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The ultimate copper guide

How to become a copper trader and is it a suitable career for the future?

This article is intended to give you a brief overview of the topic of copper. We will explain what copper is, how to become a copper trader and will discuss if pursuing a career in this field might be worthwhile or not.

What is copper? An overview.

Copper is a base metal. Copper is the most conductive non-precious metal, which makes it indispensable for many industries. It is a major industrial metal because of its high ductility, malleability, thermal and electrical conductivity and resistance to corrosion. Its antimicrobial property is becoming increasingly important to the prevention of infection.

Copper key physical properties

– Corrosion resistant, machinable and formable 

– Excellent conductor and heat transferer

– Malleable and ductile 

– Energy efficiency:  Copper can improve the efficiency of energy production and distribution systems

Side fact: The U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) estimates that every American born in 2008 will use 1,309 pounds of copper during their lifetime for necessities, lifestyle and health.

Different grades of copper 

There are different grades of metal based on its purity levels which will have an impact on its electrical and thermal properties as well as on how it can be fabricated.

Pure coppers

Commercially pure coppers contain 0,7% in total impurities in its composition. They are extremely soft and ductile. Often, other elements will be added into pure copper to increase their stiffness.

Oxygen free coppers

It is the purest copper available. They contain 99.99% copper at a minimum with the lowest level of volatile impurities.

This type of copper is made with induction melting as cathode copper of prime quality is placed into a granulated graphite bath covering as the atmosphere contains low hydrogen and non oxidizing conditions.

Electrolytic coppers 

Electrolytic copper is made from copper that has been refined using electrolysis.

It is used in most electrical applications including windings, wires, busbars and cables.

Free-Machining coppers 

Free-machining coppers have sulfur and telluride added to increase its machinability (about 0.5 of these elements will be added).

It will be used to create gas welding nozzles, machined electrical components, and the tips of soldering irons as well as torches.

Distribution of copper consumption worldwide in 2020, by end use 

– 32% – equipment 

– 28% – construction 

– 16% – infrastructure 

– 12% – transportation

– 12% – industrial 

Distribution of copper semis first-use worldwide in 2020, by type 

– 63% – wire

– 12% – tube

– 12% – flat rolled products (plate, sheet, strip, etc.) 

– 10% – rods, bars, and sections 

– 3% – foil 

Based on these facts, here are some of the most prominent industries using copper: 

– Electrical (wiring, appliances, consumer electronics)

– Construction (piping for water, irrigation systems, fuel gas piping, as well as decorative architectural hardware)

– Power infrastructure (cables, wires)

– Transport/Automotive (radiators, oil coolers, anti-lock braking systems, etc., as well as components for hybrid vehicles, overhead wires for trams, boat propellers, etc.) 

– Others (broad range, from thermal applications to musical instruments)

Refined copper usage worldwide from 2010 to 2020 (in 1,000 metric tons)

Source: ICSG / Statista

Copper mining and processing

Copper production

Copper that is mined from copper ore, after beneficiation, becomes high quality copper concentrate. Then, after being smelted, refined copper and copper products are yielded.

Utilization rate of the mine capacity of copper worldwide from 2010 to 2020

Source: ICSG / Statista

Distribution of copper mine production worldwide in 2020, by region

Source: ICSG / Statista

Major countries in copper mine production worldwide in 2021 (in 1,000 metric tons)

Source: US Geological Survey / Statista

Copper mining

The copper production starts with the extraction of copper-bearing ores.

There are basically two ways:

  1. Surface mining
  2. Underground mining

Due to copper being spread in relatively low concentrations over large areas, surface, or open-pit mining, is the predominant mining method for copper in the world.

Leading copper mines worldwide based on capacity in 2021 (1,000 metric tons) 

Source: ICSG / Statista

2019 vs. 2020, based on production (in 1,000 metric tons) 

Source:; Glacier Media / Statista

Copper smelters

After mining, copper is produced by one of the following two processes: 

  1. Pyrometallurgical (dry)
  2. Hydrometallurgical (wet)

Smelting is the process of heating and melting ore to extract copper.

Leading copper smelters globally in 2021, based on capacity (in 1,000 metric tons)

Source: ICSG / Statista

Copper refinery 

After completing refining processes, copper cathode is generally 99.9% pure. Copper cathodes are the raw material input for further copper processing into the downstream products which feature in our daily lives. 

The cathodes are cast into different shapes such as cakes, ingots, rods and billets based on the end usage before being sold to semi-finished fabricators like brass mills or wire rod plants.

Refinery production of copper worldwide from 2000 to 2020 (in 1,000 metric tons) 

Source: ICSG / Statista

Copper recycling

Copper can be recycled without any loss in (physical) properties, making it a logical choice in an era of global sustainability (reduces CO2 emissions and energy use than primary production). 

On Ø, 26.7 million tons of copper were used globally between 2009 – 2018; 32% of this was sourced through recycling.

Copper life cycle

Source: Copper Alliance 

Copper supply and demand

Copper supply 

Since 1960, there has always been, on average, 38 years of reserves, and significantly greater amounts of known resources (USGS data). In addition, recycling, innovation and mining exploration continue to contribute to the long‐term availability of copper.  

Copper occurs in the earth’s crust with a content of about 0.006% and thus ranks 23rd in terms of the frequency of elements in the earth’s crust.

