One of the oldest metals, mined for over 7,000 years -- copper has been an integral part of the development of civilization -- and it continues to be a crucial metal in our global economy today.
Copper consumption continues to grow - due in part to its physical properties of high ductility, malleability, thermal and electrical conductivity, and resistance to corrosion. It is a major industrial metal ranking third after iron and aluminum in terms of quantities consumed.
Electrical uses of copper, including power transmission and generation, building wiring, telecommunication and electrical and electronic products, account for about three quarters of total copper use. Building construction is the single largest market, followed by electronics and electronic products, transportation, industrial machinery, and consumer and general products. Copper is also used in power stations and deep-sea oil platforms as it can withstand extreme environments, and is non-magnetic and corrosion-resistant. Copper byproducts from manufacturing and obsolete copper products are readily recycled and contribute significantly to copper supply.
For the average North American to maintain their current standard of living, approx. 1,500 pounds of copper per person will be required during their lifetime. The average home contains approx. 400 pounds of copper in electrical wiring, water pipes and appliances. The average vehicle contains approx. 50 pounds of copper.
Copper is primarily found in minerals associated with sulfur or in the oxidized products of these minerals. Copper easily combines with a number of other elements and ions to form a wide variety of copper minerals and ores. Copper minerals occurring in deposits large enough to mine include azurite, malachite, tennantite, chalcopyrite and bornite. Large deposits, relatively close to the surface are amenable to relatively low cost bulk mining methods.
Pure copper is generally produced from a multi-stage process, beginning with the mining and concentrating of low-grade ores containing copper sulfide minerals, and followed by smelting and electrolytic refining to produce a pure copper cathode. An increasing share of copper is produced from acid leaching of oxidized ores.
Copper is an internationally traded commodity on the London Metal Exchange (LME), as well as the New York Commodity Exchange (COMEX) and the Shanghai Metal Exchange (SHME). Copper production and consumption levels determine the price of copper. When demand for copper outpaces worldwide production, copper inventories are low and the price rises. However, when refining operations produce more copper than consumers are using, prices drop. The price of copper also may fluctuate as currency exchange rates change or because of unusual activity in the market.