The Life of Copper: From Underground to Your Home

tubes of copper for plumbing

The Life of Copper: From Underground to Your Home

According to the US Geological Survey, Copper is the third most-consumed industrial metal in the world, and about 75 percent of the copper used can be found in electronics, telecommunication cables, and electrical wires. This is because this metal is highly ductile, malleable, and conductive, as well as fairly resistant to corrosion. To go from its natural state in the ground to become a wire in your home, copper has to go through a long, multistage process. Here is the life cycle copper must go through in order to be used and reused by consumers.

From the Ground Up – Mining Copper Ore

Before copper can be used, it must first be mined from the earth in the form of ores. Copper mines can be found around the world, but the largest producer of copper is Chile, with the United States coming in second. Copper ores can be mined using one of two process: surface mining and underground mining. Surface mining, also called open-pit mining, is the main method. This is because copper is usually spread in relatively low concentrations over large areas near the surface. In surface mining, large open pits are dug to quarry the ores. The type of copper ores typically found at the surface are copper oxides, which are considered the lower grade ore with a low concentration of copper. In underground mining, a vertical shaft is sunk into the ground to reach ores deep below the surface. The type of copper ores extracted underground are copper sulfides, which are less abundant but contain a higher concentration of copper.

Trial by Fire – Concentrating and Refining

Once the ores are mined, copper is then extracted from the rest of the rock and refined using one of two methods: pyrometallurgy or hydrometallurgy. The pyrometallurgical process is used on copper sulfides and involves a series of physical steps and high temperatures to remove copper and purify it. Hydrometallurgy is performed at regular temperatures and uses water-based solutions to remove and purify copper from copper oxide ores. In these processes, rock and other unwanted materials are progressively removed until only concentrated copper remains. The final results after completing the refining processes are copper cathodes that usually contain roughly 99.9 percent pure copper.

The Transformation – Copper Fabrication

Once the copper is concentrated and refined into cathodes, it is shipped to production plants where it goes through semi-fabrication. During this step, the copper is shaped into sheets, strips, tubes, wires, and rods so that it can be sold to manufacturers in a form they can use. Manufacturers then buy the semi-fabricated copper and transform it into finished products that can be used by businesses and end consumers. When manufacturing shaped copper materials, some other metals may be added to the copper to give it additional properties. These alloys can have more strength, durability, ductility, or corrosion protection than pure copper. Once the copper has been shaped into a final product, it is now ready to be sold to businesses, retail stores, or end consumers.

Fanning the Flames – The Use Phase

Copper can be found all around us. It is an important material whose use has improved our quality of life, and nearly 28 million tons of copper are used annually. Because of its great ability to conduct electricity, the majority of copper produced can be found in electrical wires in our homes and businesses, appliances, and electronics. Its durability and decorative appearance also make it a common material in door hardware, roofing, railings, and decorative trim. Copper pipes are frequently used in plumbing, and the metal can also be found in cars, ships, and airplanes. Musical instruments often contain copper alloys to improve sound clarity and lengthen their life. The uses for copper and copper alloys are endless and are evident in products we use every day.

Passing the Torch – Copper Recycling

Eventually, copper products wear out and are no longer able to fulfill their functions. When a copper product has reached the end of its usability, it shouldn’t be discarded at a landfill. The life of copper is infinite, and the metal can continue to be used and reused over and over again without a loss of properties or usefulness. This means it doesn’t become a lower grade or become a cheaper product.

A scrap yard will accept your scrap copper and other metals to start the scrap recycling process. The first thing they’ll do is sort the copper from other materials and strip away any remaining insulation from copper wires. Copper mills will take the scrap copper from scrap yards, melt it down, and mix it with other metals to produce new alloy products. These products can then be sold to manufacturers to be transformed into new, useful products that can be used by businesses and consumers. When those products reach the end of their life, they can go through this recycling process again, and the cycle will continue repeating.

Copper Recycling at a Scrap Yard Near Me

Copper recycling and scrap metal recycling are very important. Recycling metal is great for the environment because it reduces the amount of energy used in metal production, saves natural resources, and reduces the amount of waste going to landfills. So, scrap metal recycling is an essential part of maintaining a sustainable society and protecting the environment. Scrap copper and other scrap metals are valuable and necessary to stimulate the economy, and you can contribute to this by selling your scrap to your local scrap yard. Roane Metals Group has scrap yard locations in Rockwood and Crossville in East Tennessee. If you have any copper or other scrap metal that you no longer have a use for, bring it by one of our scrap yards and receive cash in exchange. We are one of the highest paying scrap metal recycling companies in the Southeast, and we guarantee that you will receive the best price possible for your scrap metal. If you are ready to make some cash for your useless scrap metal, bring it by one of our scrap yards today, or contact us for more information about scrap metal recycling.