Reserves of copper worldwide from 2010 to 2021 (in million metric tons)

Source: US Geological Survey / Statista

Reserves of copper worldwide in 2021, by country (in million metric tons) 

Source: US Geological Survey / Statista

Copper mine capacity worldwide 2010 – 2020 (in 1,000 metric tons)

Source: ICSG; COMEX / Statista

Copper major exporting countries

Leading copper ore exporting countries worldwide in 2020 (in billion U.S. dollars)

Source: WTEx; International Trade Centre / Statista

Copper demand 

Copper major demanding countries 

Leading copper ore importing countries worldwide in 2018 (in billion U.S. dollars) 

Source: Tridge Blog / Statista

Copper: main drivers in addition to the overall economic development on a global basis

1.Collateral demand in China as a key driver of the global copper trade 

China’s ambitious economic plans are leading to increased copper demand.

2. Cleantech and renewables projects, as well as infrastructure development (electrical grids)

According to Navigant Research, here’s how much copper wind and solar farms use per megawatt (statistic from May, 2021):

By 2050, renewable energy technologies could require >3 million tons of copper annually – 15% of global mine production in 2020.

3.Infrastructure projects on the part of governments

E.g., on November 15, 2021 President Biden signed the biggest infrastructure-spending bill of all time with $226 billion, for projects requiring huge amount of copper.

4.EV adoption leading to greater demand 

– CRU analyst Charlie Durant expects total copper demand from the EV sector to increase to nearly 1.5 million tons in 2025 and to 3.3 million tons by 2030 from under 500k tones in 2020.

– All types of EV require a substantial amount of copper; it is used in batteries, windings and copper rotors used in electric motors, wiring, busbars and charging infrastructure.

– Copper’s use in electro-mobility may become even greater with the emergence of energy independent vehicles (EIV) that use copper-powered solar photovoltaic panels to harness renewable energy.

Electric vehicle CU demand (by copperalliance) 


Copper prices are positively correlated to inflation, and the metal is historically one of the best performing assets during inflationary periods. 

Copper: potential threats and major challenges 

  1. Cooling of the global economy, especially in Asia 
  2. Zero-Covid policy in China, lockdown in general accompanied by decreasing demand (especially, short-term impact)
  3. Significant supply growth 
  4. Building stocks 
  5. Stricter environmental rules (especially in Chile)
    Stricter environmental regulations, which can make mining very expensive in some regions, reducing the economic viability of the project; as well as increasing public opposition towards large-scale copper projects which could face difficult legal battles before these projects are permitted to go ahead.
  6. Political risks
    New copper mines will likely be located in politically and ecologically sensitive areas. 
  7. Unearthed copper deposits are locked up in remote and difficult locations
    Unearthed copper deposits (“orebodies”) are more often found in places such as the high Andes, the Arctic, and the deep sea.

Copper trade volume and copper price development 

Price development over the last 3 years in U.S. dollars

Forward curve (as of 2022-05-10)

Cheapest contract: Surcharge per month/holding period

Copper Volume and open interest 

Copper price factors  

The price of copper is, like already mentioned, largely influenced by the health of the global economy. Additional drivers are, for example, the progress of EV development, the level of infrastructure investment and the expansion of renewable energy sources. Overall, it can be said that China, as the largest demand, plays a particularly prominent role.

Additionally, there are several factors that affect the price of copper, including oil prices (copper refining is energy intensive), extraction costs and mining disruptions, and more. Copper prices are commonly quoted in US Dollars, so the strength of the dollar also plays a role.

LME copper futures contract

– Product symbol: CA

– Underlying metal: Grade A copper 

– Prompt dates: Daily: out to 3 months

Weekly: 3 out to 6 months

Monthly: 7 out to 123 months 

– Price quotation: U.S. Dollars per ton

– Clearable currencies: U.S. dollar, Japanese yen, sterling, euro  

– Lot size: 25 tones  

– For further contract specifications:

Copper key companies 

Distribution of copper production worldwide in 2020, by company 

Copper: an outlook for the future

Apart from temporary difficulties, copper looks forward to a bright future.

Even when copper prices are high no other material has been able to duplicate or dethrone copper or to quote billionaire mining magnate Robert Friedland: “if the world is to successfully transition to clean energy and transport, then it’s copper, copper, copper, copper, copper, copper!” 

– Increasing penetration of renewable energy (e.g., offshore wind turbines require around 28,000 kg of copper)

 – Infrastructure (renewable energy systems require up to 12 times more copper than traditional energy systems) 

– EV transformation (electric cars require about four times more copper than typical gasoline powered vehicles) 

Forecast by large entities 

White & Case recently conducted its sixth annual survey of industry participants, with 63 senior decision-makers sharing their thoughts on commodity performance for the year 2022.


How to become a copper trader 

  • The job of a copper trader naturally has a lot of overlaps with other commodity traders.
  • You have to be able to deal well in a fast-moving environment, make decisions quickly and carefully, build and maintain customer relationships and, of course, always be well informed about current market events. Market reports are part of your daily reading/routine 
  • It is also essential to learn about all aspects of the physical transport of commodities and to be well versed in dry bulk shipping. 
  • You will find everything you need to know about this in our academy. Don’t forget: a sound education significantly increases your likelihood of landing a popular job. So don’t waste your time and take advantage of the opportunity to profit from future opportunities with the knowledge you will learn!

Is copper trader a sustainable career for the future?

  • Due to the facts mentioned above, copper should stay interesting and even more important.
  • In the future due to the increasing spend in infrastructure projects, as well when it comes to electric grids, and increasing demand for EVs. 
  • Therefore, copper related jobs should be a sustainable career.
  • Also worth mentioning is the fact that copper is not to be replaced by other sources as we see with fossil fuels like oil. Here, the long-term goal is to greatly reduce this through renewable energies, hydrogen, etc. It is even so that for this transition copper is an important companion.



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