Copper (from Latin; cuprum) is a chemical element with the symbol Cu and atomic number 29. It is a transition reddish-orange metal and together with silver and gold belongs to copper family.
It is recognized by being one of the best electricity conductives and it occurs naturally as native copper, that is, without being combined with other elements. Thanks to its higher conductivity, ductility and malleability it is the most used material to manufacture electric wires and other electric and electronical elements.
Numerous copper alloys exists, that generally presents better mechanics properties, although they have a smaller electric conductivity. Most important alloys are those known as bronzes and brasses. In another way, copper is a durable metal because it can be recycled an unlimited number of times without losing its mechanic properties.
Copper was one of the first metals used in prehistory. Copper and its tin alloy, bronze, were so important that historians give their names for two periods of Antiquity, Copper Age and Bronze Age. Although its use lose importance with iron and steel industry development, copper and its alloys continue being employed to do objects as different as coins, bells and guns. From XIX century on, exactly with the invention of Faraday’s electric generator in 1831, copper became again in a strategic metal, being the raw material of wires and electrical wiring.
Copper has an important biological role in photosynthesis plants process. And in animals, it contributes to red corpuscles formation and blood vessels, nerves, immune system and bones maintenance, therefore is an essential element in human life.
Copper is the third metal used in the world after iron and aluminum.
Nowadays, and thanks to its versatility, this metal is one of the natural resources more useful in the world.
It is not surprising, therefore, that copper can be found in a variety of applications and industries. Some of them are, for example, telecommunications, architecture, energy, plumbing, heating, transport, and obviously, renewable energy.
Copper has physical, chemical, mechanic and biological properties that its industrial use in several applications. Considering metal quantity or value, copper industrial use is higher. It is an important material in a lot of economic activities. It has been considered as an strategic resource in conflict situations.
1.- Electric and energetic applications and telecommunications. Copper is the non-precious metal with best electric conductivity. Most of telephone wires are also made by copper, making internet access possible. Besides, all the telecommunications and computer equipments contains copper in their integrated circuits, transformers and internal wiring.
2.- Applications in renewable energy. Renewable energy sources will be crucial to supply energy demand to the industrialization of the world. For example an aerial turbine contains more than a copper ton. All these systems depend on copper to transmit generated energy with maximum effectiveness and minimum environmental impact.
3.- Means of transport. Copper is used in cars and lorries components, mainly in radiator, brakes and bearings, but also obviously in wires and electric motors. A little car has approximately 25 kg copper and if it is bigger this number can be 45 kg. Trains use also copper in its construction: 1-2 tons in traditional trains and 4 in high-speed trains. Catenaries has 10 ton/km copper in high-speed lines.
4.- Construction and ornamentation. Water transport net are made of copper or brass, due to their corrosion high resistance and their anti-microbe properties. Copper is also used to doorknobs in public places and toilet tools in hospitals because its anti-microbe properties avoid infection contagion and epidemic spreading.
5.- Coins. To cradle coins in Antiquity, copper was employed as a raw material, sometimes pure and, most of times, in alloys.