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Mining giant BHP Billiton (ASX:BHP,NYSE:BHP,LSE:BLT) sees copper as the best way to benefit from growing demand for electric vehicles (EVs) and renewable energy.

The world’s largest miner will focus on boosting its copper output instead of turning to cobalt or lithium, key elements in electric car batteries, Chief Executive Andrew MacKenzie said Tuesday (February 20).

“We have a strong growth plan for copper,” he said. “The copper market is an order of magnitude greater even when you allow for [EVs] than we would expect the cobalt market or lithium market to be.”

In fact, research suggests that copper demand from EVs could rise by as much as nine times in the next decade. That’s because while cars using internal combustion engines require up to 23 kilograms of copper each, a hybrid electric vehicle uses nearly double that amount, at 40 kilograms of copper.

Mackenzie is not the only executive bullish on copper. Glencore (LSE:GLEN) CEO Ivan Glasenberg, Rio Tinto (ASX:RIO,LSE:RIO,NYSE:RIO) CEO Jean-Sebastien Jacques and Ivanhoe Mines (TSX:IVN) founder Robert Friedland have all called for a big boost in copper demand from the EV sector.

When asked about Escondida in Chile, the world’s largest copper mine, which last year was disrupted by a strike that lasted more than 40 days, Mackenzie said he did not wish to pre-empt discussions with unions, but was seeking to control costs.

“Ultimately we want to be able to drive unit costs down and the best way to do that is by making labor more efficient,” he told a London news conference.

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