Editor’s Note: We are dedicating each Tuesday in July and August to Copper, number 29 on the periodic table.
This post begins a multi-part series on copper (Cu), number 29 on the Periodic Table and one of the oldest and most useful metals known to man. With a multitude of applications dating back more than 10,000 years, there is a lot to talk about! Copper is a naturally-occurring nonferrous metal that is easily fabricated, has high electrical and thermal conductivity, and has anti-corrosive and antimicrobial properties. It is also a necessary element for human health. Check out Infographic: 8 Fun Facts About Copper for other interesting facts about this ancient and incredibly useful metal.
According to the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) Fact Sheet, Copper – A Metal for the Ages, copper was first used in coins and ornaments starting about 8000 B.C. The emergence of copper tools is credited for helping mankind transition out of the Stone Age at about 5500 B.C. The period that followed is sometimes known as the Copper Age, or the Chalcolithic Age. The discovery that alloying copper with tin produces bronze launched the Bronze Age at about 3000 B.C.
Copper has continued to be an extremely useful metal throughout history, but the most useful applications of copper exploit its high thermal and electrical conductivity — the highest per unit volume of any known substance except silver. The discovery of electromagnetic induction in the 19th century paved the way for electric motors and electric lamps, which in turn created a demand for copper for generators, power cables, motors and other electrical products. Today about half of the world’s production of copper is for electrical requirements. For more information, visit The Copper Development Association web site.
Today copper also plays a prominent role in building construction, transportation equipment, consumer and general products, and industrial machinery and equipment. Stay tuned for the next post in this series, Copper Compendium, Part 2: Copper is Key in the Modern Age, to learn more about the many ways in which copper continues to enhance our lives.
As for primary copper production, get an overview of the process in Copper Compendium, Part 3: Primary Copper Production.
One reason why copper is so widely used is the fact that it can be recycled indefinitely without losing any of its chemical or physical properties. Recycled, or secondary, copper is indistinguishable from primary copper, and the production process consumes much less energy. Copper Compendium, Part 4: Copper Reincarnation- Does Copper Live Forever? will examine copper recycling and the role of scrap copper in the overall supply.
If you’re curious to know where copper originates, our associated blog Advancing Mining will cover copper mining in Copper Compendium, Part 5: Meeting the Demand for the World’s Most Useful Metal.
Pure copper and copper alloys are required for many applications, but the metal must be analyzed for any application to be sure that its composition (if it’s pure it cannot include As for primary copper production, get an overview of the process in Copper Compendium, Parts 6 and 7: Copper Sulfate Analysis with ICP-OES Improves Electronics Manufacturing.
Optical Emission Spectrometry (OES) is a widely-used, industry-accepted technique to provide chemical analysis for both alloying and trace elements in metals. These instruments provide fast, on-line elemental analysis with quantitative determination of most elements from trace to percentage levels. OES instruments can analyze any metal in many shapes and forms and are used for process and quality control, incoming materials inspection, and research and certification.
Our last article will provide links to all the articles so you have them all in one place.
And to see a giant statue of a man made out of copper, take a look at our June 30, 2015, post.