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A Comparison of Copper in the U.S.

Visualizing minerals

As humanity’s oldest metal, copper comes in many forms. People have used copper for thousands of years. When the ancient Romans mined the element “cyprium” from Cyprus, the metal soon became known in English as “copper.” 

Copper is produced and consumed in many forms, from the lining of electrical motors to the coating of pennies. Thanks to its high thermal and electrical conductivity, the material is frequently used in telecommunication technologies and as a building material.

The process of copper production includes mining, refining, smelting, and electrowinning. Through smelting and electrolytic refining, engineers and scientists transform mined ores to copper cathodes. Cathodes are thin sheets of pure copper used as raw material for processing the metal into high-quality products. 

Using data available to the public from the U.S. Geological Survey, the copper market has changed to society’s needs over the past years. 

The four major types of copper are mined copper, secondary copper, refined copper and refined electrowon copper. Secondary copper comes from recycled and scrap materials such as tubes, sheets, cables, radiators and castings, as well as from residues like dust or slag. 

Engineers and scientists transform mined pure copper metal and copper from concentrated low-grade ores through smelting and electrolytic refining in creating copper cathodes. Acid leaching of oxidized ores produces more copper.

Thanks to the chemical and physical properties of copper, the material is suitable for electrical and thermal conductivity. Copper’s high ductility and malleability give it key roles in industrial applications of coil wining, power transmission and generation and telecommunication technologies.

The different methods of processing copper have remained constant for the most part between 1990 and 2010. The data is from “U.S. Mineral Dependence—Statistical Compilation of U.S. and World Mineral Production, Consumption, and Trade, 1990–2010” by James J. Barry, Grecia R. Matos and W. David Menzie. The rise in refined copper reflects market trends for the rising demand for refined copper, according to a report in Mining.com. Oxide and sulfur ores generally have between 0.5 and 2.0% copper. The process involves concentrating the ore to remove gangue and other materials.


Differences between reported and apparent processed copper consumption in the U.S. have decreased from 2005 to 2009. Copper consumption itself has dropped.

The various types of copper produced by the U.S. have remained constant over the time period. 

Mined copper has remained the dominant copper produced around the world, though refined copper has come close or equal to it from 1996 to 2001. Refined electrowon copper has steadily surpassed secondary copper over the time period, too. 

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