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Copper and Sustainability

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Recyclability is one property which helps to establish the ‘green’ credentials of a material, that is how ‘environmentally friendly’ it is. Demand for copper, along with other materials, is growing as countries throughout the world continue to develop industrially with a consequent requirement for more raw materials.

To help conserve the world’s raw materials, there is a growing emphasis on recycling, however, for a more meaningful ‘green’ rating, a material’s sustainability needs to be considered. The widely accepted description of sustainability is the concept of meeting present needs without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.

Copper can contribute to sustainable development in three areas:

  • Environmental protection
  • Economic growth
  • Social considerations
  • Sustainable building – take a tour of a sustainable home and discover how it relies on copper.

Environment

Copper is a finite resource, mined from ore deposits formed in the ground millions of years ago. However, very little copper is used up, since it can be endlessly recycled without loss of properties; it is conserved for future generations. When copper is mined and refined to 99.9% purity, gases such as SO2 and dust are released. Although these are collected by the metal producers to protect the environment, with recycling there are virtually no emissions. Recycling copper (as for other materials) reduces landfill costs. Copper forms a very small percentage of the materials found dumped on landfill sites; it is too valuable to throw away. Recycling uses 15% of the energy that would be used to mine and produce the same copper. So recycling helps to conserve the world’s supply of fossil fuels and reduces CO2 emissions.

Copper has the best electrical conductivity of all the non-precious metals and is therefore the material of choice for power generation, transfer and use. In electric motors and other components, optimising copper improves efficiency by reducing wasteful heat loss. This means less energy demand per unit of output which means fewer greenhouse-gas emissions that are associated with climate change. According to Professor Ronnie Belmans, President of the International Electricity Union, “the judicious use of 1 tonne of copper in the energy sector makes it possible to reduce CO2 emissions by 200 tonnes per year on average”.

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