Copper mining Environmental Issues

Key points

• Copper is malleable, ductile, and an extremely good conductor of both heat and electricity.

• A computer contains around 1.5 kg of copper, a typical home about 100 kg and a wind turbine 5 tonnes.

• Copper has low chemical reactivity. In moist air it slowly forms a greenish surface film called patina; this coating protects the metal from further attack.

• Copper is easily alloyed with other metals. Currently, there are around 570 copper alloys listed.

• Brasses and bronzes are probably the most well-known families of copper-base alloys. Brasses are mainly copper and zinc. Bronzes are mainly copper along with alloying elements such as tin, aluminum, silicon or beryllium.

• Useable copper reserves are subject of debate. Some predict 'peak copper' will be reached somewhere 2025-2030; Others claim there is much more available. See below.

• Around 95% of all copper ever mined and smelted has been extracted since 1900.

• Copper’s use averages out at around 140-300 kg per capita in developed countries

• Copper along with oil and gold are among the most traded commodities.

• Copper doesn’t break down in the environment, leading to its accumulation in plants and animals.

• Absorption of some copper into the body is essential for human health.

• Occupational exposure to copper can result in relatively minor conditions

• Acute industrial exposure to copper fumes, dusts or mists can result in chronic copper poisoning.

How much copper is there left to go?

growth in copper consumption• Some argue that the industry is rapidly approaching maximum extraction (aka ‘Peak copper’). Whereas, theoretically copper is finite resource and extraction will reach a peak, the timing is subject of debate. Confounding the imminent 'peak copper' argument is the fact that continually discovered reserves combined with increasing efficiency of extraction means that, for now, known and speculated quantities of copper far extend beyond current consumption.

• World production of copper amounts to 12 million tons a year and exploitable reserves are around 300 million tons. About 2 million tons a year are reclaimed by recycling. (source EPA)

World copper production 1900 - 2012

• “We are at a time where putting two or three mega-mines into production does not even keep up with demand of almost 1Mt per year growth “(Gianni Kovacevic

of Petaquilla Minerals)

copper leaching• The US Geological Survey estimated that, as of 2013, there remained 3.5 billion metric tons of undiscovered copper resources worldwide in porphyry and sediment-hosted type deposits, two types which currently provide 80% of mined copper production. This was in addition to 2.1 billion metric tons of identified resources. Combined identified and estimated undiscovered copper resources were 5.6 billion metric tons, 306 times the 2013 global production of newly mined copper of 18.3 million metric tons. (Wikipedia)

Percentage of known copper reserves by country

Copper history

• Copper’s earliest use is recorded in Anatolia in around 7250 BC in the form of coins and decorations. Evidence of copper smelting has been found in Serbia from around 5000 BC – though it is thought that smelting occurred in a variety of locations in Asia and Europe at about the same time.

• Copper tools started to emerge as early as 3500 BC in Israel. Its property of alloying with other metals (particularly tin) was discovered about 500 years later and heralded the Bronze Age, which started in southern Europe between 3000 and 2500 BC.

• Copper has been found used in buildings from an early age. Doors to a temple in Karnak were clad in copper, whilst the earliest examples of copper piping were found in other ancient Egyptian temples and palaces.

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