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Copper: Properties, Uses, Reactions and more

Discovery of the element copper and its history

The name copper is derived from the Latin cuprum for Cyprus, where copper was first mined by the Romans. The English symbol Cu also comes from the Latin cuprum, and the element has been known since prehistoric times.

Archaeological evidence also indicates that people have been using copper for at least 11,000 years, as it is relatively easy to mine and purify. People have discovered ways to extract copper from its ores at least 7,000 years ago, as the Roman Empire got most of its copper from the island of Cyprus. And that’s where the name copper originated.

Copper is the first element of group IB of the periodic table. It has atomic number 29, an atomic weight of 63.546 amu and the chemical symbol Cu, which derives from the Latin cuprum, in turn, derived from the name of the island of Cyprus (Cyprum) where, in Roman times, most of the material was extracted.

Its molecular structure is face-centred cubic.

It was the first metal used by men and gave its name to a prehistoric era which marked the transition to metallurgy, known as the copper age. This is indicated between the 5th and 3rd millennium BC, but copper artefacts dating back to 10,000 BC have been found in Turkey. Indeed, from the study of archaeological finds, it emerges that the evolution from one era to another took place at considerably different times in one area.

Today, copper metal is mainly obtained from the sulfur of the ore (CuO2), tenorite (CuO), malachite (CuO3 Cu (OH) 2), chalcocite (Cu2S), (CuS) and bornite (Cu6FeS4), and there are large deposits of Copper ores in Chile, Zambia, Zaire, Peru, the United States and Canada.

It is known about copper metal that its colour is reddish, and it has a bright metallic lustre. In addition to being flexible and a good conductor of heat and electricity, copper is used in large quantities in the electrical industry in the form of wires.

Because copper resists corrosion from air, moisture, and seawater; Copper was used extensively in coins. Although American pennies were made almost entirely of copper, they are now made of copper-plated zinc. Copper is also used to make jewellery and water pipes, among other items.

Pure copper is usually very soft for most uses, as people first learned about 5,000 years ago that copper can be hardened if mixed with other metals. The two most common alloys of copper are bronze and brass, with bronze being the first alloy to be made by People, which is an alloy of copper containing up to 25% of tin.

The first people used bronze metal to make both tools, weapons, containers, and ornamental tools, as copper was used, which is a mixture of copper-containing between 5% and 45% zinc, as for the first time in about 2,500 years, the Romans were the first to Copper was used extensively.

The main copper mines are located in Peru, Chile, the United States, Australia and Indonesia, but also Canada, Poland and Finland. Italy, on the other hand, is not very rich in this material. The main mines are those of Predoi and Montecatini Val di Cecina.

Close-up of high-frequency copper wire

Characteristics of copper

Let’s start immediately with a roundup of curiosities regarding this material:

  • It is a malleable and ductile metal; the only one coloured together with gold.
  • It conducts electricity and heat, which is why it is widely used in electrical and heating systems.
  • The copper melting temperature is 1083°C
  • It has many characteristics in common with gold and silver. In fact, they are placed in the same column in the table of elements.
  • It is an infinitely recyclable material: it never loses its properties!
  • If subjected to oxidation, unlike steel, it begins to change colour, forming the so-called verdigris.
  • It is also present in living organisms, in enzymes and coenzymes: it is, therefore, essential for life.
  • It is the most used non-ferrous metal in the metallurgical industry.

But what is copper? It is a metallic element. Red in colour (also called red gold), its symbol is Cu, and its atomic number is 29. It is formed by a face-centred cubic lattice structure. The characteristics of copper include its oxidation stages +1 and +2 (cuprous and cupric salts). The peculiarity of copper oxidation is that its corrosion, paradoxically, generates a protective layer towards the innermost part. This patina has a composition that varies according to the atmospheric conditions in which it is generated.

Copper in chemistry

For example, a salt of variable stoichiometry, commonly known as verdigris, forms on roofs and rails. Even if it significantly modifies the aesthetics of the object, it has a protective function for the internal structure, which can be considered safe practically forever.

characteristics of verdigris copper

The physical properties

Copper has a reddish colour and a metallic sheen. It melts at about 1083.5°C and boils at 2567°C. It has a hardness equal to 3; characteristics of ductility, malleability and good thermal and electrical conductivity, compared to which it is second only to silver.

Copper alloys

Copper mixes easily with many elements, and more than 1000 different alloys have been formed with it, many of which have found great technological interest. The combination with other elements can modify the hot and cold workability characteristics of the metal, its ultimate tensile strength, fatigue strength and wear resistance.

After silver, copper is the best conductor of electricity. This makes it the most used material for this purpose, given the price of silver. It has good qualities of ductility, resistance and sturdiness. Due to these characteristics of copper, it is possible to work the material into very thin wires, and it can even be wound on itself, as is the case with electric wires.

Therefore, the uses of copper have multiplied in the technological field: today, TVs, smartphones, DVD players, lamps, washing machines and dryers, cars, computers, refrigerators and much more are produced with this metal.

In particular, it is the automobile that receives much more copper than is believed: in fact, there is a kilometre of cables! These bring electricity to all the parts that need this energy: lights, windows, and doors.

Copper Procedures

The copper processing procedures begin at the time of extraction: the rocks are crushed in order to obtain smaller compounds.

It is then the turn of the flotation. In this phase, powders and surfactants are mixed, which brings out the copper fragments.

