Our modern lives require an enormous amount of copper.. A child born today will use approximately 1,750 pounds of copper during his or her lifetime in housing, transportation, electrical use and consumer products — everything from mobile phones to tablet computers to hybrid vehicles. Copper is a critical resource — vital to our future as we continue to find new uses for copper, from helping to build renewable sources of energy to enhancing medical devices. Far too few Americans realize the pivotal role copper plays in the future of our economy.
Importance of Copper
All around us – in our every day lives – many of the technologies we depend on need copper. From your mobile phone battery to your car, from the construction of your house to great works of art — copper is an integral part of our modern life. Not only that, but copper is an essential trace element needed for the healthy development of most plants, animals and human beings.
Copper can be found raw in nature, called “native copper,” but most copper comes from a mix of minerals including cuprite, malachite, azurite, chalcopyrite and bornite. Copper is useful because it is relatively soft, and transmits both heat and electricity well. It has a long history with the human race — starting with jewelery and other artifacts made from copper and into pre-historic tools that helped lift humanity out of the Stone Age and into the Copper Age.
By 3000 B.C., copper was being mixed with tin and other metals to create the alloy bronze. For many centuries, bronze reigned supreme, as it was used for plows, tools of all kinds, weapons, armor, jewelry and more. Although the Bronze Age was eventually replaced by the Iron Age, this was not because iron was a superior material, but because it was simply easier to find than copper.
Today, copper is used in diverse ways in many areas of life. Copper is an excellent electrical conductor and so it is used in electrical wiring and electronics. Copper is highly resistant to the damage of water and other elements, so it is frequently used in construction. Copper has medical uses as well — because bacteria will not grow on it, copper is used widely throughout hospitals.
It is said that the amount of copper a nation uses is a good indicator of how technologically advanced the nation is. In the 1800’s America was importing more then 50% of the copper it used. Today America is 100% self sufficient, but the demand for copper is growing. There is always a need to open new mines and provide this necessary mineral for our future development.
Why is Copper considered sustainable?
Copper’s unique properties make it an invaluable component of our future. Copper is so good at managing heat and electricity, it is practically irreplaceable for use in sustainable energy — from solar panels to wind turbines. Copper can be 100% recycled — making it a perfectly green material. Just shy of 1 trillion pounds of copper have been mined since the dawn of human history — and most of it is still in circulation thanks to copper’s recycling rate (which is higher than that of any other engineering metal).
Most certified sustainable buildings (often called LEED buildings) use a substantial amount of copper. Copper’s durability and energy saving properties make it an excellent building material that can qualify a building for LEED credits and help lower its carbon footprint. Although not all uses of copper directly apply to LEED credits, overall copper is used to maximize energy efficiency and minimize impact on our environment.
Today there are only about 20 active copper mines in the United States. Over the years, copper mining has become increasingly safer and more sustainable due to advances in technology. Today, modernized copper mines are able to exert a minimal impact on their surrounding environments.
Modern copper mines use less water then previous mines, and promote re-vegetation on the rocks and earth that are discarded after the copper is extracted. Modern copper mines can also extract pure copper from ores that measure less then 1% pure copper.
The entire industry of copper mining and copper alloys is dependent upon the economic recycling of any surplus products. Not only can copper be recycled from post-consumer equipment like old plumbing pipes or discarded electrical cable, but the scrap pieces of copper from factory floors can be recycled into new grade A copper. About half of all copper that is recycled is post-consumer scrap.
Copper and copper alloys have been recycled for thousands of years. In fact, one of the wonders of the old world, the Colossus of Rhodes, a statue spanning the entrance to Rhodes Harbour in ancient Greece, was said to have been made of copper. No trace of it remains since it was recycled to make other items.
In the Middle Ages it was common that after a war bronze cannons were melted down to make more useful items. In times of war even copper church bells were used to produce cannons.
Copper’s high resale value means that every care is taken to avoid wasting copper and it is recycled whenever possible.