Metals

Metal Supply Shortages – Could Recycling Help Supply Chains?

Faced with supply chain shortages, metal squeezes and smelter shutdowns, metal buyers and manufacturers continue to look for supply solutions. Some theorize that recycling and reusing metals could help. However, global construction and metal markets currently need more than the current metal recycling industry can provide. Is there a way that metal manufacturers can achieve some sort of balance?

In recent years, numerous reports have analyzed the recycling metal atmosphere. Indeed, many experts believe metal recycling will accelerate and grow in the coming years. Hardly surprising when considering metals like aluminum, which are abundant and already widely recycled.

Metal Supply

After all, the everyday consumer understands the benefits of recycling aluminum cans and scrap metal. However, when speaking on a larger, industrial scale how much material can recycled metals actually provide? Moreover, does shifting towards a more recycling-oriented system mean we’ll see drops in product durability over time?

Take copper, for instance. Despite oxidation, copper has proven highly recyclable just like aluminum. However, when we shift our focus to radioactive metals like plutonium and uranium, we quickly realize that no recycling options currently exists. And while radioactive metals only make up a fraction of the marketplace they are nonetheless important.

While recycling metals could prove promising, the key to circumventing the supply chain crisis lies elsewhere. The ever-changing global political landscape ads further complications. This constantly threatens to change the supply/demand structure of multiple metals.

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US copper demand and consumption was about 1.8 million metric tons in 2021. In 2020, around 866,000 metric tons of copper were recycled. Of course, these numbers are purely domestic. That means US imports for both recycled and freshly-manufactured coppers are not taken into account. Still, the figures clearly demonstrate that copper recycling in the US currently does not come close to meeting demand.  

However, with a concerted effort to promote growth the recycled metals market might take some strain off producers. Moreover, recycling metals domestically means less pressure for countries to compete with one another over shortages in current metal supply chains. Still, such an effort would require multiple new recycling facilities, which takes time time to build and implement.  

With industrial activities across Central Europe dwindling due to the energy crises, the whole world could soo feel the impact. In the short term, recycling just isn’t a viable option.

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Whatever the ability to impact metal supply in the near term, the world seems focused on metal recycling. According to a report from Straits Research, the global metal recycling market should be valued at $384 billion by 2030, a 67% increase over its current valuation. That’s a 5.85% CAGR (compound annual growth rate), and it represents a huge opportunity.

The report also highlighted copper, iron, stainless steel, aluminum, and zinc as the most likely metals to be reclaimed and repurposed. However, it’s possible that recently-developed techniques will also enable us to recycle new, rarer metals. Indeed, companies around the world are already racing to improve the recycling process for rare earths.

If science comes through, we could enter a brave new world of metal supply. Until then, traditional, energy-efficient methods will likely dominate the market.

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