Subsequently, the copper thus obtained is melted, eliminating the iron. Finally, with refining, the metal becomes even purer, eliminating iron oxides and sulphides. In this way, a 99% pure metal is obtained.

Surface processing

Characteristics of copper ductility Only at this point can the characteristics of copper be truly noticed and exploited. However, it is not yet the time to be able to use metal freely: there are still several stages necessary to provide protection against corrosive and atmospheric agents.


One of these is degreasing. This procedure, which Bama carries out daily at its production site, is aimed at eliminating most of the oily residues deriving from the previous processing phases. This is done by immersion in special degreasing agents or manually through a spray technique.

If you do not proceed to this phase, the subsequent protective processes will not be deposited on the surface but on the residues, thus making their action useless.


The pickling phase follows the degreasing phase. Equally fundamental, this process has the task of removing all types of oxide and flakes. Unlike degreasing, therefore, which intervenes on oily residues, pickling operates on dry ones.

Only in this way can subsequent corrosion phenomena be avoided. Furthermore, thanks to the characteristics of copper, this procedure is undertaken not only for new processes but also to restore the original state of elements that were already oxidized.

The pickling agents used by Bama for this operation are mainly sulfuric and nitric acids contained in a tub in which the object is immersed.

These two phases can be followed by further procedures aimed at providing greater protection, such as passivation, and at finishing the surfaces, such as electropolishing.

In this way, the copper is protected from all those phenomena that affect the external appearance and the internal structure of the copper.

Copper mining

Copper is a widely diffused element in nature in the form of a wide range of minerals that contain a more or less high content. The two main classes are oxidized minerals and less valuable sulfides. Oxidized minerals, such as cuprite and tenorite, have a high copper content, are easy to process and can be reduced directly to metallic copper by heating with charcoal in a furnace.

Sulphides, however, such as chalcopyrite and chalcocite, contain copper percentages of less than 2% and require a more complex extraction process.

Aerial view of Copper Mine Industry in Sechelt, Sunshine Coast, British Columbia, Canada.

Copper benefits

Copper is suitable for a wide range of applications due to its combination of properties such as strength, conductivity, corrosion resistance, mechanical strength, and ductility.

These copper properties can enhance with differences in composition and manufacturing methods.

Electrical Conductivity: Copper is an engineering metal with the highest conductivity of all other engineering metals. Elements such as silver or others may be added to increase strength, ductility or other properties without significant loss in conductivity.

Thermal Conductivity: Thermal conductivity is comparable to electrical conductivity. Alloys of copper can be used for this property, where good corrosion resistance and serious resistance to loss of conductivity compensate with increased alloying.

Colour and Appearance: Many copper alloys have a distinctive colour, which may change with body conditions. For most alloys, it is easy to set and maintain a level surface, even under adverse corrosion conditions. Many alloys are used in decorative applications, either in their original form or after metal plating. The alloys have specific colours, ranging from pink salmon copper, yellow, golden, bronze or green in the conditions available. Exposure to the atmosphere can produce a green or bronze surface, and a pre-slit alloy is available in some product forms.

Corrosion resistance: All copper alloys are resistant to corrosion by fresh water and steam. In most rural, marine, and industrial environments, copper alloys are also resistant to corrosion. Copper is resistant to salt solutions, soils, non-oxidizing metals, organic acids, and caustic solutions.

Most ammonia, halogens, sulfides, solutions containing ammonia ions, and oxidizing acids, such as nitric acid, attack copper. Copper alloys also have poor resistance to inorganic acids. The corrosion resistance of copper alloys is due to the formation of sticky films on the surface of the material. These films are relatively impervious to corrosion and thus protect the metal base from further attacks.

Annealing can restore ductility: This happens either by a specific annealing process or through incidental annealing through welding procedures.

What are the main uses of copper?

There are many uses for the copper element that make it a unique element, and among these uses are the following:

  • More than half of the copper mined is used to make electrical wires, which are used in lighting, powering hybrid cars, and more.
  • It is used in the manufacture of copper pipes used to transport drinking water. This is due to copper’s antibacterial and antibacterial properties.
  • Copper is used extensively in alloying.
  • It is used in decorations as an aesthetic aspect. This is due to its ability to form a beautiful green colour known as patina, which is the product of copper oxidation, from which candlesticks, door handles, and others are made.
  • It is used in the manufacture of cooking utensils and refrigeration units.
  • It is used in the watch industry.
  • It is used to make coins.
  • It is used in the manufacture of musical instruments such as trumpets and trombones; This is due to its corrosion resistance and antibacterial properties.
  • Man needs copper in their diets to produce red blood cells, but an increase in its quantity can negatively affect human health. Among the materials rich in copper are leafy vegetables, potatoes, grains, and beans.
Close up of a set of copper cookware

Why is copper ideal for wire making?

Copper has distinctive properties that make it an ideal element for making wires, which are as follows:

  • It has very high electrical conductivity.
  • It has very high tensile strength.
  • Has high elasticity, Which makes wire drawing very easy.
  • It has great resistance to abrasion and deformation.
  • It has a very high thermal conductivity in addition to its low thermal expansion.
  • Copper can be soldered easily.
Bended fat curved copper cables. Electrical conductor.

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The post Copper: Properties, Uses, Reactions and more first appeared on Learning Mole.

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