Copper is an abundant element in the Earth. In fact, if the extraction rate stayed constant, it is estimated that there are still 5 million years worth of copper in the first 1km of the Earth’s surface. Currently, producers are struggling to keep up production and prices for copper have been steadily rising. The largest producers of copper are Chille, the United States, Indonesia and Peru. However, it is mined on every continent on Earth, except for Antarctica. Read on to discover the modern techniques for mining copper.
How is copper mined?
Copper has been mined for many thousands of years, but the mining techniques have changed considerably over the years. Most of the copper in the world is mined from ores (rock made up of different minerals) containing copper sulfides. In most cases these ores only contain 0.6% of copper. Further extraction techniques are required to get the pure copper.
This ore is mined in large open cut mines. The rock is blasted to loosen it and is then scooped up by front end loaders and loaded into huge dump trucks. The next stage in the process is crushing the rock so that it is ready for extraction. It is then mixed with water and other chemicals to create a slurry. These chemicals are used to extract the copper sulfides from the other materials in the slurry. This is done by a process called froth flotation, where the copper sulfide particles attach to air bubbles and rise to the surface. This is then skimmed off the surface and sent for smelting, which creates pure copper.