From copper jewelry to copper pipes, copper electrical wire, and copper touch surfaces and cookware - as one of the most versatile metals, copper has played an integral role throughout history and right up to the modern day. This bright and burnished metal has been used for over ten thousand years. Famed for its excellent conductivity and thermal regulating properties make copper an integral part of industry and construction as its often used in plumbing and electrical wiring, roofing, and industrial machinery. Outside of industry, copper is considered to be one of the precious metals for use in jewelry and is believed to have healing properties, especially when it comes to aches and pains in the body. It is also used for cookware and surfaces as it is naturally antibacterial.
Copper is made by extracting this natural substance from copper ore. This is often a process done via mining, as copper deposits are found underground. It can be done through underground mining or pit mining. When the copper has been extracted, it then undergoes an in-depth process of being crushed, ground, smelted, and processed into the pure copper supply that we can then utilize.
Mining Copper Ore
Mining copper ore is how you get pure copper from the earth's deposits. This can be a lengthy process and involves many stages of preparation, regulations, extraction, processing, refining, and finally, distributing precious copper around the world. All of this has to be done to the highest standards while ensuring that the environmental impact remains low. We take a closer look at the ins and outs of the extraction of copper from ore to the final bright and shiny product.
Where is Copper Found?
Copper mines are found around the world, with Chile and Peru in South America being two of the biggest producers. Their copper minerals are found in the rippling peaks of the Andes. China is also a major copper producer, especially in the regions of inner Mongolia and Xinjiang. North America is also known for its copper deposits, and Utah's Bingham Canyon holds one of the largest open-pit copper mines in the world. Beyond these borders - Australia, Zambia, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Mexico, Indonesia, Kazakhstan, and Canada are also producers of copper too.
|Rank||Country||Production (Metric Tons)|
The Process of Mining Copper Ore
There are many steps when it comes to the process of mining copper ore, and there are two main ways of getting copper from the ground, as it is one of the earth's natural resources. These two methods are underground mining and open pit mining, and both come with their own pros and cons.
Open pit mining is done closer to the surface of the earth and therefore takes the lower grade copper product that isn't buried so deep. This is a practical way of extracting large amounts of copper ore. It is also a more flexible and cost-effective method of getting the copper minerals out of the earth as it relies on less infrastructure, easier accessibility, and often - a higher yield. On the downside - open-pit mining may contribute to soil erosion and other environmental factors. It also has its limitations when it comes to depth, which means that only copper ore close to the surface can be extracted.
Underground mining is one of the best ways to get higher-quality copper concentrate ore. It also has less of an environmental impact as it's done underground, so doesn't disrupt natural habitats. Underground pits are also less susceptible to adverse weather conditions and external safety factors. However, underground mining does have its technical challenges when it comes to the limitations of being under the earth. It is also a more costly production as it takes specialist setups and careful safety planning. Working underground is also a slower process and means that less copper can be extracted.
After mining the copper, it goes through the stages of crushing and grinding to make it ready for further processing and refining. This helps the copper minerals come free from the other minerals stashed within the ore and creates a copper concentrate that can then be refined and smelted.
The copper is extracted from the mine in large pieces. It then needs to be crushed using jaw crushers or similar machinery to break it down into smaller chunks that can then be ground down even further. The grinding process is often done in a grinding mill where the ore is mixed with water, and the copper particles are reduced to a powder-like substance.
The Different Types of Copper Ore
|Ore Type||Chemical Formula||Copper Content (%)||Characteristics|
|Chalcopyrite||CuFeS2||34.5||Yellow-gold, most common copper ore|
|Chalcocite||Cu2S||79.8||Dark gray, high copper content|
|Covellite||CuS||66.5||Dark blue, rare|
|Bornite||Cu5FeS4||63.3||Bronze-brown, peacock ore|
Concentrating and Purifying Copper
After the copper ore has been crushed, it then undergoes a series of steps to concentrate and purify it even further. This series of steps involve flotation, roasting, smelting, converting, and refining until you have the copper we recognize.
Flotation - the finely ground down copper needs to be further processed to extract the impurities, and this is done first through flotation. The copper is mixed with water and chemicals, and oxygen is blown into the process. This causes the copper minerals to attach to air bubbles and rise to the surface of the water as a froth, whereas the impurities sink. The froth is then collected for further processing.
