Copper (Cu) is the 29th chemical element in the periodic table. This metal is softer than iron, but harder than zinc. It is a reddish-coloured metal with a metallic transition lustre that is part of the so-called copper family along with gold and silver. The differences between copper and bronze, although seemingly very similar, are significant and it is necessary to be able to distinguish between the two.
Characteristics of copper
- Its main characteristic is that it is one of the best conductors of electricity. For this reason it is one of the most widely used materials in the manufacture of cables and electronic devices.
- It has a density of 8.96 g/cm³ and the melting point of copper is about 1083ºC.
- Copper is the third most used metal in the world after iron and aluminium.
- It is a material that is abundant in nature, affordable and can be recycled indefinitely.
- As a soft metal, it can be easily shaped and formed.
- It is also resistant to corrosion and oxidation.
When joined with other elements in alloys, its mechanical characteristics are improved, but its conductivity is reduced. There are many copper alloys which, depending on their composition, have different characteristics. The main alloys are as follows:
- Bronze = Copper (75-80%) + Tin
- Brass = Copper + Zinc
- Copper + Nickel
- Copper + Aluminum
- Copper + Beryllium
- Copper + Chromium
- Copper + Silver
- Copper + Cadmium
Copper production process
Copper is mainly found in rocks, in very small particles. The process consists of the following stages:
- Mining: The ore is extracted from the ground.
- Extraction: The metal is obtained after chemically transforming the ore. This process is called reduction. Depending on the reactivity of the metal, it will be easier or more difficult to extract it from the ore.
- Purification: The impurities in the copper have to be removed and for this purpose electrolysis is used. In this process, copper is transferred from an impure anode to a cathode in an electrolytic cell. The copper obtained after this process is 99.9% pure.
The copper recycling process begins with the collection of copper. The copper scrap is then sorted according to its purity. It can be sent directly to the smelter (pure copper) or it can undergo treatment. When the material is liquid, the degree of purity is checked by chemical analysis. If the residues contain oxides, they are melted down to form anodes and then taken to the electrorefining process. After this process, the copper would obtain the desired level of purity and by separating out the valuable impurities it can be used to create copper by-products. In some alloys such as bronze or brass, the refining process is not necessary because the scrap is melted directly to obtain new alloys.
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