What is copper used for?
For thousands of years, copper has been so widespread that most people encounter it without even noticing. Ancient Egyptians used copper to disinfect wounds and surgical tools, and the earliest copper alloy weaponry dates back to the mid-5th millennium B.C. From building tools to biology, copper is an essential part of human life. We even need 1.2 milligrams of copper daily to help enzymes transfer energy inside our cells. Here are some facts about common uses for copper today:
1. Copper alloys used in jewellery
Copper is an easily molded base metal that is often added to precious metals to improve their elasticity, flexibility, hardness, colour, and resistance to corrosion.
Gold is one of the most common alloyed metals with copper. In most jewellery stores, you’ll spot:
- 18K yellow gold
- 18K palladium white gold
- 18K rose gold
- 18k pink gold
- 18K light green gold
In fact, 18K yellow gold is the most commonly used gold alloy in jewellery-making.
Sterling silver is also a copper alloy used to make utensils, tableware, and jewellery. It’s a harder alloy than gold, making it an obvious choice for:
- Body jewellery
- Belt buckles
Much sterling silver jewellery is also non-irritating thanks to copper’s hypoallergenic properties.
2. Medical uses for copper
As the Egyptians documented, copper is known to kill many germs on contact. Dr. Bill Keevil at the University of Southampton found that MRSA (an antibiotic-resistant strain of bacterial staph) cannot survive on copper surfaces the way it can on the platinum metals often used in hospital building railings, doorknobs, and beds. With the help of his research, hospitals are installing copper touch surfaces around the world to halt the spread of bacterial infections in hospital settings.
3. Copper use in home services
Copper wire, tubing, and piping are still some of the most commonly used building materials in the plumbing and electrical industries. Here are some of its most common uses:
- Motor parts: Copper conducts both heat and electricity more efficiently than many other metals
- Wiring: Copper is ductile, meaning it can be hammered into sheets and stretched into wires without breaking
- Type M copper piping: This piping works well for residential builds because it’s thin and affordable
- Industrial machinery: to help facilitate heat exchange
- Copper roofing: long-lasting with minimal upkeep
- Plumbing: its antimicrobial properties and malleability make it an ideal choice for industrial use
How copper is mined
We mine copper in large open-pits in Chile and Peru. Copper can occur naturally but is most often mined via minerals such as chalcopyrite and bornite. Leaching, smelting, and electrolysis processes purify this copper. it’s usually mined via:
Open-pit mining: This extraction method is used when ore deposits are relatively large and occur close to the ground’s surface. Learn more about open-pit mining methods.
Underground mining: Less common than open-pit mining because copper is often found near the ground’s surface.