Roasting - roasting the copper ore is also used to remove impurities from the concentration of copper - in particular, sulfur. The copper concentrate is heated in a high-temperature furnace with oxygen-enriched air to create blister copper. From the blister copper, the volatile components and impurities found in the copper concentrate can be oxidized and converted to something easier to remove (like sulfur dioxide gas that can be collected).
Smelting - smelting is how the copper minerals are melted. This is also done in a furnace and creates a blister copper, which forms from the molten copper. This is also part of the process where the slag (impurities) are further separated and removed. At high temperatures, the copper forms a copper matte which is a medley of copper sulfides, iron sulfides, and other impurities too.
Refining - after converting the copper and oxidizing the impurities, the high percent copper is ready to be refined. There are different ways in which copper is refined at this end stage, but often it is by dissolving the blister copper in an electrolyte solution and electricity to create a reaction. Using electrolysis and an electric current causes a chemical reaction and leads to the pure copper formation and any leftover impurities settling into a separate lower layer. This process is repeated again and again until there is a high percent copper that can be easily worked with.
Manufacturing Copper Products
Turning the native copper into something that can be shifted into an instantly recognizable product means molding and manufacturing. The molten copper is poured into specific shapes and molds so it is able to set in a certain shape. The molten copper cools in the mold and solidifies to the shape and cut of the casting. When it is removed from the casting, the solid copper can be trimmed, ground, polished, and perfected into its final form.
Copper sheets tend to be rolled to create copper wires, tubes, and rods that are commonly used in electrics and plumbing. This process involves the copper being made into a sheet through the use of rollers and high pressure before being heated and undergoing an extrusion technique via a hydraulic press to turn it into tubes and rods.
Recycling and Sustainability
As copper is one of the earth's finite resources, it's important to be mindful when it comes to mining, copper production, sustainability methods, and recycling. By choosing to recycle copper, we reduce the need to open new mines, which has a lesser impact on the natural world. Copper is easy to recycle as it can be collected, cleaned, melted down back to its molten form, and reshaped and reused.
Scrap copper is first collected through various means (scrap metal companies, recycling centers, and other special programs). The copper is then sorted so that only the pure copper alloy is kept. The copper will then need to undergo a cleaning process to ensure any dirt and contaminants are removed. The cleaning process can call on the use of chemicals and automated processes involving machinery to bring it back to a purer form. After being cleaned, the copper can then be melted back down into its molten form to further remove impurities and also to be reset into a wide range of recycled sources like sheets, molds, tubes, and rods.
The energy savings of recycled copper can be as high as 90%, and this method also reduces greenhouse gas emissions and helps lead to cleaner air and water as the need for mining new copper sources is reduced.
Copper is one of the most important metals of modern times, and as an easily recyclable material, it should continue to play a role in the future of sustainability. While the process of turning copper from raw material to final product takes time and love, the rich diversity, durability, and its status as a renewable resource make it a worthwhile venture. Copper is a beautiful element which is why it's used in copper jewelry, crystal necklaces, crystal earrings, and healing bracelets for women. With a ton of spiritual and physical benefits, it truly is a gift from mother nature. Check out our site for more copper rich tips including how to clean copper jewelry, how to welcome feng shui light into your life, and to peruse tunics that look stunning with copper pieces.
What are the processes of making copper?
The production of copper involves mining this natural resource from the earth first. Next, the copper ore is concentrated and treated to remove impurities before being heated (smelted) to separate pure copper from the other minerals. It is then refined and shaped into usable forms.
How to obtain copper?
Copper is obtained through mining in various copper-rich parts of the world like South America, China, the United States, and other places where there is a strong copper industry. Once copper deposits are found, the ore is mined, and then the copper is processed through crushing, grinding, flotation, roasting, smelting, and refining to turn it into pure copper that can be used.
How is copper made in earth?
Copper is made in the earth as magma cools down and certain minerals start to form into solid crystals. Copper is formed within these crystals, and over time, these copper-rich crystals band together to create copper ore. Ruptures and movement deep within the earth will push these deposits closer to the surface so they can be reached through mining.
What are the benefits of copper?
Copper has many benefits - physically and even spiritually. Copper is a great conductor of energy and has excellent insulating properties. It is also a very versatile material and can easily be recycled. Copper is naturally antimicrobial and is resistant to corrosion.