Copper is a very important metallic element in the chemical and engineering industry. It has very special properties that are used in many industries. Today’s human civilization generally depends on copper in most of the critical aspects. From the very ancient times, copper is used as a metal. Probably copper is the first metal that is used by humans around 8000 BC. And around 3500 BC copper is the first alloyed metal with tin. The feature that copper can exist in nature in pure form, made copper the first metal that is used by humans.
In this article, we would like to give some information about the copper element from different viewpoints. The general information included in this article about the copper element;
- Definitions of copper according to the chemistry,
- Chemical and physical properties of copper,
- General applications that copper element is used,
- Copper production methods,
- Copper production around the world,
- Copper prices and the place of the copper element in the World’s economy.
What is Copper?
The answer to this question is very open-ended. The definition of copper change according to the viewpoint from which this question is asked. If we answer this question from a chemistry viewpoint, copper is the element of a periodic table that has the atomic number 29 and the symbol ‘Cu’. The symbol ‘Cu’ does not resemble the name ‘Copper’, it can be hard to remember for people. For example, the symbol of the Zinc is ‘Zn’ which can be easy to remember. Copper is classified as a transition metal in the periodic table. The place of the copper in the periodic table is b9, 4, d. The color of the pure copper is metallic brownish.
If we take a look from the mechanical and industrial viewpoint at copper, it is a very useful material that is used in conductive elements of machinery and systems.
Some Physical Properties of Copper
Copper has very distinct physical properties from other metals which makes it a very special metal for lots of kinds of engineering applications. Let’s check some physical properties of copper.
- Density: The density of pure copper is 8,96 g/cm³ which is quite heavy for structural applications.
- Melting Point: The melting point of the copper is 1084,62 °C which is a moderate temperature compared with other metals that are used commonly in engineering applications.
- Heat Conductivity: The heat conductivity of copper is 401 W/(m·K) which is a very good value for heat and HVAC applications.
- Electrical Resistivity: The electrical resistivity of the copper is 16,78 nΩ·m which is a very low value. Because of this property, copper is generally used in electrical applications.
Mechanical Properties of Copper
In mechanical applications, pure copper is not generally used. Because pure copper is very malleable and soft. In cable production, copper is easily used in cable rolling processes. Let’s take a look at some numerical values for the mechanical properties of pure copper.
- The MOHS hardness of the copper: 3.0
- The Vickers hardness of the copper: 369 MPa
- The Brinell hardness of the copper: 874 MPa
To use in mechanical applications, copper is generally alloyed with other metals to obtain much more hard and corrosion-resistant materials.
Brass is an alloy of copper and tin element. Brass is generally used for some mechanical applications such as propellers of marine engines because they are very resistant to corrosive environments such as the sea. According to the percentages of tin and copper, different kinds of physical and mechanical properties are obtained.
Bronze is a type of alloy which includes copper and tin. Bronze is mechanically stronger than copper and the processing of the bronze is much easier than the pure copper. There are different mechanical applications of bronze such as gun barrels. In general pump valves, mechanical bushings, and coins are produced with bronze.
Also, bronze is heavily used in decorative applications throughout history. There are lots of kinds of historical bronze statues and vessels.
Applications the Copper is Used
Copper is a very good thermal and electrical conductor right before silver. But the average price of silver elements is very high for extensively used in thermal and electrical applications.
- For example, the piping systems that are used to cool the coolant of the refrigerators are made from copper and copper-based materials. If silver or silver-based materials are used, the total cost to produce a refrigerator will be very high.
- Copper is one of the most used metals in electrical transmission applications because of its very high electrical conductivity and electrical resistivity. It is used in the wiring systems of cities to transmit the produced electricity from the electrical production plants to homes and other areas where electricity is used. Underground power cables are generally made from the copper element.
- In civil engineering and construction applications, copper is commonly used in strengthing the concrete elements of buildings such as columns and beams.
- In decorative jewelry, copper is used because of its good appearance and low price compared to the other metals that are used in jewelry.
- Copper cables are also used in the production of electric motor windings because of their very good electrical and thermal properties.
- In chemical applications, copper is heavily used because of its very high affinity to electrolysis applications.
