Atomic number: 29
Atomic weight: 63.546(3)
Melting point: 1,084.62 degrees C
Specific gravity: 8.89 when pure
What is copper?
Copper is a metallic element that occurs naturally in the Earth’s crust. The chemical symbol for copper is Cu, which derives from the Latin word cuprum, meaning the island of Cyprus. In the ancient Roman world, most copper was mined in Cyprus. “Copper” is the anglicized version of this word.
Copper is one of only two metals (the other being gold) that has a color other than silver or grey. From the gold of aluminum bronzes to patina green (e.g., the Statue of Liberty), the diverse colors of copper and copper alloys, or metals in which copper is the principle component, make it unique. The most well-known copper alloy families are brass (copper-zinc), bronze (copper-tin) and copper-nickel.
What are the properties of copper?
Copper is malleable (easily shaped), ductile (can be drawn into very thin wire) and a good conductor of heat. It is second only to silver in electrical conductivity and is also corrosion resistant and antimicrobial.
Worldwide resources of copper are plentiful. The ability of this metal to be recycled, again and again, is an important sustainable benefit.
Where is copper found?
Copper can be found underground in the form of copper ore. The main copper ore producing countries are Chile, the United States, Indonesia, Australia, Peru, Russia, Canada, China, Poland, Kazakhstan, Zambia, Zaire and Mexico.
What has copper been used for in the past?
Copper was one of the first metals used by humans. Its earliest use dates back as far as 10,000 years ago, when it was used for coins, ornaments and jewelry.
Ancient civilizations also appreciated copper for its antimicrobial properties. Long before the concept of microbes became understood in the nineteenth century, ancient cultures observed that water contained in copper vessels had little or no visible slime compared to water contained in other materials. Egyptian papyrus records show that, around 2,500 BC, copper was also used to treat infections.
Copper is also attributed with helping to launch the Industrial Revolution.
Copper uses today
Today, there are many uses for copper. However, the four major applications of this metal include electrical wires, roofing, plumbing and industrial machinery.
Wherever electricity flows, connectors are needed. Because of its high electrical conductivity, copper, in its many varieties, is the dominant and favored material for these connectors. It is used in power cables, building wiring, and is an essential component of energy-efficient generators, motors, transformers, and renewable energy production systems such as solar, wind, geothermal, fuel cells and other technologies.
Copper plumbing requires no maintenance, won’t burn or break down, and can last for the life of a building. The Chase Manhattan Plaza in New York, which is 60 stories high and the sixth tallest building in the world, employs about 60,000 feet of copper tubes for its plumbing services.
Building and architecture
Copper has been used for many centuries to produce tube, sheets for roofing and cladding of buildings, and for wire for electrical applications. It is also cast to make faucets and valves, bells and statues that last for hundreds, or even thousands, of years. Copper and its alloys, bronze and brass, serve as decorative and functional elements on some of the world’s oldest and most famous architecture.
In automobiles, copper is used in the production of motors, wiring, radiators, connectors, brakes, and bearings. The average car has approximately 40–45 pounds of copper materials in it. Copper is also used in newer airplanes and trains and in the hulls of boats. Copper-nickel alloys are used to protect boat hulls, as well as offshore platforms, sea water pipe work, and desalination units, from erosion and to reduce the adhesion of marine life, such as barnacles.
Electronics and Communications
Copper is essential to worldwide information and communications technologies. It is part of the infrastructure that enables high-speed data transmission. Its use in silicon chips allows microprocessors to operate at higher speeds with less energy.
The total world production of copper coins absorbs thousands of tons of copper every year. In one recent year, the Royal Mint in London alone minted 700 million bronze and cupro-nickel coins, representing nearly 7,000 tons of metal.