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Copper Mining and Production Processes Explained

The ore is removed from the ground in either open pit or underground mines. Underground  sinking a vertical shaft into the earth to reach the copper ore and driving horizontal tunnels into the ore. Open pit  90% of ore is mined using the open pit method. Ores near the surface can be quarried after removal of the surface layers.

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The ore is enriched using a process called froth flotation. Unwanted material sinks to the bottom and is removed.

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This is where the chemical reactions start. The powdered, enriched ore is heated in air between 500°C and 700°C to remove some sulphur and dry the ore, which is still a solid called calcine.

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A flux is a substance which is added to the ore to make it melt more easily. The solid calcine is heated to 1200°C and melts. Some impurities are removed forming a matte .

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Air is blown into the liquid matte forming blister copper, so called because the gas bubbles trapped in the solid form blisters on the surface.

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The copper is purified to 99.99% by electrolysis. The production route described above shows the progression from a rock containing about 0.2% copper to a copper cathode of 99.99% purity.

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Leaching offers an alternative to copper mining. First, the ore is treated with dilute sulphuric acid. This trickles slowly down through the ore, over a period of months, dissolving copper to form a weak solution of copper sulphate. The copper is then recovered by electrolysis. This process is known as SX EW . Advantages of these processes are: 1. Much less energy is used than in traditional mining 2. No waste gases are given off 3. Low capital investment 4. Ability to be operated economically on a small scale. It can be used on ore with as little as 0.1% copper for this reason leaching extraction is growing in importance. It is estimated that SX EW will represent 21% of total copper refined production in 2019.

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Another important source of copper is recycled scrap, described as secondary copper production. Around half of Europes copper demand is currently met with recycled material, making an important contribution to the circular economy. To read more about copper recycling, click here.

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How copper is made material, used, processing, steps ...

Copper is one of the basic chemical elements. In its nearly pure state, copper is a reddish orange metal known for its high thermal and electrical conductivity. It is commonly used to produce a wide variety of products, including electrical wire, cooking pots and pans, pipes and tubes, automobile radiators, and many others. Copper is also used as a pigment and preservative for paper, paint, textiles, and wood. It is combined with zinc to produce brass and with tin to produce bronze. Copper was first used as early as 10,000 years ago. A copper pendant from about 8700 B.C. was found in what is now northern Iraq. There is evidence that by about 6400 B.C. copper was being melted and cast into objects in the area now known as Turkey. By 4500 B.C. , this technology was being practiced in Egypt as well. Most of the copper used before 4000 B.C. came from the random discovery of isolated outcroppings of native copper or from meteorites that had impacted Earth. The first mention of the system...

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Pure copper is rarely found in nature, but is usually combined with other chemicals in the form of copper ores. There are about 15 copper ores mined commercially in 40 countries around the world. The most common are known as sulfide ores in which the copper is chemically bonded with sulfur. Others are known as oxide ores, carbonate ores, or mixed ores depending on the chemicals present. Many copper ores also contain significant quantities of gold, silver, nickel, and other valuable metals, as well as large quantities of commercially useless material. Most of the copper ores mined in the United States contain only about 1.2 1.6% copper by weight. The most common sulfide ore is chalcopyrite, CuFeS 2 , also known as copper pyrite or yellow copper ore. Chalcocite, Cu 2 S, is another sulfide ore. Cuprite, or red copper ore, Cu 2 O, is an oxide ore. Malachite, or green copper ore, Cu 2 CuCO 3 , is an important carbonate ore, as is azurite, or blue copper carbonate, Cu 2 2CuCO 3...

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The process of extracting copper from copper ore varies according to the type of ore and the desired purity of the final product. Each process consists of several steps in which unwanted materials are physically or chemically removed, and the concentration of copper is progressively increased. Some of these steps are conducted at the mine site itself, while others may be conducted at separate facilities. Here are the steps used to process the sulfide ores commonly found in the western United States.

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Because electrical applications require a very low level of impurities, copper is one of the few common metals that are refined to almost 100% purity. The process described above has been proven to produce copper of very high purity. To ensure this purity, samples are analyzed at various steps to determine whether any adjustment to the process is required.

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The recovery of sulfuric acid from the copper smelting process not only provides a profitable byproduct, but also significantly reduces the air pollution caused by the furnace exhaust. Gold, silver, and other precious metals are also important byproducts. Waste products include the overburden from the mining operation, the tailings from the concentrating operation, and the slag from the smelting operation. This waste may contain significant concentrations of arsenic, lead, and other chemicals, which pose a potential health hazard to the surrounding area. In the United States, the Environmental Protection Agency regulates the storage of such wastes and the remediation of the area once mining and processing operations have ceased. The sheer volume of the material involvedin some cases, billions of tons of wastemakes this a formidable task, but it also presents some potentially profitable opportunities to recover the useable materials contained in this waste.

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Demand for copper is expected to remain high, especially in the electrical and electronics industries. The current trends in copper processing are towards methods and equipment that use less energy and produce less air pollution and solid waste. In the United States, this is a difficult assignment because of the stringent environmental controls and the very low concentration copper ores that are available. In some cases, the production costs may increase significantly. One encouraging trend is the increased use of recycled copper. Currently over half the copper being produced in the United States comes from recycled copper. Fifty five percent of the recycled copper comes from copper machining operations, such as screw forming, and 45% comes from the recovery of used copper products, such as electrical wire and automobile radiators. The percentage of recycled copper is expected to grow as the costs of new copper processing increase.

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