- Copper creates a protective layer when it is chemically bonded with atmospheric oxygen. Because of it, it is used commonly in statues. Statues and structures which are made from copper or copper-based materials are greenish because of this protective layer. The most important example of this phenomenon is the statue of liberty in the US.
How the Copper is Produced?
Copper is generally found as chemically bound with sulfur. Multistage processes are applied to produce pure copper from its natural ores. After mining the copper from natural sources, sulfide minerals are smelted with the smelting method. After these processes, electrolyte refining is applied to copper to produce nearly pure copper to use in other applications. For the two different major copper ores, different production and purification methods are applied. The first one is obtaining pure copper from copper sulfide ores and the second one is the purification of the copper oxide ores.
Copper Sulfide Ores
In a typical application of the production of pure copper, the copper sulfide ores are mixed with special sand to loosen the copper to be extracted from the ore. Copper particles are water repellent and the obtained loosened copper is floated in the water. Because of this feature of copper, copper is partially decomposed from other minerals of the ore. In this process, the air is passed through the water and copper-mineral mixture, the copper minerals and particles are attached to bubbles and they float. With this process, a copper-rich mixture is obtained. The smelting process is applied to this copper-rich mixture to obtain much more pure copper concentrate. After this step in the production of copper, the electrolysis technique is applied to copper-rich concentrate in which copper is refined on the cathode side of the process. Nearly 99% of pure copper is obtained at the end of the electrolysis process.
Copper Oxide Ores
The copper extraction to copper oxide ores is applied in a different form from the copper sulfide ores. First of all, the heap leaching process is applied. Heap leaching is a process where copper is separated from its ore with the application of sulfuric acid. In the second stage, a solvent is applied to this mixture removing the iöpurities to extract copper from it. In the last stage to obtain pure copper, an electric current is passed through the solvent mixture to positively charge the copper. And positively charged copper is collected around the cathode side.
Production of Copper Around the World
Copper is a very important metal for today’s technology and applications. Its production is very high to supply to the very high demand from the world. The production of copper can be classified into two major categories. The first one is the production of copper ore or mining the copper ores and production of pure copper from these natural ores.
Copper Ore Production Percentages Around the World
If we take a look at the production of copper ores, Chile is in the first place on the list. 27% of copper ore production is made in Chile according to the World Bank. The production of copper in other countries,
- Chile: 27%,
- Peru: 11%
- China: 9%
- The US: 7%
- Congo: 5%
- Kazakhstan: 5%
- Australia: 5%
- Mexico: 4%
- Russia: 4%
- Zambia: 4%
- Other Countries: 21%
If we take a look at these percentages of copper ore production, a very big percentage of copper mining is taking place in South America. We can say that the soil of South America is very rich in terms of copper production.
Pure Copper Production in the World
As we stated above, pure copper is produced with two different methods in general in the world. Ore producers and pure copper producers vary. Because pure copper production requires tehcnolıogy to apply.
The leader country in pure copper production in China. China holds nearly 36% of the total pure copper production in the world. It is a very big percentage that China can affect the copper part production singlehandedly. The situation of copper production is like this in the other world countries;
- China 36%
- Chile: 11%
- Japan: 7%
- The US: 5%
- Russia: 4%
- India: 3%
- Congo: 3%
- Germany: 3%
- Korea: 3%
- Poland: 2%
- Other Countries: 23%
If we compare the world countries according to their copper ore production and pure copper production, China is a very big importer of copper ores. And Chile is the biggest exporter of copper ores. Also, Japan is not on the list of copper ore production and they are one of the biggest pure copper producers in the world. So, Japan is importing a very big amount of copper ores.
The economical situation of the copper can be interpreted according to these data. There is a strict correlation between the copper import and export rates of the countries and the logistics of the copper ores is a very important part of the copper trade around the world.
Copper Prices and Economics of Copper in the World
Copper is a very important element and there is a special stock market for copper that the price is changing according to several factors. Copper prices around the world economy would affect the lots of markets where copper is heavily used. Here we will talk about the economics of copper and what kinds of factors are affecting the prices of copper around the world.
