Copper as an all-round metal

Author: Armin Mohn

Few metals can be used in as many ways as copper. Here are just a few of its many positive characteristics: it conducts heat almost as well as electricity, it does not become brittle at low temperatures, it is malleable, acid-resistant and resistant to vibrations, and it hardly corrodes due to its protective patina. For these reasons, it has become indispensable in many areas of application. Furthermore, the metal can also be industrially recycled without any loss of quality. This makes it a resource-saving commodity.

What is copper used for?

Copper is mainly processed in various electrical installations, e.g. in cables, wires, conductor boards, batteries or electrical appliances. This accounts for 57% of the total 1.2 million tonnes of copper in Germany. A further 15% is used in the construction industry, mainly for installation pipes or as facade cladding. 9% is used in the automotive sector, 8% in mechanical and plant engineering. Only 5% goes into traditional trade. Copper is also used in door locks, fittings, musical instruments, coins or bells. Copper is therefore a real all-round talent.

Hardly any other raw material has been processed more frequently in human history than the red metal, which was already known in the Stone Age.

A rapid increase in copper demand is expected due to the production of electric vehicles. At the moment, most passenger cars contain an average of 25 kg of copper. For electric cars, however, carmakers will need up to 80kg in the future (according to the mining group BHP Billiton). Experts even expect the demand to grow by up to 340% by 2050.

However, if the demand for the popular industrial metal continues to grow so significantly, neither the reserves mined by now nor the actually known resources, will be able to meet the demand. One way to prevent this shortage is to conserve resources through recycling.

Copper can be recycled without any loss of quality.

Recycling conserves resources, reduces environmental impact and saves energy. Copper is probably the most recycled material in the world because the metal can be reprocessed without any loss of quality. Mankind therefore does not consume copper – it uses it. Theoretically, all the copper that has ever been mined can be used forever. The trade with scraps, used material for copper and copper alloys is a well organised market since many years. However, according to the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), the global recycling rate is only 50%.

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