Copper as a Valuable Resource
Copper is a valuable resource whose intricate steps from initially a raw product to ultimately the final product may be traced. The life of copper can be followed from its extraction, processing, and disposal. All of these steps, including the wastes produced, have an impact on human life and the environment. The developments of resources, such as copper, have helped change history. The environmental impacts of these changes may also be felt. Thus, it is important to understand the in’s and out’s of the process. By doing this, it is possible to see what resources and what waste products come out of this resource. Only then, can proper methods be taken to manage this resource properly.
Copper is an important mineral resource used in many different areas. Its properties of high ductility, malleability, and thermal and electrical conductivity, as well as its resistance to corrosion, make copper very useful as a major industrial metal (http://minerals.usgs.gov/minerals/pubs/commodity/copper). Copper can be refined from metal ores or scrap copper so it can be used as a powder in automotive, aerospace, electrical equipment, in –fouling compounds, and various chemicals and medical processes. Compounds of copper can be found in fungicides, wood preservatives, copper plating, pigments, electronic applications, and specialized chemicals. It can be produced either as a primary product or as a co-product of gold, lead, zinc, or silver (http://nuclear.hazard.uiuc.edu/packets/primmetals/chapter5.htm).
Following after steel and aluminum, copper is ranked third in world metal consumption. In 1990, the major copper-consuming nations were recorded in descending order as being Western Europe, the United States, Japan, the U.S.S.R., and China. It is also noted that the eight leading mine producing nations were Chile and the United States (each with 18%), Canada (8%), the U.S.S.R. (7%), Zambia (5%), and China, Poland, and Zaire (each with 4%) (http://minerals.usgs.gov/minerals/pubs/commodity/copper/stat).
Within the United States, the principal mining states in descending order were listed as Arizona, Utah, New Mexico, and Montana. Three states accounted for 99% of domestic production. Even though 30 mines were found to be operating in the United States, only 15 mines accounted for approximately 99% of copper production (http://minerals.usgs.gov/minerals/pubs/commodity/copper).
In nature, copper is usually found in association with sulfur. A multistage process is generally needed to produce pure copper metal. This multistage process involves mining, concentrating low-grade ores containing copper sulfide minerals, smelting, and electrolytic refining. An augmenting amount of copper is produced from acid leaching of oxidized ores. Both of the methods for extracting copper require human labor and energy, especially in the way of...