Factors That Affecting the Copper Prices
First of all, we need to state that copper is not an investment tool that is used by investors such as gold or silver. So, investor behavior will not affect copper prices in the world. We can not take a look at the investor behavior and make şnterpretations about the copper price charts according to the investor behaviors.
The most important factors that affect the copper prices are;
- Production of copper ore and pure copper,
- The demand for copper ore and pure copper from other countries that are using copper in different systems,
- The logistics of copper around the world.
Effect of Production of the Copper Around the World
As we stated above, the production of copper has two phases. The first phase is the production of copper from its natural sources as ores, and the production of pure copper from copper ores. These two factors differ heavily as you know from the previous sections.
We need to make interpretations according to the production of copper. The biggest copper ore producer and exporter in Chile. So, the commercial politics of Chile would affect copper prices heavily. It is a very important factor in copper prices. We need to follow Chile’s politics and Chile’s situation in world politics to estimate the copper prices.
The biggest exporters of copper ore are China and Japan. Also, there are industrialized countries that are producing pure copper from copper ores. So, they are importing copper ores from copper ore producer countries.
The politics between the copper or producer countries and the pure copper producers are also another important factor. If there will be a political crisis between Chile and China, copper prices would be heavily affected by it.
The Demand of Copper from Industrialized Countries
The demand for copper means the total offer of copper from pure copper producer countries. The industrialized countries are using copper in technology; such as Germany, Japan, and the US. The biggest pure copper producer country is China. The international relations between China and the US and other industrialized European countries will affect the copper prices around the world.
Logistics of Copper Around the World
Logistics is also a very important factor that affects copper prices around the world. The ease of logistics between the copper producers and the copper-demanding countries is very important. Copper is generally carried by cargo ships between the countries. For example, Taking copper ore from Chile to China is made by ships. If there will be a crisis in this copper procurement line, copper prices will be affected by it.
If there will be a logistics crisis between China and the other industrialized countries that are using pure copper, copper prices also would be affected from it.
Copper Prices Around the World
Take a look at the chart above that shows the copper prices over the 25 years. There is no stable situation in copper prices through the years. Two incidents affected the copper prices throughout these years.
- 2008 Economical Crisis: In 2006, there is a sharp increment in copper prices. This is a probably pre-effect of the 2008 economical crisis around the world. You will probably see the same behavior from other metal prices.
- Trade War between China and the US: In the Trump adminşistratin of the US, Trump declared a trade war with China. There was a heavy procurement crisis around the world. Because of it, you can see a sharp increment in copper prices around 2020.
Which Kinds of Fields are Affected by Copper Prices?
Copper is heavily used by technology and electrical devices. First of all, the prices of electrical motors would be affected by copper prices. Because copper is heavily used in the windings of electrical motors. Also, copper is used in long-range electrical transmission lines and the production of these long-range transmission lines will be heavily affected by copper prices.
We tried to give information about copper from the widest perspective. We gave information and made interpretations about the different aspects of copper in this article.
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FAQs About Copper
- Will the copper prices raise?
Estimation of the copper prices is not easy stuff. Because, copper is not used as an investment tool like gold or silver, estimation of copper prices according to investor behavior is not possible. So, to estimate the copper prices we need to look at the general situation of the criteria that affect the general copper prices above.
- Why copper is more expensive than aluminum?
The most important reason for this is that aluminum is more common in the Earth’s crust. And extraction of aluminum is much easier compared with the copper element. Because of this reason, copper is more expensive than aluminum.
- Will the copper resources be drained?
Copper ore is very abundant in the Earth’s crust and probably it will be sufficient for humanity for the long periods ahead.
- Why copper is used in cables other than silver?
Yes, silver is a better electrical conductor. But copper is used in electrical conduction things because of that copper is cheaper than silver. Very high prices microchips, silver, and gold can be used as electrical conductors.
- Why Chile is not the biggest producer of pure copper?
Chile is the biggest miner of copper ore but it is not the biggest manufacturer of pure copper. Production of pure copper is about the technology you have. Chile has not a sufficient volume of pure copper production which will be sufficient for all the copper ore production. Most copper ores are exported to China from Chile to produce pure copper. Chile is also one of the biggest pure copper producers but most of the copper ore is exported from Chile.