What is Copper?- Its Uses, Compounds & Properties

What is Copper?

Copper is a chemical element with the atomic number 29 and is represented by the Cu symbol in the periodic chart. Copper is a ductile and malleable metal with excellent thermal and electrical conductivity. Copper is found naturally, although it is most abundant in minerals like chalcopyrite and bornite, distinguished by their reddish-gold color.

Massive stars produce copper, which is also present in the crust of our planet. The heaviest copper lump discovered weighed a whopping 420 tones. This element is found in both human and animal anatomy. Copper is found in the liver, muscles, and bones, with normal levels ranging between 1.4 and 2.1 mg of copper per kilogram.

Copper is widely utilized, especially in electrical wire. Even though just a small quantity of copper is used in coinage, we come into contact with it every time we handle a coin. Copper may create alloys with a wider range of alloying elements than most metals, including zinc, tin, nickel, and aluminum. These metals are added to improve the alloy’s strength and resistance to wear and corrosion, but they also change the color.

Copper is a chemical element with the atomic number 29 and is represented by the Cu symbol in the periodic chart.

History of Copper:

This metal’s name comes from the Old English word ‘coper,’ which comes from the Latin word ‘Cyprium aes,’ which means metal from Cyprus.’ Copper was known to some of the world’s earliest civilizations and may be traced back to prehistoric times. Because it can be found in relatively pure forms – meaning it doesn’t need to be mined from an ore – it is said to have been the first metal to be worked by people. 

During the Neolithic Period or New Stone Age, copper was discovered and used for the first time. Though the precise date of discovery will likely never be known, it is thought to have occurred around 8000 BCE. Copper is found in nature in its free metallic condition; this natural copper that humans use as a stone substitute. 

They made rudimentary hammers, knives, and later other tools out of it. The material’s malleability made it easy to mold devices by pounding it. The rich reddish color of the metal and its toughness made it highly desired. Pounding hardened the copper, resulting in more robust edges.

Egypt was perhaps the most advanced in the early development of copper. Copper weapons and implements were left in graves for the dead as early as 5000 BCE. The mining of copper mines on the Sinai Peninsula around 3800 BCE has been documented. The presence of crucibles at these mines suggests that the art of obtaining the metal included some refinement.

Copper was hammered into thin sheets, then shaped into pipes and other items. Bronze originally appeared during this period. The oldest known piece of this material is a metal rod discovered in the Maydm pyramid near Memphis, Egypt, with an estimated date of origin of around 3700 BCE.

Compounds of Copper:

The following are some of the most important compounds of copper:

  • Oxides: Because copper has two valences, it creates two oxides. Cuprous oxide (Cu2O) and cupric oxide (CuO) are these chemicals. Cuprous oxide is made in a furnace or with electrolytes. It’s a red crystalline substance. Cupric oxide is made by igniting suitable salts such as copper hydroxide, copper nitrate, copper carbonate, or heating cuprous oxide. CuO is a dark grey powder.
  • Halides: Cuprous chloride (CuCl) and Cupric chloride (CuCl2) is a copper-chlorine chemicals. Cuprous iodide (Cul) is created by combining copper and iodine in a direct reaction. Cupric iodide (Cul2) is only found in complex chemical compounds or in the presence of ammonium salts.
  • Sulphates: Cupric sulfate (CuSO4) is the most important copper salt known as blue vitriol because of its brilliant blue color. Cupric sulfate crystallizes as CuSO4.5H2O in most cases. 

Alloys of Copper:

One of the remarkable features of copper is that it can be alloyed with various metals. The following is by no means complete, but it does focus on some of the most commonly used alloys:

  • Bronze: The Bronze Age began when copper was alloyed with a small amount of tin.
  • Brass: Brass is made when copper and zinc combine to form a golden metal utilized in various applications, including musical instruments.
  • Sterling Silver: Sterling silver is made when other metals, such as copper are added to silver. It is often used in jewelry. Copper alloys have a wide range of applications, from daily things to industrial applications such as weaponry.
  • Cupronickel: When copper combines with nickel, a stronger metal is created, which is utilized for coins, hardware, naval engineering, and armaments manufacturing, among other things.

How is Copper Produced?

Copper can be found as copper minerals or as combined ores with other metals like zinc and lead all over the planet. It is mostly mined by open-pit or underground methods. Open-pit mining collects ores at the earth’s surface via graduated steps that lead into the earth’s crust, accounting for around 90% of copper output.

Underground mining, which involves digging shafts into the earth’s surface to allow machinery or explosives to separate the ore, may be used when the ore is too deep to mine via open-pit operations. Once the ore has been mined, it must be treated to ensure its purity. Sulfide ores are processed in five stages.

