What is Copper? Properties and Applications

What is copper?

Are you wondering what copper is and why it is so important? You’ve come to the right place. Copper has been around for centuries, playing a major role in numerous industries, from construction to electronics. In this article, we will explore the properties of copper and its common applications. From exploring electrical conductivity and resistance to oxidation, we will look at one of the world’s most valuable metals: copper!

What is Copper?

Copper is a chemical element with an atomic number 29 and the periodic symbol Cu. Copper is a malleable, ductile metal with high thermal and electrical conductivity. Copper can be found in nature, but it is most abundant in minerals such as chalcopyrite and bornite, which are reddish-gold.

Massive stars produce copper, also found in our planet’s crust. The heaviest copper lump found weighed 420 tonnes. This substance can be found in both human and animal anatomy. Copper is found in the liver, muscles, and bones, with normal levels ranging from 1.4 to 2.1 mg/kg.

Copper is widely used, particularly in electrical wire. Even though only a small amount of copper is used in coinage, we come into contact with it whenever we handle a coin. Copper can form alloys with more alloying elements than most other metals, including zinc, tin, nickel, and aluminium. These metals are added to increase the strength and resistance to wear and corrosion of the alloy, but they also change the colour.

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History of Copper

Copper’s name derives from the Old English word “copper,” which derives from the Latin word “Cyprium,” which means “metal from Cyprus.” Copper was known to some of the world’s earliest civilizations and may have been used as far back as prehistoric times. It is thought to have been the first metal worked by humans because it can be found in relatively pure forms, which means it does not need to be mined from an ore.

Copper was discovered and used for the first time during the Neolithic Period, also known as the New Stone Age. Though the exact date of discovery is unknown, it is thought to have occurred around 8000 BCE. Copper occurs naturally in its free metallic state; humans use this natural copper as a stone substitute.

They fashioned crude hammers, knives, and later other tools from it. Because of the material’s malleability, it was simple to shape devices by pounding them. The metal’s rich reddish colour and toughness made it highly sought after. Pounding the copper hardened it, resulting in more robust edges.

Egypt was one of the most advanced countries in the early development of copper. As early as 5000 BCE, copper weapons and implements were discovered in graves for the dead. Copper mining in the Sinai Peninsula has been documented around 3800 BCE. Crucibles at these mines indicate that obtaining the metal required some refinement.

Copper was hammered into thin sheets before forming into pipes and other objects. During this time, bronze first appeared. A metal rod discovered in the Maydm pyramid near Memphis, Egypt, with an estimated date of origin of around 3700 BCE, is the oldest known piece of this material.

Compounds of Copper

The following are some of the most important copper compounds

Oxides

Because copper has two valences, it produces two oxides. These chemicals are cuprous oxide (Cu2O) and cupric oxide (CuO). Cuprous oxide is produced using a furnace or electrolytes. It’s a red crystalline substance. Cupric oxide is produced by igniting suitable salts such as copper hydroxide, copper nitrate, and copper carbonate or by heating cuprous oxide. CuO appears as a dark grey powder.

Halides

Cuprous chloride (CuCl) and cupric chloride (CuCl2) are copper-chlorine compounds. Cuprous iodide (Cul) is formed through the direct reaction of copper and iodine. Cupric iodide (Cul2) is only found in complex chemical compounds or when ammonium salts are present.

Sulfates 

The most important copper salt is cupric sulfate (CuSO4), also known as blue vitriol due to its brilliant blue colour. In most cases, cupric sulfate crystallizes as CuSO4.5H2O.

Applications of Copper

  • Copper was the first metal with which humanity experimented throughout history. The Bronze Age was named after it was discovered that the alloy bronze could be hardened with a little tin.
  • Copper sulfate is commonly used as an agricultural toxin and an algicide in water treatment.
  • While copper is most commonly associated with coins, it also plays an important role in manufacturing bronze.
  • It’s used in various products, including cans, cooking foil, saucepans, power cables, planes, and spacecraft.
  • The process of depositing thin copper films from a gas-phase precursor is known as chemical vapour deposition.
  • Electrical conductivity is important because wire accounts for over half of all copper consumed globally.
  • Copper is frequently plated in gold or silver.

Properties of Copper

Copper has various properties that make it valuable in modern metallurgy and useful in various businesses and industries. The following are some of the most important copper compounds:

Corrosion Resistance

Copper’s natural corrosion resistance has made it a valuable metal for outdoor and marine construction. Because 90/10 and 70/30 copper-nickel alloys can withstand the corrosive effects of seawater, they are frequently used as an alloy.

The extremely high corrosion resistance properties of copper-nickel alloys are created by a chemical reaction between the metal’s filmy surface and salt water, which protects the core metal beneath it.

Ductility and Malleability

Copper is malleable and ductile, making it easily shaped and wire-like. Copper is commonly used in architectural elements, particularly steeples and spires on historic church buildings. Copper was commonly used on old buildings’ roofs and flashing. The green patina caused by oxidation gives the structures a distinct appearance while increasing the metal’s durability.

Without copper’s great flexibility, it would be difficult to create the small diameter wires that transport electricity in computers, television sets, mobile phones, and automobiles. Copper wiring can be found.

It is found in most small electrical devices, particularly on printed circuit boards, where it has supplanted aluminium as the preferred wiring material.

Antimicrobial/Biofouling Resistance

Copper’s antibacterial properties were widely recognized centuries ago, long before the science of bacteria was understood. Water-carrying vessels made of copper were less prone to algae growth and slime formation than other metals.

Copper alloys are particularly interesting in this field of study due to their self-sanitizing surface structure, which kills many bacteria, including E. coli, legionella, and MRSA. Copper touch surfaces replace stainless steel and silver surfaces that are less effective at eradicating bacteria in hospital wards and operating rooms.

Conductivity

Copper is a good electrical and thermal conductor commonly used in electrical wiring. Pure copper has an electrical conductivity of 5.9107 Siemens/m, making it the second most electrically conductive metal after silver (6.2107 Siemens/m).

Since copper is much more prevalent and less expensive than silver, it quickly gained popularity as a way to transmit electricity. Copper’s flexibility makes it ideal for wire and cable production. On the other hand, the weight of copper made it unsuitable for overhead power lines, which typically use aluminium or aluminium-coated high-tensile steel strands.

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