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Is Copper Metal?

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What is Copper?

Copper is a ductile and malleable metal with excellent electrical and thermal conductivity. Malleable and ductile describe the physical properties of metals.

A metal that's malleable can be hammered, pressed and reshaped without cracking or breaking. It can also be rolled into thin sheets.

Ductile metals can be drawn or stretched into wire without breaking or losing strength.  The wire is pliable so can be bent or twisted without being damaged.

Copper is a good conductor of electricity and also sound. Therefore, it's often used to construct musical instruments including gongs and bells.  

Copper is often described as a mineral but is actually a chemical element.  On the Periodic Table copper is represented by the symbol Cu.

Copper is found in more than one hundred sixty minerals. Malachite is the earliest ore of copper. An ore is a rock that contains sufficient quantities of a metal to make it worth extracting.

Copper can be extracted from an ore with relative ease.

The vast amount of copper mined today comes from ores that contain around 2% of this sought-after metal.  The mineral chalcopyrite is the most common ore of copper.

Most of the world's copper comes from Chile, the Democratic Republic of Congo, China, the U.S.A., Russia, Australia and Mexico.

Copper was the first metal used by humans.  Beads found in Iraq date back more than 10,000 years.  Over time it was discovered copper could be worked which made it more suitable than stone for tools and weapons.
four old fashioned copper cooking potsWith the development of bronze around 3000 BC the Bronze Age began.  Bronze is an alloy of copper and tin.

An alloy is a mixture of two or more chemical elements at least one of which is a metal.  Alloys are produced because pure metal is often too soft to be fit for purpose.

The combination of copper and tin produced a metal far stronger than pure copper. Copper was still used extensively but the discovery of bronze marked a significant technological advancement due to its improved strength and durability.

In ancient Egypt, copper was used for tools, cookware, mirrors, razors, and even makeup.  Blue and green cosmetics were produced by grounding the minerals malachite or azurite and mixing them with oil or fat to produce a fine paste.

During the Industrial Revolution, copper became even more important because of its ability to conduct electricity.

Today, copper is still widely used for electrical wiring, plumbing, roofing and construction.  Although copper tarnishes it's highly resistant to corrosion. 

Copper has been used throughout history to produce cutlery, cookware, jewellery, decorative objects, and coins.

Copper is used for cookware because it conducts and distributes heat exceptionally well. Even distribution is important because it prevents hotspots that can burn food.

Copper also has antimicrobial properties.  An antimicrobial is a substance that kills microorganisms, such as bacteria or mould, stopping them from growing and causing disease.

Tests have shown that a solid copper surface can kill 99.9% of microorganisms within two hours of contact.

Is Copper Renewable?

Copper is a renewable metal that can be repeatedly recycled without any loss of performance.  It also helps reduce CO₂ emissions in the environment and lowers the amount of energy needed to produce electricity.

The term 'renewable' refers to a metal that can be produced or obtained through sustainable methods.  For it to be renewable it must be able to be replenished over time.

Metals considered to be renewable are abundant in Earth's crust. They must be able to be extracted without causing significant environmental damage or depletion of natural resources.

Renewable metals can be recycled or recovered from waste materials.  Copper is widely recycled and recovered from waste products such as electronics or scrap metals.

Is Copper Valuable?

The price of copper reached a record high in March 2022 but then dropped significantly due to fears of a global recession.

With China being the world's largest consumer of copper, there were fears that lockdowns because of Covid-19 would cause the economy to slow down.  During this time, manufacturing plants closed and construction was scaled back.

With the invasion of Ukraine, the price of copper began to rise.  This was because traders began stockpiling metals used on an industrial scale.
two industrial lorries in an open mining areaThis caused a problem because existing stockpiles of copper were low. This is generally because of the slowdown in mining during the last decade.

As countries move towards cleaner energy, more copper is needed.  Copper is used for wiring in electric cars and for solar panels. The problem was that as oil and gas prices increased so did the cost of manufacturing copper.

Due to worldwide lockdowns during the pandemic, the demand for gadgets and electronics rose dramatically. As demand increased, so did the need for copper.

This has caused a problem because although demand has increased, the rate of production from the mines has not kept up.  This is causing some concern that a shortage of copper may not be far off.

When it comes to buying copper as an investment, this sought-after metal may offer high returns but is also a highly volatile commodity. At the beginning of 2023, the market outlook was mixed. Some forecasts suggested the price of copper could rise while others expected it to fall.

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