Over the past 10,000 years, billions of tonnes of copper have been extracted from the earth and the Copper Development Association estimates that a large percentage of that is still being used today. After all Cooper is the world’s most recycled metal and continues to make a vital contribution to everyday life.
Did you know that the copper in your home, cookware, your car and even the coins in your pocket could date back to the Egyptian pharaohs? This surprising claim from the Copper Development Association is not nearly as far-fetched as it seems. The fact is that copper and its alloys, such as bronze and brass, can be melted down and re-used over and over again.
Copper has the world’s highest recycling rate for engineering metals. Statistics from the International Copper Study Group (ICSG) show that, in 2005, 34 per cent of world copper consumption was recycled. The US alone recycles almost as much copper as it mines.
This is just as well. Demand for copper is soaring, particularly from China and India – in Asia between 1960 and 2006 it rose from 455,000 tonnes to eight million tonnes. In July this year the ICSG predicted that copper mine output will rise by 5.2 per cent a year between 2008 and 2012, with annual production of 23 million tonnes, 29 per cent higher than in 2007.
More than 60 per cent of the world’s copper resources are found in Chile, where GEA Mechanical Equipment's company GEA Westfalia Separator is the country’s leading supplier of centrifugal equipment for the copper mining sector.
A versatile metal
Surprisingly, although copper has been used for 10,000 years, more than 95 per cent of the copper mined in that time was extracted after 1900. Copper is truly a metal for the modern world.
Because copper doesn’t corrode and has heat and electricity conducting properties that are second to none, it is the metal of choice for a vast range of domestic and industrial applications. It’s also very attractive, making it ideal for musical instruments, decorative features on buildings and statues – the Statue of Liberty, for instance, is made from copper.
Here are just a few of copper’s many uses: wiring in buildings, power cables, electronics, telephone lines, plumbing, gas pipes, cookware, the magnetrons in microwave ovens and even the spray for killing mildew on garden plants. The average car has approximately two kilometers of copper cables and the metal is also used for the radiator, brakes and bearings. It’s also being used in new aircraft models and high-speed trains have between two and four tonnes of copper – twice as much as their traditional counterparts.
Copper doesn’t react with water, which is why you’ll find fittings made from copper nickel alloy on offshore oil and gas platforms, desalination plants and ships.
Although copper is toxic in large doses, the World Health Organization’s International Program on Chemical Safety reported in 1996 that “there is greater risk of health effects from deficiency of copper intake than from excess of copper intake.”
The fact is that people need copper. Enzymes critical for bone growth and strength, maintaining the immune system and a healthy heart, the development of red and white blood cells, transporting and absorbing iron, brain development and for protecting against tissue damage are all dependent on copper. Alack of copper in the system puts the body at increased risk of developing high cholesterol and heart disease.
Another plus is that copper is biostatic, which means bacteria can’t grow on it. This makes it an ideal metal to have around hospitals for door handles, push panels and other surfaces to prevent the transfer of disease. Medically, a complex of radioactive copper is used in imaging and also in radiation treatment for cancer.
The use of copper has increased in line with technological developments and continues to be an essential component of innovation. Microprocessors can operate faster and use less energy thanks to copper conductors in silicon chips
It’s worth remembering that high speed data transmission, including the Internet, was achieved via existing copper telephone wires and you’ll find copper in mobile telephones, too.
Copper now has a role in environmentally-friendly alternatives to oil and gas for heating homes. As the number one conductor of heat, it’s in demand for direct exchange geothermal heating systems. This is where heat stored in the ground is transferred by copper tubing into the home.
With its continued versatility and huge worldwide demand to satisfy, copper’s future is assured – today’s copper could be recycled for tomorrow’s cutting-edge technology.
GEA and the mining industry
Separation is a key part of the mining production process so it’s no surprise that one of the leaders in the field, GEA Westfalia Separator has a presence in this growing market. It’s business provides the mining industry with a range of products. Leading the way are separators and decanters that enable mining companies to guarantee continuous efficiency during the extraction process.