European copper demand strong, with requests to increase order volumes, Aurubis CEO says | Hotter Commodities

European copper demand, particularly for wire rod, remains strong and seems to be outpacing broader macro-economic growth in the region, the chief executive officer of German producer Aurubis has said

Roland Harings told Fastmarkets in a recent interview that discussions with main customers for future sales indicated consumers’ desire to increase volumes and quotas on long-term contracts.

“What we see, since quite a while, is good, strong demand for copper products, and mainly for wire rod. The wire rod business is strong in Europe, and it seems like a bit of a disconnected economy within the overall, relatively slow economy, especially if you look at Germany,” he said during the annual CESCO industry week in Santiago, Chile.

“The overall copper demand growth picture includes mega trends like electrification, urbanization, digitalization, and we see it in our order books and in our discussions with customers,” he added.

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The company’s customer base is around 90% based in Europe.

Aurubis is central in setting the benchmark copper premium on an annual basis and sells the majority of its material on annual contracts. Last year, the company maintained the premium at $228 per tonne for 2024 for its European clients.

Harings said that the figure had been “completely accepted” by the market.

“Our business model is really about stability, long-term relationships, providing very good service in both directions: suppliers of concentrate can rely on us to take what we have committed to take, and it’s the same on the customer side,” he noted.

“If we have the commitment or we have a joint commitment in supplying certain volumes, then we do so, and that’s, that’s really the DNA of Aurubis,” he added.

Fastmarkets’ fortnightly assessment of the copper grade A cathode premium, delivered Germany, was $180-210 per tonne on Tuesday, unchanged since February 20

He attributed the recent strengthening in copper prices, which are trading at levels last seen in June 2022, to a more widespread acceptance that copper was central to the mega trends of decarbonization and electrification.

“So, the question is whether this [acceptance of copper] is translating into additional speculative or investor money going into the sector. The risk to copper pricing on the other side is the volatile geopolitical backdrop, and I think there’s a bit hesitation to go into the market as a result,” Harings added.

Investments

The company is currently running a vast investment program of €1.7 billion ($1.8 billion) into growth projects.

This excludes regular maintenance and capex, Harings noted.

All these projects are on track, with the company’s flagship project – a secondary copper smelter in Augusta, in the US state of Georgia – making extremely good progress, he told Fastmarkets.

Aurubis has already hired 100 people at the site, which will start cold commissioning in the summer, with the hot commissioning or ramp-up of the plant in the second half and first production at the start of 2025, he said.

More such plants could follow: the multi-metal recycling model can be replicated elsewhere, Harings noted.

The company is also continuing to run its black mass recycling demo plant in Hamburg, Germany, which runs on propriety technology. The demo plant, which is the first step of scaling the facilities up to industrial size, is being built in Hamburg, and will come on stream in the late summer.

“Then we’ll do another round of intensive testing of certain components and certain process parameters. In parallel, we’ll do the detailed feasibility study for an industrial-sized plant, and we are looking at the location,” he added.

The company has narrowed location options down to a few sites in North America and Europe, Harings said. One of the key criteria is a competitive, reliable, clean supply of electricity, he noted.

The decision will probably be taken at the start of 2025.

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