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Copper is a metal that has played a vital role in human civilization. One of the earliest metals harnessed by human beings, copper is still widely used as an industrial raw material. In their hieroglyphics (picture writing), the ancient Egyptians used the Ankh sign to represent copper. The Ankh was also the symbol of Eternal Life, which is appropriate for copper since it has been used continuously by people for 10,000 years.
Homer, following the Greek practice of around 1000 B.C., called the metal Chalkos. This is why the Copper Age is also known as the Chalcolithic Era.
A thousand years later during the Early Christian Era, the words "aes Cyprium" appeared in Roman writings about copper, because much of the metal at the time came from Cyprus. The word "copper" is an Anglicized term of this Latin phrase.
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Copper is the third largest consumed metal after steel and aluminium in the world. Copper is used as electrical conductor, construction material and as components in telecommunications and alloys.
By far the most important use of copper is in electrical wiring; it is an excellent conductor of electricity (second only to silver), it can be made extremely pure, it corrodes very slowly, and it can be formed easily into thin wires—it is very ductile.
According to International Copper Promotion Council, copper is a natural element – a metal that has been one of mankind’s most useful and valuable materials. Copper is also an essential nutrient that is required by virtually all higher life forms. It is an essential component of dietary nutrition that enables the body to metabolize energy and function properly. As with humans, plants and animal health rely on adequate copper intake. The world’s two most important food crops – rice and wheat – are both highly dependent on sufficient copper in soil.
Copper has been indispensable to human progress. In fields ranging from medical equipment to energy efficiency, from jet planes to satellites, from television to the Internet, Copper is vital to our well being in day-to-day life.
Copper is by far the most sustainable gift of nature’s bounty. For as long as humans have put copper to use, they have taken advantage of the fact that it is virtually one hundred percent recyclable. It has always made economic sense to retrieve as much copper as possible from a product, at the end of its life cycle, and re-use it for some new purpose. Moreover, most copper in use, such as roofing, wiring, and plumbing, will remain in use for over half a century.
Copper is also an important ingredient of many useful alloys—combinations of metals, melted together. Brass is copper plus zinc. If it contains mostly copper, it is a golden yellow color; if it is mostly zinc, it is pale yellow or silvery. Brass is one of the most useful of all alloys; it can be cast or machined into everything from candle sticks to cheap, gold-imitating jewelry that turns your skin green. (When copper reacts with salt and acids in the skin, it produces green copper chloride and other compounds.)
Several other copper alloys are common: bronze is mainly copper plus tin; German silver and sterling silver are silver plus copper; silver tooth fillings contain about 12% copper.
Copper metal is readily available commercially so it is not normally necesary to make it in the laboratory. Most copper production is based upon sulphide ores containing little copper but quite a lot of iron. New cleaner technologies are now important but older processes present major environmental problems.
Probably the first alloy ever to be made and used by humans was bronze. Archaeologists broadly divide human history into three periods; the Bronze Age is the second one, after the Stone Age and before the Iron Age. During the Bronze Age, both bronze and pure copper were used for making tools and weapons. Apparently the reason that policemen in the USA are nicknamed "cops" or "coppers" is to do with their uniforms which used to have copper buttons.
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Global copper mine production in 2006 (Jan-Dec) was projected to rise 1.9percent to 15.17 million ton compared with 2005, and further to 16.20 million ton in 2007 bringing an additional of 1 million ton.
Globally, refined copper production was expected to increase 5.4 percent to 17.40 million ton in 2006 compared with 2005. In 2007, refined copper production was likely to increase to 18.06 ton. Chile, Canada, Australia and Indonesia are the leading producers of copper. US and Europe are the main sources for copper scrap. Main importing countries are the US, the European Union, Japan, Spain, China, and Philippines.
Global consumption of refined copper was projected to increase by 3.3 percent to 17.16 ton in 2006 compared with 2005. In 2007, the copper consumption was expected to grow 4.2 percent to 17.88 million ton compared with 2006.
India is a significant producer of copper accounting for 3 percent of the global output. The annual production is 400,000 ton. India is also an exporter of copper with three major Indian companies--Birla Copper, Sterlite Copper and Hindustan Copper--enhancing their capacities. Indian copper price is fixed as per the previous day’s rate at the London Metal Exchange.
Average price of copper rose 89 percent to the US $6,490 per ton during the first eight months of 2006 compared to the same period a year ago. Supply disruptions due to labour trouble and natural disasters acted as the main triggers for rise in price. Price of copper in 2007 was projected to fall to US $6,250 per ton due to stabilization of supply compared to 2006. Capacity expansion and setting up of new mines, economic growths in China, India etc are the key factors that would shape copper prices movements.