Copper is a chemical element with the symbol Cu (cuprum) and has the atomic number 29. Copper has the following properties; thermal and electric conductivity, malleability, ductility, and softness. It is low in the reactivity series of metals. Pure copper has a pinkish-orange color.
Copper occurs naturally on the ground or in minerals such as bornite and chalcopyrite. It is mined using the open-pit method or underground mining method. When copper is contained in other minerals (bornite or chalcopyrite), it can be extracted using the electrolysis process.
Uses of copper
As a result of the various properties of copper, it has numerous uses and, therefore, is closely connected to human beings. These uses include;
1. Making wires and cables
This is one of the primary uses of copper materials. Electric and telecommunication industries rely on copper wires because of their unique properties, such as electrical conductivity and ductility, to quickly be drawn to the wire. Also, copper metal is low in the reactivity series, and therefore, it is corrosion-resistant, making it more preferable than other materials.
2. Copper alloys
Copper alloys easily and, therefore, can be combined with other metals to make alloys. Some of the alloys of copper are brass -which is formed when copper metal is mixed with zinc metal, bronze– formed by combining copper with tin, and cupro-nickel- formed when copper is mixed with nickel.
However, these alloys undergo a work hardening process to make them more challenging and more robust.
3. Electronic industries
Copper materials are used in electronic devices because of their higher conductivity power as compared to aluminum materials. In integrated circuits and printed circuits boards, copper replaces aluminum in silicon chips for interconnection and lead frames. Also, vacuum electronic devices use copper.
Copper can be used in building as it is durable, corrosion-resistant, and healthy. Roofs, rain gutters, vaults, doors, among other metal works, can be made using copper. Advantages accompany the use of copper in the building; recyclability-copper material can be recycled and used for other purposes, and copper metal also helps protect the building from lighting.
Copper pipes are used in the domestic piping system. Copper metal is ductile and can quickly be drawn into pipes that can be joined together and can bend in a corner. They don’t rust easily as copper material is corrosion-resistant. Additionally, they are safe as they don’t burn or support combustion in case of fire.
6. Making electric motors
Motors and motors-driven systems largely depend on the conductivity of copper to operate. Copper is used to making the copper coil that is one of the main parts of a motor. The efficiency will be directly proportional to the mass and the cross-sectional area of copper in the coil. Therefore, increasing the mass and the cross-sectional area of copper in the coil increases the motor’s efficiency.
7. Making pieces of jewelry
Copper and copper alloys can be used in making beautiful, corrosion resistance and hard jewelry. The ductility and malleability of copper are beneficial when copper is used to making jewelry as it can be hammered to the desired shape. Similarly, copper alloys, i.e., brass and bronze, can be used to make beautiful jewelry.
Gold and silver can be used to coat copper jewelry.
Copper materials have proven to have the ability to slow down growth or kill germs. The antibacterial and antimicrobial properties of copper may be of great importance to human beings as it helps control diseases caused by these bacteria and microbes. Therefore, many types of equipment have copper alloy as antibacterial materials. Door knobs, toilet hardware, and handrails are materials that copper can be used as antimicrobial material.
9. Making other chemical compounds
Copper can react with other elements resulting in a chemical compound that can be useful. A good example is copper sulfate that results when copper is mixed with sulfuric acid. It is used for agricultural purposes to increase the level of copper in the soil. Copper sulfate can also be used as a laxative. However, this is not advisable as it is toxic.
Copper chloride, a compound of copper, can be used to treat arthritis and rheumatic fever.
10. Tools and weapon
Copper can be used in place of steel to make tools and weapons. This is facilitated by the two beneficial properties of copper (ductility and malleability). Copper can be molded into any preferable shape of a tool or weapon. In the past, copper was extensively used to make arrowheads that would be sharpened.
11. Making coins
Traditionally, most of the coins were made using copper material. Copper rods were also used in place of copper coins as an exchanging value of commodities, and therefore copper was valued. Nowadays, copper is used as an alloy in making coins in some countries, for example, in America.
12. Applications in energy
The conductivity property of copper is vital when it comes to the absorption of energy and heat exchanging. Solar heaters have their coiled pipes made of copper because it is a good absorber of heat, and therefore it will absorb as much energy from the sun. Heat exchangers are also made using copper material.
13. As a catalyst
The copper element can be used as a catalyst to speed up some reactions. Copper is rich in enzymes that help in speeding the rate of reaction. For example, during zinc and sulfuric acid reaction, copper can be used to speed the reaction rate (as a catalyst).
14. Transportation industry
The transportation industry (vehicles, ships, and trains) mainly uses copper materials. In the shipping industry, copper and copper alloys are used in shipbuilding, rivets, condenser pipes, copper-coated paints, etc.
In the locomotive industry, copper is used in making radiators, brake systems, power transmission wires, etc.
15. Biological and health role
Copper is an essential element that is required in the human body in small quantities. Copper in the human body helps enzymes transfer energy into the cells. Therefore, copper is vital to the proper working of cells.
A crustacean uses copper complexes to transport oxygen around their bodies.