Energy transition will require more metal mining and recycling, says Aurubis CEO

By Yusuf Khan

According to Roland Harings, CEO of Aurubis AG, one of Europe’s largest metal smelting and recycling companies, more metal mining and increased recycling capacity will be needed for the energy transition.

Speaking to The Wall Street Journal, Mr Harings said greater investment in mining capacity and recycling rates would be vital given the expected increase in demand for commodities such as copper, zinc and nickel used in green technologies. He noted that the war in Ukraine had also accelerated the pace of progress towards decarbonization.

“This whole system has to be built,” Mr. Harings said. “With the decentralization of energy production, with wind turbines, photovoltaics, with charging stations for e-mobility, with electric cars, with digitalization, with urbanization – all these megatrends will require more metals, copper being probably one of the most important in addition to nickel, tin and zinc.”

Criticism has lately been leveled at the mining industry, with the IEA this week highlighting a significant level of underinvestment in raw materials, calling on policymakers to ensure “a sustainable supply of critical minerals”.

Current demand for copper is about 25 million metric tons per year, according to the International Copper Study Group. Mr Harings said that, based on current trends, this is expected to rise to 45 million tonnes by 2030 and up to 70 million tonnes by 2050.

In 2021, about 4.1 million tonnes of copper came from recycled sources, with mining accounting for 20.6 million tonnes, according to ICGS. World copper reserves currently stand at 870 million tonnes, he estimates.

Aurubis currently processes approximately one million tonnes of metal per year through its network of foundries, based largely in Germany and other parts of Europe.

Mr Harings said the higher prices seen this year in metals markets could encourage further investment in the industry. In the United States, Aurubis is expanding its activities with a new metal recycling plant in Georgia. The new facility, which is expected to go into production in the first half of 2024, will be able to process 90,000 tonnes of metals per year.

“The United States is a very large market and today represents the potential of approximately six million tons of metal-containing recycling materials,” the CEO said.

He added that the company was looking at black mass recycling – the process by which raw materials for end-of-life electric vehicle batteries are extracted. Testing has moved from laboratory to pilot stage with a view to expanding by the end of the decade, he said.

“Our approach is to build capacity, so that if [black mass recycling] goes to industrial scale, we can really close the circle of the circular economy.”

Write to Yusuf Khan at