Copper (Cu) is a naturally-occurring nonferrous metal that has high electrical and thermal conductivity. About half of the world’s copper is produced for electrical applications; copper is also widely used in building construction, transportation equipment, consumer and general products, industrial machinery and equipment, and those amazing bands that will fix your tennis elbow. But copper is not only one of the most important industrial metals, it is a vital element for human health, so here we take a small break from our usual subject matter to highlight a recent study illustrating why.
A research team from the University of California, Berkeley, Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory and Howard Hughes Medical Institute has discovered copper’s role in diabetes and obesity, reports Berkeley News. Copper has long been known to be an essential element for human health, but the Berkeley team has found that copper is responsible for moving fat out of fat cells and into the blood stream for use as energy. The researchers say that without enough copper, fat remains unused and builds up in fat cells. While previous studies on the role of copper in metabolism produced conflicting results, these findings point not only to a new role for copper in metabolism, but highlight the key role copper plays throughout the body.
Copper is absorbed through the diet and is converted into usable form by combining with certain proteins to produce enzymes that assist in the function of many vital bodily processes. For industrial purposes, copper must be modified from its raw form in a refining process. Primary copper production starts with the extraction of copper‐bearing ores. Depending on the type of ore and degree of required purity, the extraction process typically includes concentration, smelting, and refining.
In nonferrous metal smelting operations, each element is refined from very complex compound material in which the major elements are copper, zinc and lead. When smelting copper, it is very important to understand the complex morphology of the various compounds in the raw material in order to improve the refining efficiency of each element.
Inductively-coupled plasma (ICP), X-ray diffraction (XRD) and electron probe microanalysis (EPMA) can be used for the evaluation of the raw materials. However, ICP and XRD can only provide information about average, bulk composition. EPMA may take several hours to do a quantitative analysis of a complex sample containing 10 to 20 elements and many phases.
Recent developments in Silicon Drift Detectors (SDD) have improved the detection efficiency of energy-dispersive spectroscopy (EDS). Robust peak deconvolution methods have improved the quality of EDS spectral imaging data to near that of EPMA, but at significantly reduced acquisition times. Furthermore, the introduction of EDS multivariate analytical methods improve the analysis by presenting phase distributions in the microscopic image as opposed to colored X-ray maps that do not reveal phase chemistries.
Read the application note Rapid Evaluation of Smelting Copper Compounds Using Automated Multivariate Statistical Phase Analysis of EDS Spectral Imaging Data for details on the acquisition conditions, experimental details, electron images, the cumulative spectrum, elemental distributions, spectral details of overlapping peaks, and component maps.
To learn more about copper, including its history and many applications, check out Analyzing Metal’s Copper Compendium.