As copper needs grow, cable manufacturers recycle more

MONTREAL (AP) — In an industrial suburb of Montreal, copper sheets move along a conveyor belt suspended four stories above the floor of a foundry — a metallurgical factory — until they fall into an oven heated by lava. Next come pieces of discarded copper wire.

Liquid copper comes out of the oven, lit with a green light. It moves to a second furnace and from there flows a river of orange copper, to be shaped into copper rods, the raw material for copper wire.

This Nexans factory has been making copper from ore for almost a century. But now it is also making an increasing amount from used copper, with the bars containing about 14% recycled metal. He hopes to reach 20%.

“We say to our customers: your waste today, your waste today is your energy tomorrow, so bring back your waste,” said Christopher Guérin, CEO of Nexans.

Across the industry, manufacturers have been reusing and recycling some amount of copper for many years. Today, they are stepping up their efforts as the need for metal increases. expected to almost double by 2035.

This is partly due to the shift away from fossil fuels to reduce greenhouse gas emissions that contribute to global warming. There is a growing movement to power buildings, vehicles and manufacturing operations with clean electricity, in order to “electrify everything” – which uses more copper.

Building construction, cell phones and data centers account for the other half of the increase in demand.

Each tonne of copper recycled represents around 200 tonnes of rock that will not need to be mined, although the quantity depends on the richness of the ore. This is important because mining can cause erosion, contaminate soil and water, threaten local biodiversity and pollute the air. Copper is a particularly good candidate for reuse because it can be recycled indefinitely without losing its value or performance, Guérin said.

Every day, up to 10 trucks drop off bare wires, cables and copper scrap at the Nexans factory. Some come from customers, others from scrap dealers. The purity must be high if it is to be used to conduct electricity. Nexans, one of the world’s largest wire and cable manufacturers, uses more than 2,600 times the weight of the Statue of Liberty in copper each year.

A worker looks at a spool at Nexans, one of the world’s largest wire and cable manufacturers, on Friday, April 12, 2024, near Montreal. The company is increasingly mixing scrap copper into its products. (Ryan Remiorz/The Canadian Press via AP) (ASSOCIATED PRESS)

People may have a closer connection to this metal and this factory than they think: Copper connects them to the world, said Daniel Yergin, an energy expert and vice president at the analysis firm S&P Global .

“We now rely on electricity for everything,” he said. “None of this works without copper.”

Aluminum is also used in electrical wiring, but it requires a lot of energy to produce. Some aluminum smelters, where machines separate metal from ore, have reduced production or closed their doors due to rising electricity prices, increasing demand…

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