5 Incredible Facts About Copper



The word “copper” comes from the Roman term aes Cyprium, “metal of Cyprus,” shortened to cyprium and later corrupted to cuprum (Britannica). As a naturally-occurring material, native copper is found at many locations as a primary mineral in basaltic lavas and also as reduced from copper compounds, such as sulfides, arsenides, chlorides, and carbonates. This important metal has been used for centuries in its natural and alloy forms for decoration, weapons, tools, currency, and later as an electrical conductor in communication devices and electrical wiring. 

Today, the largest known copper porphyry deposit is in the Andes Mountains in Chile, but copper can be found in mineral deposits around the world including in Mexico, Peru, Indonesia, the United States, Canada, and more. In Canada, British Columbia is the biggest producer of copper, with multiple major copper porphyry deposits located across the province. 

Keep reading for 5 more incredible facts about this critical metal from the Kinvestor Network.

1. An Ancient Commodity

Did you know that copper is one of humanity’s oldest known metals? Archaeologists believe that copper was first used by Neolithic humans as a substitute for stone around 8,000 BC. In fact, a copper pendant that was found in present-day northern Iraq dates back to about 8,700 BC, and the metal was used in ancient Egypt to craft everyday items like water jugs, mirrors, razors, and even the chisels used to form the limestone blocks that make up the great pyramids.

Because pure copper is comparatively soft compared to other metals, it wasn’t until ancient civilizations began mixing the material with other metals like tin (creating a metal alloy known as bronze) around 3,300 BC that they discovered its ability to create stronger tools, weapons, and armor, marking the advent of what is known as the Bronze Age.

2. Copper As an Alloy Metal

Bronze is just one of copper’s over 570 alloys listed by the American Society for Testing and Materials International. Brasses and bronzes are probably the most well-known families of copper-base alloys. Brasses are mainly copper and zinc, while bronzes are mainly copper along with alloying elements such as tin, aluminum, silicon or beryllium.

You may be surprised to learn that, in addition to its uses as an industrial metal, certain copper alloys actually contain antimicrobial properties that are capable of killing harmful or potentially deadly bacteria. The United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has approved a staggering 355 copper alloys with antimicrobial properties, making copper the first solid surface material to receive this type of EPA registration. The EPA studies show that on copper alloy surfaces, greater than 99.9% of Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA), a “superbug” virulent bacterium resistant to broad spectrum antibiotics, as well as many other types of bacteria, are killed within two hours at room temperature.

3. Full of Essential Nutrients

While we usually think of copper as an ore-like metal used to top roofs, decorate interior surfaces, and create sculptures, copper is actually a naturally-occurring mineral in many of the foods we eat every day. In fact, copper is essential to the human diet, needed for growth and development in infants and children, and in adults for the development of bone, connective tissue, and other organs like the brain and heart. 

Copper-rich foods include grains, nuts and seeds, organ meats such as liver and kidneys, shellfish, dried fruits, legume vegetables like string beans and potatoes, chicken, and even some unexpected sources like chocolate. Although excessive ingestion of copper can cause nausea and other adverse effects, points out the Copper Development Association, the World Health Organization (WHO) has determined there is no major concern for setting an upper threshold, because toxic risk levels rarely exist.

4. Conductor of the Past, Present, and Future

With a melting point of 1,981°F (1,083°C, 1356°K), copper is known for its superior heat transfer, electrical conductivity, and resistance to corrosion. These and other important properties have made copper the standard benchmark for electrical conductivity, and the metal conducts electrical current better than any other metal, with the exception of silver. In fact, copper’s thermal conductivity, or capacity to conduct heat, is about 60% greater than that of aluminum, so copper can remove much more heat more quickly. 

Copper’s resistance to corrosion and ease of manufacturing has traditionally made it the standard metal (including its alloy brass) used to make accurate instruments like clocks, watches, and navigational aids. As a conductor of electricity, copper has been the material of choice for electrical connectors for nearly 200 years, used first in telegraphs and then later in telephone communications, and is routinely refined to 99.98% purity before it is acceptable for many electrical applications.

Copper also plays a crucial role in the delivery of wind energy because of the important properties listed above. Some wind farms contain more than 300,000 feet of copper wire. Electricity generated through wind power flows through insulated copper cables to a copper-wound transformer, and underground copper cables collect the electricity from the base of each tower and deliver it to a substation that transmits it to the utility grid.

5. The Future of Copper Supply

In 2021, The United States consumed approximately two million metric tonnes of unmanufactured copper and approximately 1.8 million metric tonnes of refined copper, according to a Statistica report. Worldwide resources of the important and valuable metal are estimated at more than 870 million tonnes, with annual copper demand coming in at 28 million tonnes. However, recent concerns about copper shortages have raised questions about the future of copper supply, and by 2025 the demand for copper could outpace our current supply. A new S&P Global report entitled The Future of Copper: Will the Looming Supply Gap Short-circuit the Energy Transition? projects that by 2035 global copper demand will nearly double from 25 million metric tons today to about 50 million metric tons in order to supply technologies that are critical to achieving net-zero by 2050. 

In fact, much of today’s global reserve of copper comes from recycled materials, with more than 30% of global copper demand in the past decade being met with recycled copper. The Institute of Scrap Recycling Industries (ISRI) reports that between 1.8 and 2.0 million tons of copper are recycled each year in the USA, about half of which is shipped abroad. Almost half of all recycled copper scrap is old post-consumer scrap like discarded electrical cables, junked automobile radiators, or air conditioners.

But recycling may not be enough to curb looming shortages. In addition to recycling efforts, many copper producers are working to implement sustainable mining practices for this important commodity. The International Copper Association (ICA), for example, states that its members are working to produce copper responsibly, whether that be through emissions reduction, renewable energy use, technological innovation, safe working practices, water and biodiversity conservation or social outreach programs.

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