Copper in construction

The metal has sustainability benefits beyond conduction, and its manufacturers and industry body are changing the markets in the GCC.
Copper in construction
On a roll: Use of copper can add to the energy saving credentials of a building, advocates say.
By Ben Roberts
Sat 31 Jul 2010 04:00 AM

The metal has sustainability benefits beyond conduction, and its manufacturers and industry body are changing the markets in the GCC.

Copper is a familiar material to those in working in the electromechanical side of construction due to its prevalence in electrical wiring. It is also widely used in heating systems given its great ability to conduct heat and electricity and its resistance to corrosion.

Demand for the metal may increase greatly over the next few years in the GCC given its use in high voltage power transmission and a flurry of recent project announcements in that sector.

In June, for example, Saudi Electricity, the state-owned power giant, revealed that it had sealed a deal with GDF Suez and two other firms to build a 1,730-megawatt power plant – a SR7.9 billion project.

The spate of rail projects, in particular the first stage of the Union Railway in Abu Dhabi, and the prospective metro systems of Riyadh and Makkah, will all demand high quantities of copper-based cables.

Saudi Cable Company has been one such beneficiary. Salim Rashid, marketing manager, explains the company recently won its first contract for 380 kV cables in Jeddah from Saudi Electricity Company, for SR100 million. “There are only a few who have this capacity to produce cables of such high voltage,” he says. He also cites the 1,500 km it is supplying to the latest phase of the redevelopment of Doha – the biggest cable contract in the region.

SCC produces copper itself through its operating division SCC Materials. Rashid explains that the company stopped exporting the 70,000 tonnes of copper rod it produces in order to fuel its own big orders. Nevertheless, he describes the Saudi market as ‘on an even keel’ over the last few months.

Producing its own copper, with the rest procured from Turkmenistan, has been beneficial to being able to deliver for big projects, he says. “A lot of customers don’t trust manufacturers who don’t produce their own copper,” he added. “This is more to do with availability.”

Ducab, the Dubai-based cable giant, has also seen significant recent success from making its own copper. In the last decade the company has brought online a copper plant with a capacity of 118,000 tonnes. Though around 85% of the resulting copper was originally intended for the company’s own cable production, with the rest to be sold, Ashish Chaturvedy, marketing manager, says those percentages have changed based on the market demand for their metal.

“It has been a pleasant surprise that we got a very good response from the market,” he told CW. “After satisfying our own needs for our cables, we are selling [the copper] to other cable manufacturers. So Ducab copper is used in buildings that have been worked on by a different cable company,” he added.

Around 600,000 tonnes of copper are used in the Middle East every year, according to the International Copper Association (ICA), the global body for the commodity, with the building sector the biggest consumer.

Advocates of the metal say a wider application of copper can save energy and reduce carbon emissions to complement the drive towards sustainability.

Sixty-five percent of this is new or ‘refined’ with the remaining 35% deriving from scrap. Most copper is imported from other parts of the world apart from some production in Iran, Saudi Arabia and Egypt, though the metal has also one of the highest rates of recycling – partially offsetting the carbon footprint accrued by transportation.

Francis Kane, chief executive of the ICA, told CW that the metal faces stiff competition from others despite its environmentally-friendly attributes.

Plastic competes with copper tubes in plumbing, he explained, and with aluminium in electrical appliances. “It also competes with stainless steel for construction hardware and elements of architecture, and with zinc for certain elements of roofing.”

However, he is adamant that, with the superior recycle-rate, copper is also superior to aluminium for interior heating or cooling.

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