2019 has been declared by UNESCO as the Year of the Periodic
Table. To celebrate, we are releasing a series of blogs about our favourite
elements and their importance to the chemical industry. Today we look at copper
and some of its popular uses.
A brief history
Copper was one of the first metals ever extracted and used by
humans. According to the US Geological Survey, copper ranks as the third most
consumed industrial metal in the world, dating back to around 5000BC.
Around 5500BC, early
ancestors discovered the malleable properties of copper, and discovered they
could be fashioned into tools and weapons – a discovery that allowed humans to
emerge out of the stone age and drift into the age of metals.
Volcanic rocks in Tenerife, Spain.
Approximately two-thirds of the Earth’s copper is found in
volcanic rocks, while approximately one-quarter occurs in sedimentary rocks.
metal is malleable, meaning it can conduct heat and electricity, making copper
an extremely useful industrial metal and is used to make electronics, cables
What is it used for?
Since 4500BC humans have made and manufactured items from
copper. Copper is used mostly as a pure metal, but its strength and hardness can
be adjusted by adding tin to create a copper alloy known as bronze.
1700s, pennies were made from pure copper; in the 1800s they were made from
bronze; and today, pennies consist of approximately 97.5% zinc and 2.5% copper.
Copper is utilised for a variety of industrial purposes. In
addition to copper’s good thermal and electric conductivity, copper now plays an
important role in renewable energy systems.
As copper is an excellent conductor
of heat and electricity, power systems use copper to generate and transmit energy
with high efficiency and minimal environmental impacts.
E. Coli cultures on a Petri dish.
Copper plays an important role as an anti-bacterial material.
Copper alloy surfaces have properties which are set out to destroy a wide range
Recent studies have shown that copper alloy surfaces kill
over 99.9% of E.coli microbes within two hours. In the interest of public
health, especially in healthcare environments, studies led by the Environmental
Protection Agency (EPA) have listed 274 different copper alloys as certified antimicrobial
materials, making copper the first solid surfaced material to have been
registered by the EPA.
Copper has always maintained an important role in modern
society with a vast list of extensive uses. With further development of
renewable energy systems and electric vehicles, we will likely see an ongoing
increase in demand for copper.