Statistics and Information (from U.S.G.S. Mineral Commodity Summaries, 2013):
Copper is usually found in nature in association with sulfur. Pure copper metal is generally produced from a multistage process, beginning with the mining and concentrating of low-grade ores containing copper sulfide minerals, and followed by smelting and electrolytic refining to produce a pure copper cathode. An increasing share of copper is produced from acid leaching of oxidized ores. Copper is one of the oldest metals ever used and has been one of the important materials in the development of civilization. Because of its properties, singularly or in combination, of high ductility, malleability, and thermal and electrical conductivity, and its resistance to corrosion, copper has become a major industrial metal, ranking third after iron and aluminum in terms of quantities consumed. Electrical uses of copper, including power transmission and generation, building wiring, telecommunication, and electrical and electronic products, account for about three quarters of total copper use. Building construction is the single largest market, followed by electronics and electronic products, transportation, industrial machinery, and consumer and general products. Copper byproducts from manufacturing and obsolete copper products are readily recycled and contribute significantly to copper supply.
Domestic Production and Use:
U.S. mine production of copper in 2012 increased by 4% to about 1.15 million tons, and was valued at about $9 billion. Arizona, Utah, New Mexico, Nevada, and Montana — in descending order of production — accounted for more than 99% of domestic mine production; copper also was recovered in Alaska, Idaho, and Missouri. Twenty-eight mines recovered copper, 18 of which accounted for about 99% of production. Three primary smelters, 3 electrolytic and 4 fire refineries, and 15 electrowinning facilities operated during 2012. Refined copper and scrap were used at about 30 brass mills, 15 rod mills, and 500 foundries and miscellaneous consumers. Copper and copper alloys products were used in building construction, 45%; electric and electronic products, 23%; transportation equipment, 12%; consumer and general products, 12%; and industrial machinery and equipment, 8%.
Old scrap, converted to refined metal and alloys, provided 170,000 tons of copper, equivalent to 10% of apparent consumption. Purchased new scrap, derived from fabricating operations, yielded 650,000 tons of contained copper. Of the total copper recovered from scrap (including aluminum-and nickel-based scrap), brass mills recovered 71%; miscellaneous manufacturers, foundries, and chemical plants, 15%; ingot makers, 9%; and copper smelters and refiners, 5%. Copper in all old and new, refined or remelted scrap contributed about 33% of the U.S. copper supply.
U.S. Import Sources (2008–11):
Unmanufactured: Chile, 43%; Canada, 32%; Peru, 12%; Mexico, 9%; and other, 4%. Refined copper accounted for 84% of unwrought copper imports.
Events, Trends, and Issues:
U.S. mine production rose by about 4% in 2011, as increases in Arizona, New Mexico, and Nevada, were partially offset by lower production in Utah. Although total refined production remained unchanged, electrolytic refinery production declined by 9% owing to maintenance shutdowns at the three integrated domestic smelters. In June, a new integrated fire refinery and wire-rod mill were commissioned that were expected to increase domestic production of and consumption of fire-refined copper. In 2013, domestic mine and refined production of copper were expected to increase by more than 10%, and according to ICSG projections, global refined copper output was expected to exceed demand owing to more modest demand growth in China and a 6% growth in global refined production.
A 1998 USGS assessment estimated 550 million tons of copper contained in identified and undiscovered resources in the United States*. Subsequent USGS reports estimated 1.3 billion tons and 196 million tons of copper in the Andes Mountains of South America and in Mexico, respectively, contained in identified, mined, and undiscovered resources**, ***. A preliminary assessment indicates that global land-based resources exceed 3 billion tons. Deep-sea nodules and submarine massive sulfides are unconventional copper resources.
Aluminum substitutes for copper in power cable, electrical equipment, automobile radiators, and cooling and refrigeration tube; titanium and steel are used in heat exchangers; optical fiber substitutes for copper in telecommunications applications; and plastics substitute for copper in water pipe, drain pipe, and plumbing fixtures.
* U.S. Geological Survey National Mineral Resource Assessment Team, 2000, 1998 assessment of undiscovered deposits of gold, silver, copper, lead, and zinc in the United States: U.S. Geological Survey Circular 1178, 21 p
** Cunningham, C.G., and others, 2008, Quantitative mineral resource assessment of copper, molybdenum, gold, and silver in undiscovered porphyry copper deposits in the Andes Mountains of South America: U.S. Geological Survey Open-File Report 2008–1253, 282 p.
*** Hammarstrom, J.M., and others, 2010, Global mineral resource assessment—Porphyry copper assessment of Mexico: U.S. Geological Survey Scientific Investigations Report 2010–5090–A, 176 p.