Copper has been an extremely useful metal throughout history thanks to its high thermal and electrical conductivity. Today about half of the world’s production of copper is used for electrical requirements. One reason copper is so widely used is because 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. (Read Copper Compendium, Part 5: Copper Reincarnation- Does Copper Live Forever?)
Recycling copper extends its useful life, so much so that, as reported on CopperAlliance.org, 75% of copper produced since 1900 is still in use. Because recycled copper retains it electrical conductivity, it not only helps increase energy efficiency in many power systems but the copper recycling process consumes up to 85% less energy than its primary production, representing an annual savings of 40 million tons of CO2. In many renewable energy systems, 12-times more copper is used than in traditional systems to ensure efficiency.
When using recycled metals, manufacturers must analyze incoming raw materials carefully to ensure the elements in the materials will not be detrimental to the product, or ultimately their brand. To ensure they are shipping quality products, portable XRF analyzers can be utilized throughout facilities to inspect all incoming metals against paperwork, for quality checks upon receipt of the raw material scrap, and for final analysis of the finished product before the material leaves the facility.
Besides recycling, other ways to make copper mining environmentally friendly include the University of Sydney’s Warren Centre for Advanced Engineering Zero Emission Copper Mine of the Future project. As reported on Global Mining Review, the Zero Emission Copper Mine of the Future sets out how Australian copper mining can become emission free over the next 30 years through the use of emerging technologies.
According to the article, this ‘world first’ roadmap, commissioned by the International Copper Association Australia (ICAA), identifies five key target areas for technological innovation to reduce and ultimately eliminate mining emissions: exploration, movement of materials, ventilation, processing and water use.
Achieving cutting edge innovation will also depend on collaboration across five strategic levers: policy and programs, industry networks, capital enablers, future knowledge and an open mindset.
“A zero-emission copper mine of the future will be significantly different from the current copper mining system, and will require fundamental changes in how the mine sources, consumes and abates energy,” Director of the Warren Centre for Advanced Engineering, Ashley Brinson said.
Copper is widely used in green innovation, used by industries seeking to reduce their environmental impact.
For more information about copper, read Copper Compendium: The Whole Story.