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Does Copper Make the Cut: Copper and the Critical Mineral List

Updated: May 11, 2023

illustration describing how copper meets every component of the U.S. Geological Survey's definition of a critical mineral

The widespread use and essential functions of copper in modern society are difficult to exaggerate. Copper is used in everything from home construction to medical equipment and is a central component in the race to make vehicles more energy efficient. In fact, according to Ian Littlewood in an article he wrote for, “Copper is so critical that when the Energy Act of 2020 defined the use of a critical mineral, copper was found in each and every one.”

The Energy Act of 2020 defines critical minerals as “non-fuel minerals or mineral material essential to the economic or national security of the U.S. and which has a supply chain vulnerable to disruptions.” In addition, these minerals serve fundamental functions in the manufacturing of a product, the absence of which would have profound repercussions for the economy or national security.

The latest edition of the Critical Minerals list was released in 2022. Changes in the list included the addition of nickel and zinc, along with the removal of several minerals including helium and rhenium. Much to the surprise of many in the copper industry, copper did not make the list. As a result, many copper advocates, such as, are reacting in protest and asserting that copper meets every requirement needed to be included in the catalog.

Advocates argue that copper is so essential to modern life in the United States that “our society would be unimaginable without its widespread use within electrical and plumbing applications, in consumer electronics and in defense, in addition to the emerging use of its antimicrobial prosperities to kill COVID-19 and other deadly viruses.” It is hard to imagine such a profoundly influential and vital element being overlooked. In addition, while demand is already relatively high, the transition to renewable energy is forecasted to bring a significant increase in demand for copper, as it is an essential element in electric cars and other energy efficiency measures.

The final criteria for the list, the supply chain being vulnerable to disruptions, especially by foreign political risk, military conflict, and violent unrest and anticompetitive behaviors is also present in the copper market. Disruptions in the Chinese copper market have highlighted this in recent months, as have shifts in the global market relate to the Russian War in Ukraine. It should be noted that, shockingly, Russia, China, Iran, and North Korea currently account for approximately half of non-U.S. global refined copper production, according to This is an increase from 43% cited in 2016, and experts expect this percentage to continue to rise.

Given this information, it appears clear that copper belongs on the U.S. Critical Minerals List. But why is inclusion important? Advocates argue that adding copper to the list opens doors and makes it easier for the copper industry to be at the table during essential conversations regarding copper’s use in national defense and economic security. This move would also expedite the construction of new renewable energy sources, investment in infrastructure such as semiconductors, and upgrades to the electrical grid, many of these moves benefiting the energy transition that is already occurring in our country. To read more on this topic, please visit

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