Copper Extraction

Copper extraction from the earth has been taking place for over ten thousand years. Known for its reddish hue and multiple uses, copper (Cu) has been known throughout the centuries as a reliable metal with multiple usages. It has thousands of years of history, particularly due to its usage in both ancient and modern times for coins, jewelry, cookware and more recently, industrial applications. It even has a biological role, as it is a trace element in many plants and animals and minimal amounts of copper in the human diet are vital for health and well-being, not unlike iron. In industry, copper is utilized mainly for building as well as electrical equipment, but copper still has a huge demand as it has multiple uses in numerous fields, ranging from healthcare and car maintenance to computer sciences.

Its atomic number of 29 puts copper in Group 11 in the periodic table with valuable elements such as gold and silver. The elements in this group are often found together at mining sites and share many similar properties. Like gold and silver, copper is a strong conductor of electricity and heat, which makes it incredibly popular for use in electronic equipment such as wiring in building structures and computer parts. It also has antimicrobial properties, which also makes it useful for medical purposes such as cathodes, devices and diagnostic instrumentation.

However, not unlike gold and silver, in its purest form copper is a very soft metal. As a result, it’s often combined with other elements such as zinc, tin and nickel in order to change its strength and flexibility. These combinations create copper alloys such as brass and bronze. Although these are popular in many different markets and have their own uses, pure copper is still a vital part of multiple industries including but not limited to markets that require electrical wiring. Contact us to discuss your copper verification needs!

Copper is mined throughout the world in a variety of geological settings. Over 50 countries are mining for copper, ranging from Albania to Zimbabwe. Chile is the world’s largest producer and exporter of this metal, with its Escondida Mine being one of the biggest in the world. Other high-ranking copper producers include Peru, China, Indonesia and the United States, although there are also large deposits in Canada, Russia and parts of Africa that are still being tapped. The largest mine in the United States for copper is found in Bingham Canyon in Utah, followed by the high-producing states of Arizona, Michigan, New Mexico and Montana.

Since there are two types of copper ore: sulfide ores and oxide ores, different techniques are used for copper extraction. Each of these ores have both a different extraction and processing technique. Sulfide ores typically are extracted through open pit mining, which uses drilling and explosive blasting to obtain the copper. It is then extracted through smelting or hydro-metallurgical processes, depending on the percent of concentration of the copper to other elements. Examples of sulfide ores include bornite and chalcopyrite, which accounts for approximately 50 percent of all copper ore production. Sulfide ores are typically more desirable than oxide ores due to their higher grade status once the extraction process is complete.

Oxide ores need to be leached out by sulfuric acid, which creates a copper sulfate solution. The pure copper is then stripped out through solvent extraction and electrowinning, or SX/EW. A handheld XRF instrument also called a Copper Extraction Analyzer can assist with the SX/EW process. In fact, it can assist in practically every stage of mining. In SX/EW, the analyzer can be used to quantify the chemical composition of the electrolyte solutions that are responsible for leaching out precious metals such as copper during the SX/EW process. In this fashion, one can make determinations using the real-time results which can save valuable time during the process and help maximize the output, as you’re able to adjust the solutions being used accordingly making the process more efficient as you go. This process is almost 20 years old and neutralizes the waste from the process, which makes it an environmentally-friendly way to help extract ore and takes less time and energy overall than smelting. It is also used in 30 percent of the copper ore production in the United States. At first blush, oxide ores typically appear to be the less desirable ore with which to perform copper extraction due to the final product’s lower grade status; however, it is also more economical to extract this type of ore, so more industries are willing to tap these resources that go through the more expensive process of obtaining the more pure sulfide ore. Common examples of oxide ores of copper include malachite and azurite.

These types of ore can yield between 20 and 40 percent pure copper, which can then be used in a variety of industries, from ammunition for guns to car radiators. Although most of the market is looking for copper to combine with other metals rather than in its pure form, there is still a huge market for pure copper since it doesn’t oxidize as fast as its alloys, which can sometimes turn green when exposed to oxygen for extended periods of time. The best example of this process is the Statue of Liberty, which is made of iron coated in a thin layer of copper. After being exposed to oxygen, water and other pollutants over time, the statue has gone from its once-copper color to its current trademark shade of green.


