Copper market: China the 'big question mark
Modified Time:2015-08-31

Global: 'Barcelona is booming and, yes, there is still a lot of industry in Catalonia. But don't get the wrong impression; the crisis did not spare Spain either.' So said Metal Bulletin's non-ferrous specialist Ann-Marie Moreno at this year's MB Copper Recycling Conference, which was held in the Spanish city. For example, she noted, just a handful of the 60 once-thriving banks remain open for business, thus dealing a blow to Spanish recyclers seeking credit for continued investment.

Global use of recycled copper fell from 8.5 million tonnes in 2013 to 8.3 million tonnes last year, according to Carlos Risopatron, director of economics and environment at the International Copper Study Group. 'Copper alloys are becoming more important in the USA as well as Europe,' he told delegates in Barcelona.

 

Risopatron continued: 'If I compare imports, exports and demand for applications, I don't see enough stocks left in China.' Indeed, China's scrap imports dropped to a six-year low in the first quarter of 2015. 'And yet,' he added, 'the growth in the short term will still be copper-intensive - simply because it is needed in products and this is not something you change overnight.'

 

The 'new normal'

 

In the words of its president Xi Jinping, China is now seeing relatively small economic growth which he has dubbed 'the new normal'. Murat Bayram, European non-ferrous director at EMR, lamented that while construction and liquidity were both down, stock markets had gone up 150% in a single year. 'Is this normal?' he asked. 'What will happen to China is a big question mark - especially who will step in to fill all this demand for copper.'

 

Increasingly, copper-containing items such as motors and cables were being dismantled and processed within Europe, he stated. Bayram's prognosis was that China would make something of 'a comeback' in 2016 on the back of improved demand while the main market for copper scrap would remain in Europe for the rest of 2015. Worldwide, the scrap industry would become much more consolidated, he also said.

 

Declining metals content

 

'Over 200 million laptops produced globally every single year - containing 10 tonnes of gold,' noted Alessandro Casini of Belgium recycler Umicore. The amount of copper used in electronics has generally been in decline since 2011 while a parallel trend towards device miniaturisation has made it increasingly difficult to recover the metal. Given this context, desigrecycn for recycling is a 'must' for modern society, noted Hewlett-Packard's Daniel Seager. 'We take apart prototype products in our office in Germany to test their recyclability and we link up our design team with recycling actors,' he pointed out.

 

As previously reported in Recycling International, Hewlett-Packard is anticipating that 'The Machine' will hit the recycling market in 2025. 'It features no copper wires, no gold-plated contacts and uses very little rare earth,' Seager declared. This prompted a flurry of questions from delegates pertaining to the profitability of recycling such products, with Seager suggesting a levy might have to be incorporated into the retail price to cover proper treatment.