Copper is a chemical element that is soft, malleable, and ductile. Copper has very high thermal and electrical conductivity. Copper’s symbol is Cu and its atomic number is 29. Copper melts at about 1,984°F (1,085°C).
Copper was the first metal manipulated by humans and is still an important metal in industry today. Around 8,000 BCE, copper was first used as a substitute for stone, and around 4,000 BCE, humans began casting copper to shape it in molds.
Copper can be found as a primary mineral in basaltic lavas and can also be reduced from copper compounds such as carbonates, chlorides, and sulfides.
Most copper occurs in ores in igneous (volcanic) rock and sedimentary rock. To process copper commercial, the copper is first extracted from its ores through smelting and is then put through electrodeposition from sulfate solutions.
Copper is the third-most-consumed industrial metal in the world behind iron and aluminum. The majority of copper production, about three-quarters, is used by the electrical industries to make electrical wires, telecommunication cables, and electronics. Copper is only second to silver when it comes to thermal and electrical conductivity. The rest is mostly used to form alloys by combining it with other metals. Some of these common alloys are brasses, bronzes, and nickel silvers.
Copper turns green because of oxidation, meaning that it loses electrons when it is exposed to water and air. This reaction explains why some older pennies turn green and why the Statue of Liberty is green rather than orange-red.
Chile produces the highest amount of copper per year. In 2018, Chile produced 5,831,600 metric tons of copper and has consistently produced over 5.5 million metric tons in the few years prior. A porphyry copper deposit in the Andes Mountains is the greatest known deposit of Copper. Chile has been the world’s leading producer of copper since the early 21st century.
Peru is the second-largest producer of copper in the world. Peru produced 2,436,951 metric tons of copper in 2018 and produced over 2.5 million metric tons in 2019. From 2015-2019, copper production increased by 77% in Peru. Peru’s copper output growth is expected to outpace that of Chile, with Chinese investment playing an increasingly important role in Peru’s copper industry.
In 2018, China produced 1,561,100 metric tons of copper. This is slightly lower than its output in 2015, 2016, and 2017. China is the world’s largest copper consumer and purchases as much copper from other countries as it produces itself. China, however, is expected to decrease its copper imports in 2020.
The Democratic Republic of Congo produced 1,239,059 metric tons of copper in 2018. The majority of its copper production takes place in the Copper Belt of the southern Katanga Province. Like Peru, China has also invested in copper mines in DR Congo. Most recently, its state mining company, Gécamines opened the Deziwa copper and cobalt mine and processing plant. This mine and processing plant is part of a joint venture majority-owned by a Chinese metal mining company.
As the fifth-largest copper producer in the world, the United States produced 1,220,000 metric tons of copper in 2018. This is slightly less than in previous years. Top producing states for Copper in the U.S. are Arizona, Utah, New Mexico, Nevada, and Montana. The Southwest region of the U.S. is the country’s largest producer of copper.
Chile produces the most copper globally, with 5,700 tons a year.