Copper is one of only a few metals that occur in nature in natural form. Consequently, as early as 10,000 years ago copper was used by humans for such items as coins and decorations. Today, copper is a major industrial metal that is an excellent conductor of heat and electricity. Copper is often mixed with other metals to such as zinc to form brass and tin to form bronze and is used in a variety of products. Copper's main and most predominant use is in the building and maintaining of a country's infrastructure such as power generation and transmission. Other uses include electronics, roofing, plumbing, automotive parts and ship hauls. Due to its high malleability, ductile nature and resistance to corrosion, copper is among the few materials that do not degrade or lose their physical properties in the recycling process.
Since 1900, the average rate of copper demand growth has been 4%i. The emerging markets of China, India and Brazil over the last several years have increased the demand of refined copper and in 2010 grew to a year over year world demand increase of 7%. Until 2002, the United States was the leading consumer of refined copper and annually used 15% of total world refined copper. Currently, China is the largest user of refined copper and accounts for 1/3rd of the world consumptionii.
On the supply side, copper mine production has grown since 1900 on average of 4% per yeariii. However, mine production growth in the last several years has slowed to a growth rate of 1% for 2010 as the world recession cutbacks, operational failures, labour unrest, increased domestic production costs and lower ore grades have resulted in reduced production levels. Chile is now the world's largest copper producer after overtaking the United States in 2000 and produces 1/3rd of the world's copperiv.
In 2009, the International Copper Study Group estimated that over 1/3rd of copper consumption came from recycled copper. Recycling is an ever growing important source for refined copper as it makes up for the short fall in the lack of mine production growth.
Interesting copper facts: Prior to 1982, the U.S penny was made entirely of copper. Since then, the U.S penny is only coated with copper and now is just 2.5% copper. Conversely, the newly issued U.S five-cent nickel is 75% copper and only 25% nickel, and the U.S quarter, once 90% silver and 10% copper, is now 92% copper and 8% nickel.
Source: US Mint
i International Copper Study Group: The World Copper Factbook 2010 ii USGS iii International Copper Study Group: The World Copper Factbook 2010 iv USGS