Beginning with the mining process, copper is brought up from underground or open pit mines in low-grade ores that contain copper sulfide minerals. After it is mined, it is smelted to remove the copper from the ore. An ever-increasing share of pure copper is manufactured from acid leaching of oxidized ores. Today however, almost as much copper is being recycled as is being produced by newly mined copper ore.
As a reddish chemical element, copper is extremely good at conducting heat and electricity, second only to silver. It provides a beautiful colorful luster that can take a high polish. Because of its chemical compound, it easily forms numerous alloys with other metals.
Not often found as a free metallic state in nature, native copper is found throughout the world in basaltic lavas. The largest deposit of copper in the world is in the Chile’s Andes Mountains that was formed by volcanic activity.
The Production of Copper
Found as a tenorite or cuprite oxidized ore, it is often removed from the ore using heat with carbon in a high intensity furnace. When found in sulfide ores, the copper requires a complex set of treatments that are often enriched through the smelting process. Nearly half of the world’s copper deposits have been found to be in sulfide ores.
Many times the ores are removed by underground mining or an open pit mining process. Ore can contain as little as 15% copper and still be profitable in the process of open pit mining. Underground mining systems require only 6 to 7% copper in ore to be profitable.
Most Profitable Copper Countries and States
Historically, Chile is the world’s largest copper producer, with the United States coming in as a close second. Other major producers in the world include Russia, Poland, China, Canada, Mexico, Kazakhstan, Indonesia, and Zambia. In the United States, copper is produced primarily in Arizona, followed by New Mexico, Montana, and Utah.
The Distribution of Copper
The primary user of most of the produced copper is companies that manufacture electrical components followed by tubing, piping, plumbing fixtures, machine tool products, and hardware. Because it is so easily combined with other metals, it has been used in well over 1000 varying alloys. Alloys are produced using zinc, tin, or nickel.
As one of mankind’s oldest metals, copper was mined over 10,000 years ago. Historically, it is been used for water plumbing systems as far back as the time of the construction of the Egyptian pyramids.