CMRA Forum: Substitution Patterns

As aluminum makes headway into copper applications, the Chinese copper industry seeks new markets.

November 16, 2012
Recycling Today Staff
Conferences & Events

China has been rightly regarded as the kingpin of copper production during the past decade, but despite rapid growth copper producers in that nation do face challenges.

According to Hank Qiu, a senior consultant with the China branch of the New York-based International Copper Association (ICA), among those challenges has been a tendency for some manufacturers to use aluminum when making components traditionally made of copper.

Qiu, speaking to attendees of a session at the 2012 CMRA (China Nonferrous Metals Industry Association Recycling Metal Branch) Recycling Metal International Forum in Beijing in November, cited several such examples.

The substitution phenomenon, he said, has been caused by “copper’s relatively higher cost and cost fluctuations,” particularly when compared to aluminum, which he called the “chief beneficiary” of such substitution.

Among the applications in which aluminum has grown its presence is in thick power cables and in the tubing and heat exchangers specified by producers of room air conditioners.

Qiu said that the ICA and other organizations are doing their part to “defend and grow markets” for copper to counter such substitution trends. Among the applications being championed by ICA and its 43 member companies and organizations are:
•    die-cast copper rotors replacing some aluminum models;
•    copper fish cage or netting material in the aquaculture market; and
•    encouraging wider use of copper medical devices, instruments and contact points in hospitals, because of copper’s anti-microbial qualities. (Qiu said this market has been growing in particular in the United States.)

Despite the jousting for markets and applications, Qiu said some 22.1 million metric tons of copper were consumed globally in 2011, with nearly 30 percent of that (9.75 million metric tons) consumed in China.

The 2012 CMRA Recycling Metal International Forum was at the China World Hotel in Beijing Nov. 7-9.