Copper (Cu) is the 29th element on the periodic table, and is found fairly commonly on Earth, with approximately the same abundance as zinc and nickel. Known for its distinct color (visible in Figure 2) copper was one of the first metals ever manipulated by humans - with evidence suggesting its use for over 11 000 years.
Copper is used in large amounts in the electricity industry in the form of wire, due to its high electrical conductivity (see the table below). Its conductivity is second only to silver, however copper is about 860 times more abundant on Earth than silver, so it is much cheaper. Although it is used predominantly in wiring, other uses for copper include plumbing, currency, and jewelry. Copper is too soft to be used alone for most applications but people discovered long ago that it can be mixed with other metals to form strong alloys. The most famous examples is mixing copper with tin to make bronze, or with zinc to form brass.
|Density (at 0oC)||8.933 g/cm3|
|Boiling point||2835 K|
|Melting point||1357.8 K|
|Electrical conductivity||6.30×107 σ|
|Embodied energy||30-90 MJ/kg|
The uses of copper by percentage (estimated) are shown in the Figure below.
Copper is the major component of wiring. In a single vehicle there is about 1.5 kilometers of copper wiring, with a total mass of about 20 kilograms in small cars and 45 kilograms in luxury and hybrid cars. Along with wiring of vehicles and other electronics, copper wiring is used in electrical generation and transmission (aside from overhead power lines, which are made from aluminum).
Aside from its excellent conductivity, copper is also very ductile so it is very easy to work with. Specific examples of copper use in electrical applications include circuit boards, microchips, semiconductors, electromagnets, electric motors, wind turbines, photovoltaic cells, and much, much more. Basically any wiring aside from power lines are formed with copper.
Copper is the standard material for plumbing not only due to its high melting point and corrosion resistance, but also because it does not allow for the growth of bacteria or viruses. It is also ductile and easy to solder; it is easy to bend and piece together.
In addition to plumbing, copper and its alloys are used in construction to make heat exchangers, pipelines, agricultural water systems, roofs, handles, doorknobs and other building materials, and more.