U.S.Geological Survey (USGS): Copper

Statistics and Information: 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.

(Data in thousand metric tons of copper content unless otherwise noted)

Events, Trends, and Issues: With the onset of the economic crisis, the London Metal Exchange Ltd. (LME) price, which had averaged $3.65 per pound of copper during the first 9 months of 2008, fell sharply to an average of only $1.45 per pound in December 2008. Prices during the first 9 months of 2009, however, trended upward, the LME price averaging $2.82 per pound of copper in September, as supplies remained tight and there was renewed interest in commodity markets. Global production of refined copper was essentially unchanged owing to limited growth in mine production that resulted from cutbacks in response to the global economic crisis and to operational constraints that reduced output in Australia, Chile, and Indonesia, and because lower scrap availability led to a decline in secondary refined copper. Refined copper consumption declined slightly, as double digit declines in the European Union, Japan, and the United States were mostly offset by growth in China’s apparent consumption of more than 25%. China’s year-on-year imports of refined copper rose by 1.1 million tons during the first 6 months of 2009, much of which was believed to have entered unreported government and industry inventories. The International Copper Study Group forecast a small refined copper production surplus to develop by yearend 2009 and a slightly larger surplus in 2010.6

U.S. copper mine production, which had been expected to rise by more than 200,000 tons, declined by about 120,000 tons in 2009 following significant revisions to mine plans by several producers, including the closure of a mine opened during 2008. Domestic consumption of refined copper trended lower owing to weaker housing and automotive demand, and several brass mills closed during the year. U.S. mine and refinery production were expected to fall slightly in 2010, while consumption was projected to increase modestly in response to anticipated economic recovery.

World Mine Production and Reserves: Official reserves reported by China may include deposits not currently economic to develop. Revisions to reserves for Canada, Indonesia, Peru, and Poland are based on company reports.

  Mine Production Reserves7
  2008 2009e  
United States 1,310 1,190 35,000
Australia 886 900 24,000
Canada 607 520 8,000
Chile 5,330 5,320 160,000
China 950 960 30,000
Indonesia 651 950 31,000
Kazakhstan 420 410 18,000
Mexico 247 250 38,000
Peru 1,270 1,260 63,000
Poland 430 440 26,000
Russia 750 750 20,000
Zambia 546 655 19,000
Other Countries 2,030 2,180 70,000

World total (rounded)

15,400 15,800 540,000

World Resources: Recent assessments of copper resources indicated 550 million tons of copper remaining in identified and undiscovered resources in the United States8 and 1.3 billion tons of copper in discovered, mined, and undiscovered resources in the Andes Mountains of South America.9 A preliminary assessment indicates that global land-based resources exceed 3 billion tons. Deep-sea nodules were estimated to contain 700 million tons of copper.

Substitutes: Aluminum substitutes for copper in power cables, 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.

6International Copper Study Group, 2009, Forecast 2009-2010: Lisbon, Portugal, International Copper Study Group press release, October 8, 1 p.
7See Appendix C for definitions. Reserve base estimates were discontinued in 2009; see Introduction.
8U.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.
9Cunningham, C.G., et al., 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.

U.S. Geological Survey, Mineral Commodity Summaries, January 2010

Copper Data

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