The copper sector is highly intertwined with the economy. For example:
- Exploration does not target copper a priori, though striking copper is never bad news.
- Copper is seldom mined alone and comes with a range of by-metals.
- “Half the periodic system passes through a smelter” as one of our members likes to comment. Copper recyclers produce at least 20 different materials.
- Some fabricators and most wire & cable producers are multi-metal companies
However, there are a number of characteristics that help to define a copper sector. What are these characteristics that - in combination - make copper unique? In alphabetical order, these could be:
- Copper is the best electrical conductor among all metals.
- Copper has a global ecosystem of 100+ interconnected smelters to manage the flow of primary and secondary raw materials
- The use of copper is deeply linked to the world's energy system. Copper is key to achieving energy and climate objectives
- The bronze age marks the first period in history in which metallurgy was used.
- The mining of copper contributes knowledge to other fields such as geology and civil engineering
- The copper sector has a geographically dispersed production system over 87 countries. According to World Mining Data 2021, its production is the ninth most dispersed among 60 minerals, and the second among all metals (after gold).
- Copper is one of the seven metals of antiquity. Copper is probably the first metal ever used by mankind. It has a history of 11 millenia associated a rich culture and folklore.
- Copper's life-cycle dynamic relates to its use as the conductor of choice in the energy system. Once produced, copper produces significant benefits in use through its long lifetime. And through recycling, copper can go through many lifetimes.
- Copper is very long-term business. The lifetime of a large-scale mine, from exploration to rebabilitation, can take over a century. Very few processes in the worlds of technology, policy and markets need to take such a deep time perspective.
- As the third metal, copper is a base metal, but it also displays some characteristics reminiscent of precious metals.
- Copper's properties make it a high-tech material once it's been mined and refined. At a result, over 80% of copper is used in its unalloyed form. In contrast, well over 90% of other metal use is primarily in alloyed forms.
- Not only is copper predominantly used in its unalloyed form, it also has electrochemical properties that allow to recycle it without loss of property and it can even be upcycled. In addition, copper smelters recycle over 20 other materials.
- Considering copper's predominantly sulfide ores, at low grade and copper's high production volumes, copper mining carries a significant risk that needs to be carefully managed.
- Considering its volume in use, and its semi-precious nature, copper has a large footprint in primary material moved and tailings produced, as well as a significant water footprint.
- Copper's ubiquity is a characteristic that it probably shares with other materials such as steel, aluminium, chemicals and plastics. However, as a conductor that transports electricity and heat, or as a conductor that produces rotating magnetic fields in electric motors, or generates electricity from rotation in wind turbines, copper is quite literally "the metal that runs the world"
 Brittanica, Bronze Age (accessed March 13, 2022)
Last update: April 18, 2022