  • To extract the copper particles, the ore is crushed into fine sand.
  • Its froth floated, which means the sand is mixed with water and chemicals to make the copper particles resist water.
  • The copper minerals attach to bubbles and float to the surface once the air is circulated through the mixture.
  • The copper-rich froth thickens into a concentration, which can then be melted down into a refined copper concentrate known as anode slabs.
  • These slabs are refined into copper cathode slabs, 99.99 percent pure copper, using electrolysis. Copper oxide ores go through a three-step process to obtain high concentration levels. In a process known as heap leaching, sulfuric acid is used to remove copper from the ore.

The solvent extraction stage then removes contaminants by transporting the copper from the leach to a solvent. Finally, electrowinning uses an electric current to positively charge copper ions in a solvent, allowing them to be plated onto a cathode.

Uses of Copper:

  • Copper was the first metal that humanity worked with throughout history. The Bronze Age was named after discovering that it could be hardened with a little tin to make the alloy bronze.
  • Copper sulfate is frequently used as an agricultural toxin and in water treatment as an algicide.
  • While copper is most commonly associated with coins, it is an important component in the production of bronze.
  • It is utilized in various products, including cans, cooking foil, saucepans, electricity cables, planes, and spacecraft.
  • Chemical vapor deposition is a process that involves depositing thin copper films from a gas-phase precursor.
  • Because wire contributes to more than half of all copper consumed worldwide, electrical conductivity is significant.
  • Copper is frequently coated with either gold or silver.

Properties of Copper

Copper has a wide range of qualities that make it valuable in modern metallurgy and beneficial in many businesses and sectors. Copper and its alloys have several desirable qualities, including the following:

1. Corrosion Resistance: 

Copper has proven to be a valuable metal for outdoor and marine construction because of its strong natural corrosion resistance. It’s frequently employed as an alloy because 90/10 and 70/30 copper-nickel alloys can withstand the corrosive effects of seawater.

A chemical reaction occurs between the filmy surface of the metal and saltwater to create the extremely high corrosion resistance properties of copper-nickel alloys, which protect the core metal beneath it.

2. Malleability and Ductility:

Copper is malleable and ductile, which means it can be easily shaped into a wire-like shape. Copper is frequently utilized in architectural components, particularly steeples and spires on old church buildings. Copper was commonly used for roofs and flashing on old buildings. The green patina that results from oxidation gives the structures a distinct aspect while increasing the metal’s endurance.

It would be hard to create the small diameter wires that transport electricity in computers, TV sets, mobile phones, and automobiles without copper’s great flexibility. Copper wiring can be found in most tiny electrical devices, mainly on printed circuit boards, where it has displaced aluminum as the preferred wiring material.

3. Antimicrobial/Biofouling Resistance:

Long before the science of bacteria was understood, copper’s antibacterial properties were generally recognized centuries ago. Copper-based water-carrying vessels were less prone to algae development and slime formation than other metals.

Copper alloys are of particular interest in this field of research because of their self-sanitizing surface structure, which kills a wide range of bacteria, including E coil, legionella, and MRSA MRSA. Copper touch surfaces are becoming more widespread in hospital wards and operating rooms, replacing stainless steel and silver surfaces that aren’t as good at eradicating bacteria.

Copper also has a biostatic quality. Bacteria and other living organisms will not be able to grow or thrive on it. Copper is frequently used on ship hulls to reduce barnacle and mussel growth, 

4. Conductivity:

Copper is a good electrical and thermal conductor, frequently used in electrical wiring. The electrical conductivity of pure copper is 5.9107 Siemens/m, making it the second most electrically conductive metal after silver (6.2×107 Siemens/m).

Copper became a popular method of transmitting electricity quickly because it is far more abundant and thus less expensive than silver. Copper’s flexibility makes it perfect for wire and cable manufacture. On the other hand, copper’s weight made it unsuitable for overhead power lines, which typically employ aluminum or aluminum-coated high-tensile steel strands.

In terms of measured thermal conductivity of naturally occurring minerals, copper ranks third behind diamond and silver. At 20 degrees Celsius, pure copper has an average thermal conductivity of 386.00 W/(mK).

Copper’s high melting point of 1085°C makes it perfect for high-temperature applications like saucepan bases, boiler heat exchangers, and heat sinks in electrical equipment.

5. Recycling of Copper:

Copper recycling is a very ecologically beneficial way to introduce a valuable resource to the market. Copper recycling uses less energy and produces less CO2 emissions than primary production.

Recycling provides up to 80% of copper use, whereas mining accounts for only 20%. Copper recycling is also environmentally friendly. Copper recycling uses 15% to 20% of the energy needed to extract copper from ore. Copper also retains its chemical and physical properties after recycling.

Conclusion:

Copper is a reddish-brown chemical element. It has numerous chemical features, including being an excellent conductor of electricity and heat. Copper is a very important metal utilized in everyday life and industry. Copper’s metallic qualities enable it to be used in various applications. Copper recovery and recycling contribute to meeting this demand and ensuring a long-term future for people and the earth.

References:

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  • Properties of Copper – Matmatch. (n.d.). Properties of Copper – Matmatch; matmatch.com. Retrieved May 18, 2022, from https://matmatch.com/learn/material/copper-properties
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