Copper

What is it?

Copper is one of the basic chemical elements, and, in its nearly pure state, is a reddish-orange metal known for its high electrical and thermal conductivity. Copper was first used 10,000 years ago, with a copper pendant from 8700 B.C. having been found in northern Iraq. Pure copper is rarely found in natural, but it is often combined with other chemicals in the form of copper ores. The most common type is sulphide ores, where copper is bonded with sulphur. These ores also generally contain significant quantities of nickel, silver, gold, and other valuable metals. Copper is also extremely important for all living organisms as a dietary mineral. In humans, copper is found in bones, muscle, and the liver.

How is it Made

The process of extracting copper varies depending on the desired purity of the final product and the type of ore. Each process contains several steps which helps increase the concentration of copper and remove unwanted materials, either chemically or physically. Most sulphide ores are taken from large open-pit mines by blasting with explosives and drilling. The exposed ore is then scooped up by power shovels and loaded into haul trucks, which are essentially giant dump trucks. It is then transported to a manufacturing plant, where the ore is crushed in a series of cone crushers. A series of mills then ground the crushed ore into even smaller pieces, which creates a slurry of finely ground ore. The slurry is then mixed with certain chemical reagents which coat the copper particles. Frother, such as long-chain alcohol or pine oil, is also added. The resulting mixture is called a copper concentrate, and usually contains around 30% of copper combined with various sulphides of iron and copper. This copper concentrate must then undergo several chemical reactions to remove the sulphur and iron, a process known as smelting. At this point, the mixture is approximately 99% copper by weight, but still contains high enough levels of oxygen, sulphur, and other impurities to hamper further refining. These materials are removed by refining the copper before sending it to the final electrorefining process. Copper is one of the few common metals that must be refined to almost 100% purity, and thus this process is repeated until this is accomplished. To ensure this purity, all copper samples are analyzed throughout the manufacturing process to determine if any adjustments need to be made.

copper pipe

Uses

Electrical wires are the most common application of copper, mainly because it is the preferred electrical conductor in almost all categories of electrical wiring. It is used in countless types of electrical equipment, electronics circuitry, telecommunications, power distribution, power transmission, and power generation. Copper is also used in architecture, commonly in the construction of doors, vaults, domes, downspouts, rain gutters, and roofs. It is used in architecture because of its recyclability, lightning protection, light weight, and low thermal movement. In modern times, copper has been used in the interior of houses to create counter tops, bathroom fixtures, and handrails. Copper is also commonly used in industrial machinery, particularly for fittings and electrical wiring.