wired components, the wiring harness has expanded to thousands of individual wires, totaling kilometers of overall length.
Some players, like Tesla, are working hard to optimize the networking of the vehicle, cutting out system redundancy, thousands of meters of cables, and kilograms of weight per vehicle. This can be helped with a system architectural change. Tier 2 suppliers, like NXP, foresee an emerging zonal architecture approach where wired components are grouped by location rather than function. This can help to eliminate redundancy in the wire harness, but IDTechEx has heard from industry players that making the most of zonal architectures requires more of a harness-first mindset rather than the wiring being an afterthought.
Optimization is only one of the threats to copper consumption in vehicles, substitution with aluminum, 48V systems with smaller gauges, and even wireless communication are all set to reduce copper in the wiring harness. These reduction factors are countered by the increasing complexity of vehicles and the general size growth of vehicles, as larger SUVs become ever more popular. IDTechEx's report "Copper Demand for Cars 2024-2034: Trends, Utilization, Forecasts" forecasts how these factors will evolve over the next ten years and how they will impact copper demand in the automotive industry.
Electrification will be the biggest boon to copper demand for cars. Copper is used throughout electric vehicle powertrains, from foils in each cell of the battery to the windings of an electric motor. In total, each electric vehicle can generate over 30kg of additional copper demand.
Like with the wiring harness, the copper demand in the electric components is set to change. Future lithium-ion chemistries and technologies will have an impact on the copper intensity of cells, with higher energy cells typically returning lower kg/kWh copper intensities. While in the motor, IDTechEx has seen recently revised interest in permanent magnet-free motors because of neodymium price volatility. Wound rotor synchronous motors are one example where the permanent magnet is effectively replaced with copper electromagnets, nearly doubling the copper intensity compared to regular permanent magnet motors.
Advanced driver assistance system (ADAS) features and autonomous driving are more trends that will generate more demand for copper in vehicles. These systems rely on a suite of sensors, including cameras, radar, and LiDAR. Each of these adds extra wiring in the vehicle and utilizes copper in their internal circuit boards. While the copper per sensor is relatively small, normally a little over one hundred grams, the total copper sums to a few kilograms for highly automated vehicles packed with tens of sensors. Leader in the field, Waymo has a total of 40 sensors, a total which is not unusual across other robotaxi players. While these highly automated vehicles will make up a minor part of car sales in 2034, the widespread adoption of level 3 technologies over the next 10 years will be a significant driver in copper utilization for ADAS and autonomous features.
For more detail on IDTechEx's expectations for copper demand across different parts of the vehicle in the next 10 years, see the highly granular forecasts in the "Copper Demand for Cars 2024-2034: Trends, Utilization, Forecasts" report. The report includes copper demand split by application in the car industry, powertrain type, level of autonomy, regionality, and more.
To find out more about this IDTechEx report, including downloadable sample pages, please visit www.IDTechEx.com/CopperForCars.
For the full portfolio of research available from IDTechEx, please visit www.IDTechEx.com/Research.
Upcoming free-to-attend webinar
Copper Utilisation Within Electric Powertrains
Dr James Jeffs, Senior Technology Analyst at IDTechEx and author of this article, will be presenting a free-to-attend webinar on the topic on Wednesday 24 January 2024 - Copper Utilisation Within Electric Powertrains.
Key points covered in this webinar:
- Locations of copper around modern and future vehicles
- Copper utilization in the electric powertrain: Impact of changing battery chemistries; Impact of changing motor technologies; Impact of emerging semiconductor technologies in the inverter
- Overview of replacement threats from aluminum
Click here to find out more and register your place on one of our three sessions. If you are unable to make the date, please register anyway to receive the links to the on-demand recording (available for a limited time) and webinar slides as soon as they are available.