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COPPER - THROUGH THE ROOF
of copper has gone through the roof! Prices have tripled
in the past three years and doubled in the first six months
of this year. What’s going on?
Well, in short, the demand exceeds the supply. The world is
expected to consume more copper than is produced in 2006
by 100,000 tons. In 2005, world consumption exceeded production
for the third consecutive year, by 66,000 tons. The biggest
reason for the price increase is China, which consumes
more than 10,000 tons of copper every day. China overtook
the U.S. as the largest copper consumer in 2002 and it
retains a huge potential for continued growth. China is
expected to account for 23% of global copper consumption
in 2008, which is an increase from just 10% in 1996. Western
Europe is expected to consume 22% in 2008, the U.S. 13.4%.
India, Japan, and other nations are also showing increased
demand. It doesn’t look like copper prices will be
falling any time soon.
What is copper? Although copper occurs naturally in a pure
state, it’s primarily mined from the minerals chalcopyrite,
bornite, and malachite. Copper ore is extracted form the
earth, then converted into copper concentrate, which is
then roasted, smelted and converted into refined copper.
The resultant metal is widely used for its high electrical
and heat conductivity; its malleability; its ability to
form alloys with other metals; and its resistance to corrosion.
This last attribute is what makes copper so attractive
for flashing on durable and long-lasting slate and tile
roofs. Copper wire and cable, however, account for half
of the world's copper production.
Chile is the world’s leading copper producer, producing
about 37% of the world’s total. Every continent produces
copper, yielding a worldwide total production of about 9 million
short tons of copper each year. The four largest copper producing
nations in order are Chile (37%), U.S. (8%), Indonesia (8%)
and Peru (7%).
The U.S. mines 1/5 of the world's copper, while Arizona produces
2/3 of the copper here. If Arizona was a country, it would
be the second largest producer of copper in the world.
The Bingham Canyon copper mine in Utah is a half mile deep,
2 1/2 miles wide, 100 years old, and the world’s
largest human-made excavation. The Chino copper mine in
New Mexico covers over 9,000 acres and is 1.75 miles across.
This location has been mined for at least two centuries.
Copper has a long history with humans, being the first metal
we ever used, dating back about 10,000 years. Sumerians
and Egyptians produced cooking pots that date back to 3900
BC. By 2500 BC, Egyptians were making copper crowns. Archeologists
have dug up copper drain pipes that date back to 3500
BC, still in good condition. Pre-Columbian Americans used
copper for weapons, armor, beads, earrings, bells and other
ornaments. The Bronze Age is named after a copper alloy.
Mongolian copper mine and the copper concentrate that the mine produces.
The author at the Mongolian
copper mine, May, 2006 (below).
The average American uses 1,500 pounds of copper during her
lifetime. Our average home contains about 400 pounds of
copper, primarily in wiring, plumbing and appliances. The
average automobile contains about 50 pounds of copper.
The good news is that copper is highly recyclable. A million
and a half tons of scrap copper were recycled in the U.S. last
year, saving 85% of the energy that would have been required
to produce new copper from ore. In the United States, about
2/3 of all copper consumed since 1864 has been recycled. So
don’t throw those copper scraps away! Save them up and
cash them in at the scrap yard on a rainy day.
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