Facilitate Copper Extraction with a Copper Extraction Analyzer

When copper is mined, it often has other impure elements that can be found with it and around it. The more impurities there are in the soil along with the copper, the less copper that is available to be extracted. As mentioned previously, since copper is found in group 11 of the periodic table, when mined those elements surrounding it are often other valuable metals in its periodic group such as silver and gold. In fact, copper is often used as a pathfinder or tracer element in exploration mining for gold. Despite the valuable metals available within the copper ore, there are also elements that can be harmful (such as Arsenic) that need to be removed in order to make sure that the copper can be extracted effectively. By using a Copper Extraction Analyzer, one can determine the percentage, or even parts per million (ppm) of copper in relation to all the other elements that are found in the ore and surrounding areas.

Using Copper Extraction Analyzers for assistance in determining the amount of precious metals anticipated in a mine are so easy to use that even geologists with little experience can use the tool and interpret the data successfully. In many cases, samples do not have to be prepared in a specific manner and the instrument can delineate the ore from the waste in the mine by analyzing directly on the surface of the soil. Whether analyzing underground on the face, blast holes or samples that are placed directly into collection bags, the copper extraction analyzer can provide vital information for real-time decision making. It can also be used to analyze drill cores, outcrops or in the examination of soil grids during exploration.

During the feasibility study for a mine, scientists must ascertain how much the mining process is worth over the long term. The deposit is analyzed to identify grade, or concentration of copper as well as the quantity of the ore and the scale of the deposit. A Copper Extraction Analyzer can be used in this process as well as almost every process of a mine. Samples are typically prepared so that the ore is ground up and sieved to a pulp where the particles are homogenized and sometimes pressed into powder pellets or loaded into an XRF cup for testing. Even though it is a process to prepare the samples and multiple samples are taken, this process has proved to be easier, more economical and less time-consuming than collecting samples and sending them to a lab and waiting days, sometimes several weeks to determine the grade.

There are many other factors at hand as well when choosing a mining location including the estimated amount of copper in the mine, or mineral determination, the ease of obtaining said copper and how much it would cost to refine it into its purest form. With Copper Extraction Analyzers, workers on a potential mine site will have access to real time analysis that allows decisions to be made quickly. On-site labs often take days or even up to several weeks to give results that a Copper Extraction Analyzer can give almost immediately, increasing the productivity of any given site. Contact our experts to discuss your copper mining needs!

Porphyry copper deposits are among the most profitable for mining and supply approximately 60 percent of the world’s copper. Although these deposits don’t have the highest grade of ore and the copper can be a bit more costly to refine, they do have a rather high concentration of copper with their ore bodies typically containing 0.4 to 1.0 percent copper found with varying amounts of molybdenum, gold and silver. The reason they end up being the most profitable is because these types of deposits tend to be massive and the copper can be extracted through open pit mining, which is usually the most profitable mining method. Copper Extraction Analyzers can be used at almost any stage of the mining process for porphyry copper mines.

These handheld analyzers, also known as handheld XRF analyzers, have many uses when it comes to copper. Below are some of the many uses in the extraction process from start to finish:

  • Mineral Exploration
  • Geochemical Mapping
  • Ore/Waste Delineation
  • Ore Grade Control
  • Drill Core Analysis
  • Analysis of Tailings
  • Waste Processing
  • Mineral Processing
  • Metals Recovery

As a non-destructive tool, users can be assured that the copper or other metals they are trying to extract will not be destroyed in any way. Unlike some chemical application for extraction where some of the elements of interest are damaged or depleted or actually thrown out because they have not been identified during the process as well as due to the actual process, XRF analyzers are purely non-destructive. Bruker S1 Titan extraction analyzers increase profitability and productivity ensuring geologists can pull out the maximum amount of copper available efficiently and effectively in any given copper deposit. Find out how the Bruker S1 TITAN can assist you in your copper extraction efforts!