Copper was one of the first metals in human history to be utilised and has been a valued material throughout time from helping ancient civilisations emerge from the Stone Age to playing a vital role in the leading-edge technologies of the present day. It is one of the transitional elements with the symbol Cu and it can be found in its native state or in combination with minerals.
Copper got its name from the Latin word Cuprum, the ancient name for the island of Cyprus where the Romans got much of their copper. It was first used in its native form at least 10,000 years ago but it wasn’t until a few thousand years later when it was alloyed with tin to form bronze, that it really gained momentum as a diverse and practical commodity.
Copper is a soft, malleable metal, resistant to corrosion. It is highly ductile, a great conductor of heat and electricity and alloys readily. Copper is globally dispersed around the world which makes it low risk to disruption. This is important as developing nations are now entering the market and driving up demand for copper which is an essential commodity to facilitate growth and prosperity. Here are some of the major uses for copper today:
- Running hot and cold: The construction and plumbing industries are big consumers of copper as it delivers superior products in terms of performance, safety and longevity. Plumbers need products that can withstand temperature extremes, can be shaped easily and importantly for water supplies, it is impervious, making it extremely safe. Rigid copper is used for copper tubing and it is easily soldered, making for lasting bonds. It is copper’s ability to conduct heat and electricity, resist corrosion, and ductility that lends it highly suitable for wiring in heating and cooling systems. In addition, when a copper product eventually reaches the end of its life and is recycled there is no loss of these properties making it an extremely efficient material. It shouldn’t surprise us therefore, that the average suburban home is built with around 200kgs of copper!
- Keeping you connected: Electronic applications for copper have grown over recent decades with the meteoric rise in portable electronic devices and mobile phones as well as televisions and computers. It is used for a wide variety of components such as computer chips, wiring, circuit boards and connectors. Copper’s high electrical conductivity make for much faster operating speeds and make it highly sought after by electronic component manufacturers.
- Power Generation: With the world’s focus firmly on renewable energy, copper is playing a major role in solar, hydro, thermal and wind systems across the world. It helps reduce the amount of energy required to produce electricity and reduces emissions. Copper is utilised far more heavily in renewable energy systems than traditional ones. Tubing, bearings, electrical and mechanical parts are just some of the components where copper is used to keep the systems working longer and at higher efficiency.
- A Driving Force: The automotive sector uses copper for many car components. Did you know that the average car contains more than 20kgs of copper including 1.5kms of copper wiring? Copper’s thermal conductivity has been utilised in new technology for the production of radiators and copper alloys are ideal materials for hard wearing, non-stick surfaces that come into contact with moving parts within the engine. Electric and hybrid vehicles use considerably more copper than traditional cars and so demand from the sector looks set to remain.
Such is our dependence on copper that it has earned the nickname “Doctor Copper” from the investment market who see copper price as a true indication of world economic health. Just as copper was leading-edge technology thousands of years ago so it remains today at the forefront of innovation and will be a major player in supporting a sustainable future.